Nothing is quite as discouraging for worship leaders than a congregation that does not sing. Sometimes you look up at them and think you just got thrown into a scene in The Walking Dead. Unfortunately, this occurrence is all too common in churches today. Here are three practical ways you can prepare and lead worship that will help increase congregational singing at your church and hopefully reduce the number of zombies.
1. Choose optimal keys for the "average Joe" to sing.
The first way to increase congregation singing is by choosing optimal song keys. When you are selecting songs and building your worship set, take time to research and find the optimal key for each song to encourage congregational singing. Choosing a key that is too high or too low for the average Joe to sing creates a huge barrier for engagement. When searching for the right key, I ask myself, “is the vocal range of the melody comfortable for someone with a baritone or mezzo-soprano voice type?” I use this criterion because these vocal ranges are most comfortable for men and women with little vocal training. Chances are your congregation is not full of Chris Tomlin tenors or Lauren Daigle altos. If you select keys optimal for tenors and altos, do not be surprised if they just stare at you either admiring your killer vocal range or frustrated they cannot sing comfortably. A quick way to check whether or not the key is optimal for an average vocal range is by seeing whether the melody stays within the following ranges on the piano keyboard. A-2 to D-4 for men and A3-D-5 for women. In some cases, it is okay if the melody goes a little higher or lower than these ranges, but only if it is for a note or two. The more a songs range sticks within the middle of these optimal ranges, the easier it is for your congregation to sing along.
2. Strategically introduce new songs.
The next way you can increase congregational singing is by strategically introducing new songs. I love introducing new worship songs and I think we live in an exciting time with so many gifted songwriters crafting amazing music for our churches. While I would encourage you to continue introducing new music to your congregation, be strategic about it. Here are a few things to keep in mind. First, avoid introducing too many new songs too quickly. Force yourself to choose only the new songs you feel your church would connect with best. The exact frequency really depends on the culture of your church. I’ve been a church that requires singing a new song about five times before people finally start to feel familiar with it and engage. I’ve also been at churches where the first time a song is introduced everyone is singing it with gusto like they have heard it a billion times. I think for most churches, one or two new songs a month is doable, so long as you repeat those songs in following weeks to continue raising familiarity with them. Generally, by the time I am sick of singing a new song, that is when the congregation finally begins to connect with it. Strategically introducing new songs requires planning further ahead than only one week in advance to properly mix them in with older songs and determine the frequency of how often that new song is repeated. If you put in the time to strategize introducing and repeating a new song, people will increasingly engage and sing it over time.
3. Engage your congregation.
Finally, the third way to increase congregational singing is to engage your congregation. A lot of worship leaders struggle with the feeling that they are the lone worshipper in a room full of unengaged people. In my experience, I have found that engagement is a two-way street. In order to lead people to a place of engagement and singing, worship leaders must take initiative to engage the congregation. This can be done by implementing some simple practices and techniques in the way you lead. First, make eye-contact and smile at your congregation. This establishes a basic but important relationship with them as their worship leader. If your eyes are glued to your music stand or confidence monitor, why would anyone feel compelled to follow you in worship? Next, use simple call-outs like “sing it out” or “let’s lift up our voices” once in awhile to remind them that they should be singing with you. Finally, give your congregation brief pastoral moments that connect the sermon to the song you are about to sing or simply shed some light on the meaning of songs you sing. People will take action and sing when they are giving a compelling reason of why they should sing. Remember that your congregation did not spend all week thinking about why you chose those particular songs. Keep them in the know, but be brief. They do not need a second sermon.
What other worship planning and leading techniques have you found that encourage congregational singing? This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it gives your a few simple action items that you can begin implementing now in order to encourage and increase congregational singing at your church.