Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Slow Death of Congregational Singing

Here is a very interesting article about worship as it is conducted in most evangelical churches.

"I was at a convention recently, seated near the rear of the auditorium. The music team at the front were ‘leading’ (and I use that word advisedly) and we were singing. Well, we were meant to be singing. And so I did what I've done quite often lately: I closed my eyes and listened to the singing. The song leaders with their microphones were clear and distinct. I could identify each of the several instruments accompanying the singers. But if you blocked out the ‘worship team’, all that was left around the building was a barely audible murmur. I opened my eyes and looked around. Most folk were either standing silently, not even making a pretence of singing, or were little engaged in the activity.
I turned to a friend next to me and commented, “No-one's singing”. He looked at me as if I'd just observed that no-one was flying. Of course they're not singing; we haven't really sung here for years."

After exploring some biblical themes concerning worship the author draws some points of application:

"(w)hether you travel across the urban areas of Asia, Africa, North America or Australia, everywhere you go, increasingly, the singing in the church—both the songs that are sung and the style of music—is the same. It's the McDonaldization of our world. And in every church you visit across the world, the music is just the same. I'd describe it as the ‘Hillsongization’ of music except that it's such a clumsy word. Oh, the words of the songs might differ, but it's the same music team singing the same way. There's the obligatory leader with the obligatory two or three singers accompanying her, the obligatory drummer, the obligatory keyboard player and the obligatory two guitarists. You're allowed some freedom in your choice of a sax or a flute, depending on the resources available, but it's all exactly the same for every song in every place.
Surely it's time to sit down and ask ourselves what is the best medium for actually promoting congregational singing? From my observation, our present approach has been weighed in the balances and found wanting."

And near the end he adds these words.

As I travel around visiting churches, I've noticed again and again that, for all their good intentions (and the vast majority are, I believe, well-intentioned), the music teams are killing congregational singing. I know that sounds harsh, but I see it in case after case. I enjoy the sound of an electric piano, the beat of the drums, the rhythm of the guitars, and the backing of the saxes and flutes, but my favourite instrument is the human voice. Nothing lifts my soul like being a part of 50— 100—300 saints in full voice, singing the praises of God and the glories of the gospel. Unfortunately that's a disappointingly rare experience.

While the music program in my church is modest by most contemporary standards my congregation sings well. It is quite a blessing to stand up front and hear voices raised to God.

Click here for the rest of the article: The Briefing Library: The slow death of congregational singing


Joe said...

Dave, the author makes many good observations and addresses an important issue. So it's a shame some of his arguments are not more compelling.

His full article does offer a scriptural basis for full congregational participation in the singing. No problem there.

But when he complains about "McDonaldization" of church music, he just mainly makes the point that the music he doesn't like is "all exactly the same." Well, compared to what? Is he implying there is more diversity among churches that sing traditional hymns to piano or organ?

Hymns sung a capella, to piano, or to organ may be better, but he fails to show that it's because of their variety or diversity or because they oppose McDonaldization.

It's as if he just doesn't like the praise songs sung in worship. Neither do I. I just wish he would have explained why, from a Biblical basis, as others have done. His editor let a rant sneak in where argument and evidence belonged.

He concludes by writing that his "favourite instrument is the human voice" and "nothing lifts [his] soul" like singing with the saints. It's good to know that's how he feels because we can identify with him, but his preferences alone contribute very little to his argument.

Good causes deserve better arguments.


Dave Sarafolean said...


Well said. I also wished that he'd been more thorough in explaining his arguments.

While the article is a 'rant' I find it telling that the editor let it go by at all. Perhaps this author's experience is not all that isolated and the editor is in basic agreement.

If I'd been thinking I should've posted a question to test his hypothesis and elicit feedback. Maybe I will re-post it for that purpose.