I’m convinced what’s happening in so many congregations is that the worship leader chooses songs that are either poorly-suited to congregational singing or beyond the skill of his church. He hears a new song, falls in love with it, and for the best of motives wants to sing it with the people he loves and leads. He practices and masters it, he rehearses it with the band, and it sounds great. But when he brings it to the service on Sunday, it’s well beyond the ability of his people.
Every week a pastor or worship leader chooses the songs his church will sing the following Sunday. Every week he combs through the possibilities to select the five or six that will best fit within the service he is planning. How can he choose well? How can he best serve his congregation in their singing?
I have traveled a fair bit through the first half of this year, and just about everywhere I’ve gone I’ve had the privilege of attending church services. I’ve worshipped with little congregations in isolated places and I’ve worshipped with great big congregations in the heart of major cities. I’ve experienced worship at home and abroad, I’ve sung music accapella and with the accompaniment of top-quality bands, I’ve sung in English and done my best to follow along in foreign languages. And through it all, I have been quietly but deliberately observing. I have been thinking about how we worship best.
The service planner faces a few tough challenges. The first is the challenge of choice. The song possibilities are almost endless, and we have tens of thousands available to us. We have hymns that have endured the ages, we have modern worship written to suit our times, we have the trusty old Psalms, and we have a whole lot more besides. The second is the challenge of popularity. Through radio and Internet, Christians have immediate access to the latest and greatest songs and many people want to sing on Sunday what they first hear on Wednesday. Rare is the leader who can withstand the pressure of the CCLI top 100! The third is the challenge of ability. We are not a singing culture. We do not sing in public and rarely sing in private. Most have no sense of how to sing in a group and only the rarest few have any notion of parts and harmonies.
With those challenges in mind, here is my observation: The most successful worship leaders are the ones who want to hear their congregations sing—to really sing.The most successful worship leaders are the ones most attuned to the musical ability of their congregations and the ones most committed to choosing songs their people can sing. They prioritize these factors over a host of others.