One of the great benefits of attending a Christian conference is undoubtedly the singing. Each year during the G3 Conference, I try to record some of the congregational singing just to file away and remember. This week as I listen through livestream to the T4G conference, it’s impressive to hear 10k people, mostly men, singing hymns of truth with passion and boldness. This past November, I attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, and as the gathered church lifted voices of praise through a hymn to the Lord, it was impressive. There were no fancy lights, smoke machines, and minimal use of technology in the room. It was simply people singing praises to our God for the salvation that’s ours through the blood of His Son. So, why is the church not singing on Sunday?
One of the most important things a church does is sing the gospel. David penned these words in Psalm 9:11 – “Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” Certainly David understood the importance, but sadly the church today doesn’t understand the importance of singing praise to the Lord of glory. At least that seems to be the case since the majority of evangelical church sanctuaries are quiet on the Lord’s day. Below I’ve suggested 6 reasons why the church is not singing.
The Men are not Singing
It’s true, and sadly the case, that men are not singing. Not only do most churches have more women in attendance than men, the men who do attend are often seen standing there silently during the congregational singing. It could be the arrangement or the lack of discipleship regarding the importance of singing the gospel, but most men are not singing in the church today. Something must be done to correct this, but the answer is not centered on pragmatic methods or surveys. The answer is rooted in biblical discipleship and the selection of proper worship songs. When you attend a pastors’ conference and you hear the men lifting up their voices in unison, it’s quite impressive.
The Church has Given the Singing Over to the Professionals
One reason why the church is quiet on Sunday is because the church has decided to hand over the responsibility of singing to the professionals. The choirs, praise bands, and praise teams have largely assumed the responsibility of singing in the church worship service. If you turn off the loud music from the praise band, silence the drums, pull the plug on the guitar, and mute the microphones of the praise team, the result would be quite revealing. On a given Sunday, most of the people mumble the words to the songs while the “professionals” sing. We must remember that we’re not called to mumble the words. We’re called to worship God in song, and that can’t happen with mumbling lips and quiet voices.
The Hymns Have Been Replaced with Lighter Praise Songs
There isn’t anything wrong or sinful in the use of new praise songs in worship. Praise God for the ministry of modern hymn writers such as Keith and Kristyn Getty and others who are writing new songs. Most of the songs we sing from the hymn book were once upon a time considered new songs to be used in worship. All extra-biblical songs are written by pastors, theologians, scholars, and musicians rather than apostles. So, for us to limit ourselves to older songs would be a tragic mistake. However, it can be said that many of our good theologically rich songs that contain both weighty lyrics and an appropriate musical arrangement are largely being replaced by lighter praise songs that certainly don’t have the theological depth necessary for use in a worship service.
We’ve reached a day where “And Can It Be” has been replaced with “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” and Charles Wesley has been replaced by Chris Tomlin. Just because a song is on the top 40 Christian music chart doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for a worship service. We should think critically about the theology we’re communicating when choosing a song for worship. Hundreds of good hymns sit in books as unsung choruses each week while the latest new praise song remains in perpetual use. The selection of songs for worship is a solemn task, and it falls under the oversight of the pastors. Regarding the use of primarily new songs today in worship, T. David Gordon writes:
For nineteen centuries, all previous generations of the church (Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or Revivalist), in every culture, employed prayers and hymns that preceded them, and encouraged their best artists to consider adding to the canon of good liturgical forms. That is, none were traditional, in the sense of discouraging the writing of new forms; and none were contemporary, in the sense of excluding the use of older forms. So why now this instance that many, most, or all forms of worship be contemporary? 
Families are not Singing at Home
Family worship was once upon a time a common practice among professing Christians. Today, the busy schedules and technological gadgets have crowded out family worship time. Therefore, most families who attend church in an evangelical church on Sunday have not been engaging in family worship through the week. It’s quite simple, families who don’t sing at home can’t be expected to sing passionately in the gathered church. The little league baseball coach asks my son’s team often, “How many of you are playing baseball at home?” The point he’s driving home is that we can’t expect the children to get better by merely going to one or two practices each week. Family worship is essential for building a foundation and respect for congregational singing. Family worship also builds familiarity with the songs that are used during the congregational worship on Sunday, and this not only helps teach theology, but it helps the entire family memorize songs.
People Get Lost in the Repetition, Progression, and Climax
Many new songs used in worship have awkward arrangements, progressions, and extremely high climactic peaks that make them difficult to sing – especially for men. If the church is distracted by the arrangement and musical expression that points to a climax more than the gospel, that’s a big problem that must be addressed. We want people to sing, but we want our minds involved in the whole process so that it’s not merely an emotional exercise, but also a discipleship and learning tool each week. Mark Dever has written:
These are the hallmarks of good worship songs, whether they’re hymns or choruses: biblical accuracy, God-centeredness, theological and/or historical progression, absence of first-person singular pronouns, and music that complements the tone of the lyrics. 
Modern praise songs have created a new genre often referred to as 7-11 songs. These songs often use the method of repetition to a degree that’s well beyond healthy. If a 7 minute song contains only 2 main lines that are repeated multiple times, it’s most likely not a good song for worship. One of the things lacking in many modern praise songs is the element of poetry. If you read the Psalms in the Bible and if you reflect upon the hymns of church history, they are often using some grammatical element of poetry that enables the song to connect with the congregation. Poetry and well arranged lyrics have a natural progression that enables people to sing freely rather than worrying about missing some transition. Songs full of disorder can’t lead us to worship an orderly God in Spirit and truth.
Progressive media technology provides wonderful tools for use in worship, but if the words are not in sync with the song, it can create a problem for the congregation. One of the major causes for a silent congregation is the misuse of media technology in a church service. If projectors are cutting off or blinking awkwardly, that too can be a distraction that will cause a church to stop singing. In short, media technology and progressive tools can be a powerful aid in the worship of a congregation, but it too can be a massive distraction as well.
The pastors and church leaders are responsible for the selection of good songs each week in order to properly and passionately worship God in truth. We’re called to sing, but if we’re honest, we must address the reasons why the church is perpetually dominated by female voices and for the most part – quiet. The historic Reformation not only gave us the Bible in our common language, but it likewise brought us our hymnal. As the Reformation continues today, it will certainly be visible in the way the church sings to the Lord.
Psalm 67:4 – Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
- T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2010), 42.
- Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 120.