Marble Collegiate Church, New York. Photo source: Pixabay
Congregational singing, along with church attendance, has declined. With this post, I am beginning a new series that looks at various aspects of the problem and suggests some steps we can take to improve on the current trend.
A Facebook friend, Joe Kenney, posts wonderful photographs on Iowa Through the Lens. He also writes songs for his church and plays them on guitar, as I recently discovered. When messaging each other about this, he very kindly shared two songs with me. The songs mentioned here are both written by Michael W. Smith. Joe has promised to send me some of his own compositions as well.
“It’s a little repetitive cause it’s meant to be a simple group anthem,” he said about the first song.
Upon listening to the audio, I felt that it was just repetitive enough for congregational use. I responded, “Great rhythm, and nice variety with the guitar and then no guitar, and then it comes in again.”
Although large churches in major cities are well-attended, that is not the case in smaller towns. Marble Collegiate Church (pictured above), The Riverside Church, and All Souls’ Unitarian Church, all located in New York City, have many congregants who are professional musicians, even opera singers. Everyone should experience the singing of such congregations at least once!
Smaller congregations may not be so fortunate. When their congregations are asked to sing, people in attendance are often reluctant to make an attempt. In order to encourage participation, it is helpful to choose hymns/worship songs that are either familiar or easy to learn and remember by exactly that group of people. Many, if not most, do not read music. The range of most untrained voices is limited. Highly syncopated rhythms are just too complicated to master quickly.
So, once again, repetition is helpful. Having the melody, rhythm, harmony, and even the words repeat (think of the refrain, especially) results in greater comprehension and, thus, participation.
Joe’s second example featured a repetitive ending. Again, perfect for a congregation. I responded, “People could walk away singing the ending. It’s a winning strategy.”
In “Why Isn’t Your Congregation Singing?“, an article in Ministry Today, Don Chapman says:
Bottom line: Choosing worship songs that are singable by normal mortals will create a more unified, participatory worship experience for your church.
Do you agree?
Take a look at a master, Alice Parker, teaching a hymn to workshop participants. Alice is the first to say she doesn’t have a great voice. Notice, though, her modeling of the style, rhythm, and text emphasis. She teaches songs without using the piano, even though she plays very well. In fact, her teaching in this video, from a hymnal she compiled, is unusual in that she and the singers are using the music.
Please let me know what you think, either in the comments or via the contact form in the left sidebar. And be sure to check back for the next installment, and upcoming guest posts! We will continue to explore ways to encourage participation in congregational singing. There is a lot more to say!
Also, while you’re here, be sure to look at my ebook, “Goal-oriented Practice.” It will save you practice time! You will know the music securely and still have a chance to go outside and work on that snowman! 50% off!