How come Nobody’s Singing?

Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore

Looking around the church last Sunday I noticed that the majority weren’t singing. And most of those who were singing barely moved their lips. The only voices I actually heard were those on stage with microphones.

That’s been the case for years now–in churches large and small. What used to be congregational singing has become congregational staring.

Even when the chipper “worship leader” in contemporary churches bounds on stage and predictably beckons everyone to “stand and worship,” the people compliantly obey the stand command, but then they turn into mute mannequins.

What’s behind this phenomenon? What happened to the bygone sounds of sanctuaries overflowing with fervent, harmonizing voices from the pews, singing out with a passion that could be heard down the street? I suspect it’s a number of unfortunate factors.

Spectator set-up. Increasingly, the church has constructed the worship service as a spectator event. Everyone expects the people on stage to perform while the pew-sitters fulfill the expectation of any good audience–file in, be still, be quiet, don’t question, don’t contribute (except to the offering plate), and watch the spotlighted musicians deliver their well-rehearsed concerts.

Professionalism. It seems it’s paramount for church music to be more professional than participatory. The people in the pews know they pale in comparison to the loud voices at the microphones. Quality is worshipped. So the worshippers balk at defiling the quality with their crude crooning. It’s better to just fake it with a little lip syncing.

Blare. The musicians’ volume is cranked up so high that congregants can’t hear their own voices, or the voices of those around them, even if they would sing. So they don’t sing. What would it add? The overwhelming, amplified sound blares from big speakers, obliterating any chance for the sound of robust congregational singing.

Music choice. Sometimes people refrain from singing because the songs are unfamiliar, hard to sing, or just cheesy. Sometimes worship leaders choose a song that may thematically tie into the day’s sermon topic, but it’s unsingable. Sometimes worship leaders choose lame songs written by their favorite songwriters–themselves.

I admit. I’ve joined the majority. I’ve stopped singing. I’m not happy about it. I know I should overcome these barriers and just praise the Lord with my very unprofessional vocalizations. But I long for an environment that evokes my real heartfelt vocal participation.

(See Thom’s follow-up post here: Confessions of a Worship Wars Mercenary.)

(Thom Schultz is the co-author of Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, and the director of the film When God Left the Building.)

Blessings to you.

5 thoughts on “How come Nobody’s Singing?

  1. Reblogged this on Cyber Support Group and commented:

    A little break from abuse issues is always good for the soul.


  2. Church singing has declined, no doubt about it. And it seems to have done so in the way you describe in your post. In our church, we don’t have a choir or instruments, just the congregation. And our group doesn’t sing well, even with familiar songs, at least by human standards. But we do our best to “raise praise” to the Lord, because it is for Him we sing, from our hearts.

    I think it is detrimental to the congregational participation to have “professional” singers. People do tend to let them “carry the tunes” so to speak, and where does that put us as Christians? The worship to God goes right out the window in situations like that…it becomes a stage performance, that’s it!

    Perhaps that’s why God never asked for instrumental music in the NT worship. He wants the worshippers to do the singing, not the choir…



  3. I agree in part, Steve, with what you said but there are several scriptures where instruments, singing, and dancing is given. And we do have a heavenly choir. I’m not saying not using instruments, etc. is wrong, but instruments,etc. is quoted in scripture. Our worship comes from our heart, or is suppose to, and that’s what counts. Thanks for your input. I appreciate it and hope you have a blessed day.


  4. I loved the old hymns and greatly miss them.


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