There’s a trend that I’ve been seeing over the past year — blog posts that use a ridiculous title to garner attention. “Why I’m getting a divorce in 2014.” “Marriage isn’t for you.” And others that I could list (but won’t).
People see the headline, which piques their interest, so they click into the post. Then there’s some kind of juxtaposition between the blog title and the blog content, and perhaps even a valid point or two. But in the interactions I’ve seen, generally on Facebook, people think the blog title is so witty that they fail to see the problems with the content.
I saw another one today that I disagreed with so strongly that I feel the need to deconstruct it in detail: “Why men have stopped singing in church.” Here are my thoughts.
Generalization from a single observation
“I was attending one of those hip, contemporary churches…”
Hmmm, let’s go back and look at the title. “Why men [plural] have stopped singing in church [an implied universal, in my judgment].” So after a visit to one church, the writer feels the need to imply universality that all men in all churches are no longer singing.
Could there be a trend? Certainly.
Could that trend be limited in some way — perhaps to churches of similar “hip, contemporary” style, or geographic region, or other factor? Certainly.
Do I think it’s a bit of an overstatement for a writer to use the title, “Why men have stopped singing in church” based on his personal observation of one church? Certainly.
“Lyrics were projected on the screen, but almost no one sang them. A few women were trying, but I saw only one male (other than the worship leader) making the attempt.”
Again, the writer has made a personal observation here, and noticed only one other man singing. Could he have possibly seen every other man in the church? I suppose, if the building were small enough. But I doubt his survey was that complete. (Did he miss the entire point of the worship service by paying more attention to what other people were doing? I think so.)
Hyperbole, with an appeal to antiquity
“In the church of my youth, everyone picked up a hymnal and sang every verse of every song.”
That statement could very well have been true of his church, although I expect that he’s employing a bit of hyperbole there. The church of my youth used hymnals, too (and still does), but we didn’t sing every verse. In fact, it’s somewhat of a running joke in that denomination that they regularly skip the third verse. Nor did we sing every hymn. There were plenty of hymns in the hymnal that we never sang.
“In short order we went from 250 songs everyone knows to 250,000+ songs nobody knows.”
I don’t even know where to begin with this statement. Supposedly, from his own earlier statement, his church sang every verse of every song. I don’t know which hymnal they used, but the hymnals I’ve seen contain anywhere from 500-700 songs. (We used Great Hymns of the Faith at the church of my youth, which has 538 songs.) Yet according to the writer, there were only “250 songs everyone knows?” How could they sing every song, yet know only 250 songs?
And now there are supposedly “250,000+ songs that nobody knows.” Again, I think there’s a bit of hyperbole being employed here to try and prove a point. But let’s just suppose that there are in fact 250,000 worship songs that a church has at their disposal, and they sing 4 worship songs per service. That means the church could have 62,500 services before repeating the same song. So figuring that there are 52 weeks in a year, or 52 Sundays in a year, that means the church could go 1,202 years without repeating the same song. Perhaps you can see why my hyperbole sensor is reacting.
Some scare tactics
“And so the church has returned to the 14th century. Worshippers stand mute as professional-caliber musicians play complex instruments, sung in an obscure language. Martin Luther is turning over in his grave.”
Let’s save the assumptions of what Martin Luther is doing. I have no idea how Martin Luther would react to the churches and worship services of today, and neither do you.
Has the church “returned to the 14th century”? Again, I don’t know for sure, so I wouldn’t say it so dramatically, but I really doubt it. We have many advantages today that believers in the 14th century never had (example: multiple translations of the Bible available in many languages on any electronic device we have). But I think it’s a bit overboard to suggest we’re traveling back to the dreaded 14th century simply because we’re projecting words on a screen now instead of holding hymnals in our hand.
“What does this mean for men? On the positive side, men no longer feel pressure to sing in church.”
Let me say this: if men “feel pressure to sing in church” simply because they’re expected to do what everyone else is doing, then holding a hymnal or not holding a hymnal shouldn’t change that. If the expectation is that everyone sings, then that expectation applies to men as well. I’ll also say this: if men “feel pressure to sing in church” simply because everyone else is doing it, then they’ve missed the point, and no hymnal will help them. They need to understand the reason for singing and know to Whom they are singing.
“The key is familiarity. People enjoy singing songs they know.”
This isn’t just true of singing in a worship service — this is true of just about everything in life, especially when it comes to church, it seems. We are creatures of habit. We like what we know. We can struggle to learn something new (especially when we’re given an excuse).
But I also know that we can actually learn pretty quickly when we put ourselves to the task — in fact, I know many men who have no problem whatsoever learning the complete roster of their favorite team(s) each year. (These men also have no problem celebrating like maniacs when a football team scores a touchdown, yet can’t sing in worship of the One who has saved their very soul.)
And it doesn’t take long for some of the new songs to become “favorites” of ours. I didn’t know “In Christ Alone” (by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend) until a few years ago, and now it’s one of my favorite songs.
Is it possible that “men have stopped singing in church?” I suppose it is. But I can’t say that for sure, as I haven’t visited many other churches lately. I only know what’s true in my church, and the men seem to me to be singing just fine.
Could worship leaders do a better job of introducing new songs? Certainly. I think we need to be careful with not only how we introduce a new song, but how many new songs we introduce. As I stated earlier, people can struggle to adapt to new things, so we need to help them through that process. Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen used successfully:
- Post a link to a YouTube video of the new song on your church’s website or Facebook page before you ever sing it in church.
- Use the new song as a special number performed as a solo or by a small group a week before asking the congregation to sing it.
- Have the worship leader sing the first verse and then ask the congregation to join in and sing it again.
- Sing the new song each Sunday for a month to make it familiar.
Do we need to figure out how to make the musical notation more available to the congregation? I think so. There are often many people in a congregation who understand the basics of music notation who would benefit from “seeing the music” when learning a new song — it would help them understand if the tune is going up or down, how the notes and lyrics go in time with the rhythm, and perhaps most important to save embarrassment, where the rests occur. I think that somehow churches need to work with music publishers and their technology tools to figure out a way to project not just the words, but also the notes. And if the song has vocal parts, I think those parts should be projected, too. Many people enjoy singing a part (alto, tenor, bass), not only because of their own God-given vocal range, but also because the blend of the parts can be beautiful.
But most importantly, if “men have stopped singing in church,” it’s my personal belief that all of the things provided in the aforementioned blog post are simply excuses. It is each person’s responsibility to not only be a member of the body of believers, the church, but also to be engaged and active in the church. I believe that pastors will answer to God for how they led their church, and that includes worship leaders answering for how they led times of corporate worship. But we will each individually answer to God for our own actions, and I’d hate to think of explaining to God that I didn’t worship him publicly by singing simply because my church introduced too many new songs and didn’t project the notes on the screen.
Finally, if your church is like one of these “hip, contemporary churches” that this writer mentioned, speak up. Speak to the men in your congregation who aren’t singing or have given up and challenge them to put forth the effort. And speak graciously and respectfully to your worship leader(s). It’s possible that they don’t know what’s happening. They need to hear what is going on, and to hear of your concern. It’s also possible that you don’t know all of the reasons for why something is being done the way it is, so you may need to come to an understanding.
But don’t give up. Don’t stand by idly because things aren’t exactly the way you want them to be. Stand up. Speak up. And sing.