Why You Need to Sing Loudly in Church

Five reasons you have no choice but to sing in church on Sunday.

Each week, upwards of 100 million people in America attend church, listen responsively to the sermons, and pray sincerely. But when it comes time to sing the hymns, the level of engagement drops dramatically.

KKGLiveatTGC-Cover-HiResThere are many proposed reasons for this fall off, all of which hold validity. It could be the wider culture’s waning interest in community singing, the diminishing levels of music education in the West, the role of choirs in schools, the unstable and increasingly narcissistic elements in church music, or even the spiritual state of our nation as a whole.

For millennia, music has been an integral part of corporate worship. The first hymns are as old as the early books of the Bible. The disciples and early church leaders sang those songs and added some of their own.

Notable thinkers throughout history (and into the current era) — everyone from Luther to Bach to John Newton — have so believed in the importance of corporate worship that they, too, contributed to the grand canon of hymns we know today.

As a contemporary hymn writer who travels to cities worldwide, I love to meet pastors and worship leaders and encourage them to lead their congregations in deeper, more passionate singing. Here are just five of the many reasons we should all sing passionately in church this Sunday:

1. We are commanded to sing.

We are called to sing — indeed, the Scriptures command us more than 250 times to sing. It’s hardly one of those “controversial” issues that is hard to ascertain precisely what scripture is saying. It’s not a choice. It’s not dependent on “feeling like it.” It’s not our prerogative.

Throughout biblical history, in every place and circumstance — in victory and defeat, in celebrations and festivals, in death and mourning — singing was second nature for people of faith. Indeed, the largest book of the Bible — Psalms — is itself a songbook that explores the range of human experience and interaction with God through singing.

In the New Testament, Paul tells the early churches to get together and sing. In Ephesians 5, he reiterates the call of old to engage with each other in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making music from the heart.

2. Singing together completes our joy.

Celebrating with each other is as natural as breathing. At our kid’s soccer game or when we watch football or March Madness, it’s not enough for our team to win. We want to revel in the moment and share it with others. Marking a birthday, winning a prize, or getting a raise are all incomplete until we get to share them with those we love.

Similarly, for the faithful, the joy of living, of praying, of studying Scripture cannot be complete until shared. Singing together reminds us — not just intellectually, but experientially — that we are not slaves to the rugged individualism promoted by society. We’re actually responsible to one another.

Christian apologist CS Lewis believed that singing completes our faith. In his Reflections on the Psalms, he writes, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is appointed consumption.”

3. Singing is an expression of brotherhood and unites generations.

Singing together is a picture here on earth of the hope of heaven where every tribe, tongue, and nation will sing to God. Throughout history, God’s people have both discovered and affirmed their solidarity in times of celebration and in times of tragedy through singing.

Consider again those first churches Paul was leading. They often had little in common — they were culturally different, citizens of national enemies, sometimes with different religious traditions or no tradition at all, and sometimes even lacking common language or dialect. His admonition in Ephesians is not a simplistic instruction; it was a hard thing. But, all the more is the importance of their (and our) singing together as it was an undeniable expression of their brotherhood and unity.

It is a curious thing that stats may show the subject of congregational singing (or sadly, perhaps, the larger topic of church music) may have caused more splits within Christian communities than any movement since the Reformation.

The depth of brotherhood that could have been achieved by something as simple as singing together shines a harsh light on the insensitivity of church members and leadership who have broken congregations over so-called “worship wars.”

4. We are what we sing.

Singing affects how we pray, think, and feel. It influences our memory banks and even the deepest parts of our subconscious.

My wife, Kristyn, and I have noticed when we sing children’s hymns in the car with our girls they actually behave better than if, say, they were watching television.

At the other end of the scale, my grandfather arrived at church early on Sundays — very early. He sat in the pew, opened a hymnal, and rehearsed the songs to himself over and over. And though I was glad when we visited him, quiet reflection early on a Sunday morning was not my forte.

But, many years later, when he was in his nineties and unable to remember my name or how to accomplish even the most basic tasks of daily life, he still could recite or respond to the words of those hymns. They were songs he carried for life, and they brought him considerable peace, even at one of the most difficult stages of life, because they were so deeply engrained to his being.

In Deuteronomy 31, we read the instruction of the Lord to Moses to write down the words of the song he was given and to teach it to his children so that when many evils and trouble befell them, the song would be a reminder to them lest they turn away.

If the songs we sing to ourselves and to each other are just of the moment, detached from Scripture and lacking in history or perspective, we’ve little to keep us moored to Truth. But when we are intentional about singing and the songs we sing, we build up a testimony that will travel with us through life.

5. Singing bears testimony to our faith.

How we sing, if we sing, how passionately we sing — our singing itself — is a witness to those looking on. There is no choice in the matter. In the level of our engagement with the songs and participation in the singing, we testify to the joy of an excited believer or betray the chill of a disinterested spectator.

In the New Testament, we read of Christians gathered together who so passionately expressed their faith together in song that the people looking on thought them to be drunk because that was the only explanation for their uniformed experience.

Ultimately, those who may feel they are on the outside looking in will, from the deepest part of themselves, respond to authentic and passionate singing to discover the truth held in the God songs we sing.

*   *   *

As we head to church on Sunday — as overworked dads, stressed out mums, grandparents struggling with health, and young people looking for wealth — we can, with integrity and relief, go with repentance and thanksgiving to the One who has created us, forgiven us and who lives within us. How can we not sing?

It was King David who, in the aftermath of the debacle of his adultery with Bathsheba, turned to God and said, “ . . . my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Psalm 51).

The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Keith Getty
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  • Andrea Krigbaum

    5 times yes, simply but powerfully put.

  • http://www.djedwardson.com DJ Edwardson

    A timely, and yet timeless reminder of the importance and the gift of worship through song. Thank you for writing and sharing this, Keith. I’ve been personally blessed by your music for many years. S.D.G.

  • denise

    I appreciate the singing of our church during the traditional service – the singing is rich and few keep silent – our hearts express deep truths through the words of the hymns we sing together. It never ceases to convict, encourage, strengthen, and bring hope to my heart.

  • Ruth King Goddard

    Great words, and important to hear. But as a worship development specialist and a worship pastor, I believe we as leaders, planners, and songwriters must work hard to make worship song more accessible. For many reasons, a growing majority believe singing is beyond reach. They feel singing is something only the talented have permission to do. The word “sing” itself in many areas means perform, not participate. Because of the God-created intimacy of the personal singing voice, together with the shame our culture heaps on voices that don’t measure up, great fear is the response for many when asked to sing where others can hear them.

    Yes, we are commanded to sing. Absolutely. But leadership must also create an environment and vehicles of song that a enables a non-“singer” to sing. That means among many things: a song vocal range limited primarily to the speaking voice, using short musical phrase repetition, limiting wide melodic skips, clear melodic leadership, resonant acoustics, etc. But even more important, the leadership must intentionally encourage the entire congregation, not just “singers,” move past their fear and begin to experiment and use the incredible God-created tool that engulfs our entire being in it’s expressiveness.

    • nwcolorist

      My church, which might be classified as a small mega-church, is aimed at young people with multiple weekend services. It has always had a strong music ministry. The standard response after praise and worship was ‘well, we can all go home now’. It was always inspiring.

      I attend the ‘traditional’ Sunday 9 am service, which here means sandwiching in one verse and chorus of an oldie between two contemporary songs. Well… maybe not quite that extreme.

      As a senior, I love the old hymns, but, hey, I grew up in the ’60’s, so I also enjoy the contemporary ‘rock’ services for the energy and life that bubbles up from the young people. (The decibel level can sometimes be an issue.)

      Your comments hit the mark, pastor. Keep the vocal range singable (that was a problem with the older hymns), and keep the melodies and lyrics simple. In short, making the music as accesible as poosible to all the worshipper.

      It’s a beautiful experience towards the end of a song, when the instrumentalists stop playing, and to hear the sound of a thousand voices singing praises acapella to God as one voice.

  • Jim Watson

    There are many people who would love to sing. In fact, many of these people sing outside of church. Song selection is often the barrier. From keys too high or too low to ranges two wide, there are many songs (even in the traditional hymnals) that are nearly impossible for people to sing. Add a few slides with the wrong lyrics and a worship leader that berates the congregation for not meeting his/her expectations, and you have a recipe for the congregation to withdraw from that activity.

    We need to provide models for the various voices. If you want men to sing, for instance, you need a lower voice to lead them. Sing the songs the congregation wants to sing, not the ones that John Wesley found to be appropriate for Easter. Wesley is dead. He won’t be singing either. And, there are many different songs for many different occasions. And, the songs you pick don’t need to be chosen based on the message being preached that week. God can use music in addition to the message. But, if they are all the same message, you don’t really need both.

    Remember that a worship leader needs followers. If the congregation isn’t following you, you are not their worship leader. You are just a singer with a microphone (and maybe a musical instrument).

  • Karla

    The church lights are turned down; the worship band is spotlighted on stage; many newer songs are either hard to sing, have more words than notes to put them with, or are boringly and mind-numbingly repetitive and non-melodic; there are words, but no notes on the screen to follow . . . To those of us who are not proficient musicians, this all adds up to an invitation, not to sing, but to watch a performance. Such a disappointment when corporate worship in song is discouraged and discouraging. In an effort to force participation the volume is cranked up and the singers seem to screech out the words in an effort to drown out any attempt by the congregation to sing. Current trends in worship music dumb down the experience such that it is no longer enjoyable, comfortable, or encouraging to the average person to join in. Many Sundays as I leave our church I am left with a desire for a simple worship time in which I can participate with other congregants with no need to compete with the show on-stage.

  • Gary Roseboom

    Allow a slight correction to #4!

    Moses’ song in Deut. 31 was not a reminder lest the children of Israel turn away from God. Rather, it was a testimony against them for having “filled themselves and become fat and turned to other gods.”

    Not that there isn’t a place for such songs today . . .

  • Dwayne Borgstrand

    I only sing when the music is below 100 decibels.

  • willias4

    Since I have become profoundly hearing impaired, music is only noise to me. I choose to sing in my heart and not vocalize.

    • Ronnie Hardin

      Willias4, My bride lost her hearing 5 years ago and it was a mourning loss being a music lover. As a worship leader it blesses my heart to see her sing even tho she doesn’t know the melody, but she does read the words.

  • bmayer57

    We feel so strongly about singing as an act of worship that we require all students in our small missionary training school to join the choir for one year as a graduation requirement; we also offer free voice lessons for all (not required). The few that can’t be taught to sing on tune get special tutorials on voice development and other opportunities to enrich their musical life. However, I fear the current trend in churches to feature “praise teams” will only make singing increasingly an elitist experience with the rest relegated to taking part in a spectator sport. This is exactly the opposite effect that the Protestant reformation had on the musical experience of the new “priesthood of all believers.”

  • marklowe

    As a singer song writer, studio owner and sound engineer there is one thing that I have learnt- if someone can’t hear themselves when they sing they sing less and less. I often have to pull the band back so that the congregation get to take part. I teach the musicians that dynamics have to be all about dropping out, not doing more and louder. I have been in conferences where we have had to mic the audience up and feed it through the system to give them a chance against the band, there is a lack of basic teaching on these modern dynamics.

  • marklowe

    As a singer song writer, studio owner and sound engineer there is one thing that I have learnt- if someone can’t hear themselves when they sing they sing less and less. I often have to pull the band back so that the congregation get to take part. I teach the musicians that dynamics have to be all about dropping out, not doing more and louder. I have been in conferences where we have had to mic the audience up and feed it through the system to give them a chance against the band, there is a lack of basic teaching on these modern dynamics.

  • http://4ambassadorsofchrist.blogspot.com/ Jarmila V. Del Boccio

    Excellent article, Keith!

  • Kyle Boreing

    A few weeks ago, I cleared the entire platform for a wedding, and rather than reset it, I left it empty the following Sunday, sat on a stool on the floor down front, and played a guitar. I told the congregation, “This morning, I’m just going to play the songs and give you direction – YOU are going to do all the singing!” It was a very moving service….and something I’d like to repeat in the near future…