In 1761, John Wesley penned 7 iconic guidelines for corporate singing for church congregations who would be singing out of the Select Hymns with Tunes Annext hymn book.
Believe it or not, in the 18th century it was fairly cutting edge to sing the classic hymns that we know and love today. So, with a heart towards helping people express their worship through song, Wesley added these directions to the beginning of this hymnal.
One of those is Sing All.
Sing All – see that you join the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
Encourage your congregation to sing. Let them know it’s ok to join in! Invite them!
Some times people will see their own lack of skill in singing as an excuse not to join. But God doesn’t look on the outer appearance of a person. In the same way, He isn’t bothered by the sound of our voices. Because it’s the sound of our hearts that He cares about. Find ways to encourage your people to join in singing.
By doing any activity that a person isn’t the greatest at, there is an opportunity for humility. Yes, there also comes the possibility of embarrassment, but that’s not the point. As a worship leader you have the great privilege of helping people “find the voice of their heart.” No one, at any given time, should ever be ostracized for the lack of skill in singing.
Sure, there are exceptions when a person might be singing so obnoxiously loud that they then become a distraction. That is not the scenario we’re talking about here, and is also addressed in John Wesley’s Guidelines.
Here are some tips to encourage ALL singing:
1) Consider the entire setlist as opportunities for every vocal range to participate. Spread the lead range throughout several songs. Try not to make every song led by the same person (or same vocal range). If your entire setlist is led by a person with the vocal range of Johnny Cash, then only those folks who are comfortable in that range will join in heartily. Spread it around. Let a female lead a song, then let a male lead another song.
2) Sing familiar songs more than unfamiliar songs. There’s nothing wrong with fresh new songs, but if your goal is to get people to join in singing regularly, then you need to sing songs that people regularly hear. Is there a local radio station that plays solid modern worship songs? Repeating songs is not a crime! There’s an old worship leader adage that goes something like, “When the worship leader/team gets tired of a doing a song, that’s about the time the congregation has really latched on to it.”
3) Use acapella (without instruments) moments to allow the church to hear themselves collectively singing. Every song doesn’t need a drums and vocals part, but these are the times when the band isn’t overpowering the room and people can actually hear the collective voices in the room. End songs with an extra choruses, where it’s only the vocals and maybe a simple strum at the top of each measure (or chord change).
4) Use simple vocal cues like “Let’s fill the room with the sound of our voices,” or “Join in as we sing this classic hymn,” or “Sing out with us.” I know these seem obvious, but people are just waiting on the edge of their seats to jump in, they just need that extra little encouragement!
5) Plan setlists WITH the person giving the message each week. Sometimes having a song that really emphasizes the message can really inspire folks to join in singing.
6) Above all, pray for an environment where people fee freedom to worship. Pray that the Lord would show you areas to learn and grow in as a leader. Pray for your people. Worship is a beautiful thing, singing collectively is just one of the ways we can express worship together as the Church. People shouldn’t be bound by fear when it comes to singing. Pray for them!!
Russ Hutto is the Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church where he mentors, oversees and helps lead Family and Student worship environments. He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship