After discussing some general thoughts and observations about church music I am now going to provide some practical application.
- Our Music Must Be Singable
If the purpose of our music is for congregational singing, than practically speaking the congregation must be able to sing the music. I have noticed a few trends in worship services that actually discourage congregational singing. The first is what is often called the wall of sound. It isn’t necessarily about the volume, although that is a factor, but it is about the amount of energy and sound coming from the front of the room. The guitar riffs are cool and I’m glad we have them in our services, and the drums keep the music from being just unbearable boring, but sometimes the worship band produces so much sound that you can’t hear anything around you. While in some pews that may be a blessing, it defeats the purpose of the music in the first place. The goal is to sing as a congregation and to do so we must be able to hear each other. The wall of sound should be coming from the pew to the front not from the front to the pew.
Another factor that is discouraging congregational singing is the register in which the songs are played. I have been in services that have just completely worn my voice out because the songs are so high, and I am a natural tenor. The people on the stage are up there for a reason, they are highly talented, but not all of us bear those same gifts. I believe congregational singing would greatly increase by just lowering the keys of some of our songs.
The third factor that is discouraging congregational singing is the room itself. We turn off all the house lights, paint the ceilings and walls dark colors, and then put blindingly bright lights pointed toward the stage. We are designing and setting up our worship centers in ways that communicate something entirely different than our message. We are telling everyone to focus on the front of the room rather than congregational singing.
I am not just going to be negative about the singability factor, because I have also seen some great things happening in worship services. I am thrilled to see the return of hymns, not because I’m stuck in the mud and think we need to return to the good ole hymnals, but because hymns are meant to be sung. The hymn does nothing but promote congregational singing. The new hymns being written are going to one day find themselves among the great classics we all know so well.
2. Our Music Must Be Sustainable
As I said previously I am optimistic about the trend toward singable songs, and I love to listen to new ones as they come out, but there is something trulls special about singing a song that was sung by the great-grandparents of my grandparents. If our music truly does provide a common heritage as I wrote in a previous post, than the music we sing in church must have some element of sustainability. The song “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” has been song for going on 500 years, yet the song “Into Marvelous Light I’m Running” has disappeared into an oblivion never to be sung again. This factor must be considered when selecting songs for congregational singing. Just because a song is new and popular doesn’t mean you should sing it in your church, we must sing sustainable music, and lots of na na’s and la la’s just aren’t going to cut it.
3. Our Music Must Have Sound Theology
No one can deny the fact that music is memorable and music is a great teacher, that has already been covered. The practical outworking of this is that our music must have sound theology. I think this is one of the factors that not only makes a song sustainable, but even singable. The people can hold on to the words because they are so dear and true. For example, I cannot sing the words, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be. Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above,” without being overcome with reverence and worship for my God. Likewise, the newer song Hallelujah! What a Savior stir me in the same way. Here is a sample from one of the verses, “O Guilty, vile, and helpless me; Spotless Lamb of God was He; Full atonement! can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior! Lifted up was He to die; ‘It is finished!’ was His cry; Now in Heaven exalted high Hallelujah! What a Savior!” Our songs MUST have good theology, there is no exception to this rule. Artistry is necessary, but not in place of sound theology. Nothing will improve the congregational singing more than the people singing good theology!
4. Our Music Must Be Excellent
Lastly, and most practically, our music must be done with excellence. We cannot sacrifice quality for style or trends. It would be better to do old music well than new music poorly. There is no point in doing bad music. I’m not saying every church needs to higher professional musicians, but I am saying that if worship is as important as we say it is, than our musicians shouldn’t be out of practice or ill-equipped. A little practice goes a long way, and choosing music that fits your group’s abilities can make it sound so much better.
By the way, the excellent factor has nothing to do with church size. I have seen some bad music in large churches and I have seen some trulls great music in the smallest of churches. The point is not to become more performance based, but to honor the Lord with the best of our abilities. Our congregations will be the better for it. What ever it is that your church does musically, do it well!
-Brayden L. Buss