Recently, we released an 8-Question Survey on Worshipin which we asked the participants questions about their church’s corporate worship services. Of the 1020+ people surveyed, many expressed an interest in making congregational singing more meaningful, thoughtful, and enthusiastic. We’d like to offer some suggestions in response on how to make congregational singing more engaging. First, let’s look at two texts that speak directly to that subject.
Colossians 3:16 - "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."Ephesians 5:18-19 - "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart."
There’s a lot we can say here about corporate worship, but for our purposes, notice the two primary motivations of congregational singing: the Word of Christ and the Spirit of God. These passages are crucial to understand because they ground our tether to eternal truths and protect us from relying on the music itself to create an engaging worship experience. Musical style isn't irrelevant, but it’s also not the starting point of congregational singing. Don't begin with musical preference. Instead, start with the unchanging Word and the life-giving Spirit.
“A believer who is saturated with the Word and controlled by the Spirit will naturally engage in grace-filled singing."
What does this mean for members of the congregation?
As a member of a local church body, it’s vitally important to immerse yourself in the Word and to submit yourself to the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. A Word-saturated heart resonates with the corporate expression of the Word when it is sung, preached, or prayed. If you find that the worship service isn’t engaging you, don’t blame musical style or execution of the service before taking stock of your relationship with God. If you've spent the week pursuing God, you'll be enthusiastic to sing as you hear His Word reverberating in every part of the worship gathering.
What does this mean for worship leaders?
1. Make it a priority to teach your church body the truths expressed in Col 3:16 and Eph 5:18-19. Shepherd them through the reasons why we sing in the first place when we gather together. A congregation will take its cues from their leaders, so the burden is on you to teach them how to approach every service. If you’ve never taught them, you can't blame them.
2. Intentionally choose songs that are doctrinally rich and accurate. Now, that doesn't mean you have to choose songs loaded with 6-syllable theological terms like "transubstantiation." Simply ask yourself, “Which songs 'say it best’ in a way that connects with my local church body?” Here again, you are leading your congregation by the songs that you choose.
3. Strive to lead your church body throughout the service with thoughtful, scripture-infused comments. There's no need to preach a sermonette, but a well-thought out, 2-3 sentence comment helps the congregation connect to what’s being sung, especially if you are framing the service around a particular theme. When you lead in this way, you provide the congregation with clues to know what to look for when they sing.
Imagine a congregation comprised of individuals who are being filled with the Word and controlled by the Spirit on a daily basis. There they are, in one room, with all of their hearts magnetically attracted to God and to each other through the Word and Spirit. Imagine the kind of congregational singing that body of believers will produce!