Why men have stopped singing in church

  • Worship band in the darkIt happened again yesterday. I attended one of those hip, contemporary churches — and almost no one sang. Worshippers stood obediently as the band rocked out, the smoke machine belched and lights flashed. 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.

    Last month I blogged, “Have Christians Stopped Singing?” I did some research, and learned that congregational singing has ebbed and flowed over the centuries. It reached a high tide when I was a young man – but that tide may be going out again. And that could be bad news for men.

    First, a very quick history of congregational singing.

    Before the Reformation, laypersons were not allowed to sing in church. Sacred music was performed by professionals (priests and cantors), played on complex instruments (pipe organs), and sung in an obscure language (Latin).

    Reformers gave worship back to the people, in the form of congregational singing. They composed simple tunes with lyrics that people could easily memorize. Some of the tunes came out of local taverns.

    A technological advance – the printing press – led to an explosion of congregational singing. The first hymnal was printed in 1532, and soon a few dozen hymns became standards across Christendom. Hymnals slowly grew over the next four centuries. By the mid 20th century every Protestant church had a hymnal of about 1000 songs, 250 of which were regularly sung. In the church of my youth, everyone picked up a hymnal and sang every verse of every song.

    About a decade ago, a new technological advance – the computer controlled projection screen – entered America’s sanctuaries. Suddenly churches could project song lyrics for all to see. Hymnals became obsolete. No longer were Christians limited to 1,000 songs handed down by our elders.

    At first, churches simply projected the songs everyone knew – hymns and a few simple praise songs that had come out of the Jesus Movement. People sang robustly.

    But that began to change about three years ago. Worship leaders brought in new songs each week. They drew from the radio, the Internet, and Worship conferences. Some began composing their own songs, performing them during worship, and selling them on CD after church.

    Years ago, worship leaders used to prepare their flocks when introducing a new song. “We’re going to do a new song for you now. We’ll go through it twice, and then we invite you to join in.”

    That kind of coaching is rare today. Songs get switched out so frequently today that it’s impossible to learn them. People can’t sing songs they’ve never heard. And with no musical notes to follow, how is a person supposed to pick up the tune?

    And so the church has returned to the 14th century. Worshippers stand mute as professional-caliber musicians play complex instruments, and sing in an obscure language. Martin Luther is turning over in his grave.

    What does this mean for men? On the positive side, men no longer feel pressure to sing in church. Men who are poor readers or poor singers no longer have to fumble through hymnals, sing archaic lyrics or read a musical staff.

    But the negatives are huge. Men are doers, and singing was one of the things we used to do together in church. It was a chance to participate. Now, with congregational singing going away, and communion no longer a weekly ordinance, there’s only one avenue left for men to participate in the service – the offering. Is this really the message we want to send to men? Sit there, be quiet, and enjoy the show. And don’t forget to give us money.

    There’s nothing wrong with professionalism and quality in church music.The problem isn’t the rock band, or the lights, or the smoke machine. The key here is familiarity. When that super-hip band performed a hymn, the crowd responded. People sang. Even the men.

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    February 7th, 2011 | David Murrow | 312 Comments | Tags: , , , , ,

About The Author

David Murrow

David Murrow is the director of Church for Men, an organization that helps congregations reach more men and boys. In his day job, David works as a television producer and writer. He's the author of four books. He lives in Alaska with his wife, three children, three grandchildren and a dachshund named Pepper.

  • http://dadpoet.wordpress.com/ David J. Bauman

    Anything from Song of Solomon is out then.

  • http://www.facebook.com/luke.brandon128 Luke Brandon

    I partly agree. It all comes down to the heart. If a leader cares about whether his/her congregation will ‘get it’ they will do the song repeatedly each week for several weeks so it becomes more familiar. They also won’t mix in more than one new song to the same set. I have introduced a song we’ve never done before in the above example but only when the song is 10+ years old and I’m confident that everybody and their brother has heard it (a la Open the Eyes of my Heart).

    New music creates a fresh way of expressing our love to God. I heard a new song off the brand new Hillsong United album that talked about how “Jesus took the fall but the grave was borrowed.” Such a creative way to express something incredibly rich in doctrine while fitting it into a single sentence.

    Churches that stick with the same old music become ritualistic and lazy. It’s human nature. I have a hard time seeing leaders do the same old things and claim that they’re giving God their best. Oh sure there are some who can sing the same musically uninteresting hymn every week with a good heart but I think our God is so infinite that our worship to Him should reflect our continual development and understanding of who He is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/luke.brandon128 Luke Brandon

    Big is not successful unless you’re into shallow determinations of those things. Most big churches I’ve led worship in have tremendously dysfunctional staffs, shallow spiritual growth, and little to no true accountability. Something happens between 800-1200 people where community is almost completely lost. The church becomes a status symbol and a brand name we share when we meet each other. Some have done it well but most haven’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/luke.brandon128 Luke Brandon

    On second thought I have more to add. I jumped on this “men don’t sing because of ____” bandwagon a few years ago. We adjusted our ambiance, song selections, outreach, language, etc… to ensure we weren’t overly-feminizing the atmosphere. Nothing really happened. I started a men’s group at the same time my wife started her women’s group. We’ve both successfully led small groups for years and branched out this time to reach our gender specifically. Her group flourished, our group floundered. We tried shoulder to shoulder, face to face, intimate, shallow, etc… The issue is not that we do not cater enough to men, but that men expect to have everything their way and are so regularly shallow themselves that they never really spiritually mature. Godly men worship regardless of whether they know the songs, see diamond-plated decor’, and feel a masculine ambiance. I do a wide mix of music to reach all the dynamics but I don’t cater to any particular group’s immature desires. The time has come for true worshipers to worship in spirit and truth; style is tertiary. If all we end up with is 2/3rds of a congregation women then I’ll take it. I’ll let God convict the hearts of undisciplined men, even if they’re a majority.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheryl.babiak Sheryl Pittman Babiak

    It happened this weekend in our church – the loudest singing came when an old hymn was done by our praise team. I agree, familiarity is key; but very few contemporary musicians can match the powerful words of praise many of the old hymns contain. Many new songs are “me” centered, not God centered. Some don’t even mention God. And with many new songs a map is needed to follow (verse, chorus, 2nd chorus, bridge, verse 2, etc). Not saying to leave out new stuff, but choose carefully. You on the worship team must remember most of the congregation is not musically literate, and we are not coming to watch you perform. We want to praise the Lord!

  • Apryl Anderson

    Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing!
    ;0)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lyn-Ridenour/100001305676237 Lyn Ridenour

    Intimate does not necessarily mean sexual, Bernard. Intimate means to have a very personal relationship. Society has determined that intimate is sexual. A close intimate relationship with Christ is one where you can go to Him with every doubt, every thought, every word, every fear, every celebration. It means He is the center of your life.

  • http://mostlyquestions.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

    Wow. That’s a two year old comment you’re replying to. :)

  • http://twitter.com/failingtofollow Peter Birkinshaw

    Lots of good comments here, and I absolutely agree not teaching new songs, not giving them time to settle in, and singing too many worship songs with shallow content and a dull melody doesn’t help.

    I’d argue however, in some contexts, the lights and smoke machine doesn’t help. Like the old Rood Screen which separated they ordained (priests, cantors and professional) from the laity (everyone else) showy production can lead to pushing the worship band into the realms of professionals, leaving others left out – and not singing. It’s not always the case, and I think it’s as much about attitude from a worship leader as ‘rock concert’ production values. But if it all gives a worship leader something to hide behind – or too much technology to get absorbed in rather than leading the congregation in worship – then you’re on dangerous ground.

    (also, side note: I suspect this issue effects women as much as men, plus, as most worship songs are written by men, or male register voices, I’m aware that some women increasingly find modern worship songs too far out of their range to sing.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nathan-S-Lozada/584762939 Nathan S. Lozada

    It’s an interesting theory- but while constant unfamiliarity is partly to blame for the diminishing of congregational singing, I’m not sure why the author sees unfamiliarity as the primary reason why MEN don’t sing in churches anymore. I don’t see how familiarity breeds masculinity. If that’s case we should see that churches singing out of a 100 page hymn book to have more men singing. I think the reason is far more complex and real culprits marking today’s church are that there are far less men in church and that the problem with songs is not a lack of familiarity but sing-ability. The blogger is on to something in calling out that he’s noticing a predominantly female voice in his congregation- perhaps it’s because there are just less men in his church and in most churches in America today. That’s an even bigger problem than just congregational singing dynamic. To the musical explanation, men who are still in the congregation tend towards the bass range and feel comfortable singing in the key range of A-D. Most CCM songs these days are written and sung in ranges well above the key men are comfortable singing. Because the service meant to facilitate singing and teach truth through song has become a show that tends to play on emotion and showcase talent, both men and women are less likely to try and song over loud instrumentation as opposed to when they actually hear the voices of the saints surrounding them. A fantastic resource on the matter, “Worship Matters” is a book by Bob Kauflin that goes into greater details of biblical congregational singing.
    Matthew Lozada

  • http://www.facebook.com/rusty.eskew Rusty Eskew

    so is anything different about your comment 2 years ago…i pray you are working on an ‘intimate’ relationship with Jesus…don’t let the world dictate what a close personal relationship is…nothing ugly bout an intimate relationship with Jesus!!!

  • http://mostlyquestions.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

    Luke – I think that community gets lost even at smaller numbers than that, although my perception may be tainted by the fact that, in my area, “400” is a megachurch.

  • http://mostlyquestions.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

    David – Again, this is a two year old post / comment stream, so it’s difficult to remember exactly everything that was in my mind when I posted that originally. However, you said it well – I “painted” the dichotomy. :) The dichotomy exists, it’s just that I’ve documented it. What I’ve said does still make perfect sense to me. If “you” tell someone that you attend a church that everyone recognizes, it communicates a lot about who you are, whether or not you’re a “sin tolerant” Christian that the person can still cuss around, and all that. But if you “belong” so some itsy bitsy, family driven crowd that meets in a little white shed on the side of Route 423, people might think you’re a little off balance. I mean, after all, if you went to a church that had a good message and a great preacher, it should automatically be a big church, right? I guess part of what I’m trying to say is that MANY Christians seek validation in their church choice through the “popular vote”, which is to say that if I attend a church that MANY other people attend, it must be a BETTER church than a little church where only 20 attend.

  • http://mostlyquestions.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

    Billions of things change in a two year period. My memory can also fail a good bit. :)

    But I still have an aversion to that language, even tho I have great friends that use it a lot.

    I don’t just say what I’ve said above to try to be anti-establishment, nor to say that Jesus isn’t personal to me. But I think we devalue and insult Jesus Christ when we claim all this “intimacy”. There’s very little Bible discussion of such a relationship. Jesus did NOT say “I’m dying to have an intimate relationship with you, Bernard.” Or even to Peter. No, he speaks much more loudly of FOLLOWING HIM. Of BELIEF. Of FAITH. Of TAKING UP OUR CROSS. Of LIFTING HIM UP. Of forsaking mother and father. Of giving a cup of cold water to one who needs it. Of forgiving our enemies. Of not judging the adulteress. Of not harming children.

    The “intimate relationship” discussion indicates that Jesus just wants me to spend time with him. That he’s lonely. That he wants me to just lay cuddled in his arms. It also, not so casually, indicates that if I don’t have this “intimate relationship” with Jesus, I’m not even saved. That’s not so subtly illustrated in how it’s often described. It indicates that the “love of Jesus” is able to take the place of other human relationships. I maintain that the love of Jesus is often most illustrated THROUGH human relationships. Yes, I’ve experienced “peace” that only God can bring, but I’ve got absolutely no desire to replace other relationships with just the “love of Jesus”. By using language wrongly, we create expectations – or even advertise results – that are just not correct.

    I’ve experienced times in life where I know the Holy Spirit was very active in the moment, but Jesus Christ has NEVER hugged me. And I’m not only referring to sex. I understand “intimacy” is bigger than that.

    It’s complicated, and I’m quite sure I’ll be misunderstood in this :)

  • http://MaximizingMarriage.com/ Sebs | MaximizingMarriage.com

    Great insight! We try our best to sing songs which are familiar even if we sing them over and over again. At the same time, we introduce new songs too. Thanks for your challenge and encouragement.

  • Maria

    I love the hymns, because they are rich in theology. When we sing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” with the pipe organ and piano and those rich words – now that is heavenly singing. When I visit churches with lyrics on the screen, with no notes – it’s difficult to follow along. Give me four part harmony and words that fill my soul.

  • Jimmy Roulette

    There is no one right way to worship. What we are talking about here boils down to personal tastes and bias when it comes to music in the church. I have been a full time worship pastor for over 20 years now, and I am so tired of this lack of tolerance for styles of worship that we don’t like. David, you make it sound as though all churches are filled with men who don’t sing because of the song styles, lights, and smoke machines. I have been in plenty of churches that sing hymns and praise choruses and guess what? The men don’t sing there either. Let’s be honest and stop the finger pointing, judgement, and condemnation. Just like the body is made up of many parts, so too, is the worship landscape made up of many styles to reach many segments of the culture around us. Anyone is free to enjoy one style over another. Some like Country Gospel, some like High Church Pipe Organ, some like Modern Rock, some like the old hymns of the faith. That’s fine. I am fine with that. But everyone needs to stop saying their way is the right way to worship. Articles such as these, with all due respect, are one sided, myopic, and divisive. People all around us are dying and going to hell, and we want to pick about which style of worship is the right style?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kat.macneill Kat MacNeill

    Anthonyd – YOU are the church! Do something! Talk to people, share your questions, your doubts, your ideas, your interest, your observations, but do something! That’s the only thing about the original article that I’m really confused by – this idea that if the men can’t sing then the only thing they can ‘do’ is contribute to the offering?? Why would being an active member of a church family mean that either singing or giving to the offering are the only two things you can do? If I’ve understood the article correctly, then there is a call here for more men to step forward and play an active role in serving God through their church family. If I haven’t understood it, then I do want to, so I hope someone will be willing to share their ideas with me. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/shayguess Shay Guess

    The one thing I see is that we have mistaken the meaning of the word WORSHIP to only mean INTIMACY… This lie of Satan is to scare men away from worship. Besides, it was worship that brought double to Job after he’d lost everything. We have defined worship as ONLY what Mary did at the feet of Jesus. She held, embraced, cried, anointed with oil and dried his feet with her hair (glory). However, check out the reaction of the disciples when Jesus just tried washing and drying the feet of those men with water and a towel… they hesitated. (sort of funny under that context) God created men to be men, and women to be women and to become ONE sexually to create life and happiness for each other. His desire with men and women individually is fellowship.

    Worship is simply – worth. Take the one thing in your life that is worth more than anything else and then measure that with your fellowship with Jesus…..that is what you worship. That is why idols are such a bad thing in the Word of God – because people used them as objects of worth. There are churches that use the “worship” team as an idol. It’s like, if we don’t have lights, smoke, and a precise band – we have no worship. WHOA!! Some have placed more stock in their million dollar campuses than what they would use to help feed and shelter the lost and homeless in their own cities. WHAT? For a man, worship should be Jesus worth more than any program, rock song, light, comfortable chair and his own ego…that’s worship. Worship is a lifestyle, not a song. Worship is the result of knowing what a mess you’ve made as a man trying to walk through life on your own.

    It is okay to lay your head on Jesus like you would your dad.. John did. John represents 1/12 of the emotions we can express in worship… Jesus was worth that much to him. Peter’s worth was believing to the point of stepping out of the boat and drawing his sword in honor of Jesus life. Matthew’s worth in Jesus was being REAL and soaking up all he could in the knowledge of Jesus. Thomas worth in Jesus was stand-offish, but solid when he had physical proof…. is it a wonder that God ordained the 12 tribes of Israel to rule over the city – and that Jesus chose 12 men that had never been promoted to that stature.. just ordinary men – yet towards the end He looked at them and said – I call you friends.

    I agree that we have allowed too much of pop-culture to seep its way into our churches. The answer to all of this is sticking a song book in the hands of your men and giving them a song that declares the mighty strength of faith in God and the triumph of Jesus over sin, death, hell and the grave…and watch what happens.

    Shay Guess
    Worship Leader, Restoration Church Tupelo, MS
    author, Creating the Atmosphere of Worship

  • Lisa Newall

    Why is this geared towards men? Don’t men and women worship? As a woman, I don’t like the projected songs either. Everyone seems to know the tune except me, and the “professional” singer is so loud my ears ring. Women are doers, too, by the way, and if they don’t like singing or carrying the offering plate, as I did for many years, there are plenty of opportunities to be a part of the body of Christ outside of the hour worship service.

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    I’m not saying women don’t also suffer these things. However, my blog focuses on men.

  • Marty

    When I was a worship leader, I got so tired of all the excuses given for why congregants don’t sing or worship. They can sing the newest hit on the radio at the top of their lungs in the car or scream their heads off at a football game or concert but when it comes to worshipping the Creator of the Universe they are suddenly too shy or the song’s too high or…and on and on and on. I got sick of all the bitchin’ and complainin’. Laypeople should try doing the job of a minister sometime. It ain’t easy trying to please everybody. It can leave you downright defeated.

  • Jon Marken

    Aren’t the radio, the internet, and the worship conferences you mention like the hymnals of the 1500s, spawning the familiarity you long for? As you suggest, the vast majority of songs used in churches today come from those sources and land in the CCLI top 1000, just as the hymns sung 500 years ago landed in the hymnbooks. Faster rate of change, of course, but so is everything in our world. Just keep up! Interesting to me how many Christians keep up with today’s Christian writers but ignore the songwriters, though many are exquisitely good. Not sure why one genre deserves more attention than the other.

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    I would say very few people in the pews keep up with Christian writers or songwriters for that matter. Ask your average churchgoer who John Piper or Mark Driscoll is and you’ll get a blank stare. Ask them who Matt Redman is or even Hillsong and they’ve probably never heard of it. A relatively small portion of churchgoers listens to Christian radio. The constant switching of songs pleases the most committed consumers of Christian media, but leaves the average churchgoer scratching her head.

  • Jon Marken

    Yes, I cede the point. I’m in a relatively highbrow fellowship where the authors are far better known than the songwriters, which prompted my comment (and my aggravation, since we tilt traditional and I tilt contemporary–though not toward the smoke and lights!).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000756901996 June Burnett

    AMEN!

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.subritzky John Subritzky

    Just turn up late. Solves everything. Works for me.

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    I call you blokes “Praise Skippers”

  • Parmenter

    They flock to where the other young people are. Been there done that. Don’t anymore.

  • Parmenter

    We still have a choir loft, so that the focus is never on the musicians, but on God. But they want to do away with that.

  • Pingback: Have Christians Stopped Singing? | WorshipfulLeigh

  • mbzguy

    my worship team is very diverse, the oldest is around 65 and the youngest about 17. we play almost exclusively contempory songs. We lower the lights a little and we have a sax drums, 3 or 4 guitars, and a keyboard. We play 6 or 7 songs and go for around an hour. We do not have these problems though. The songs are chosen to include more slower than fast songs. During worship, we are free to dance or otherwise yourself, and the altars are always open and are utilized. We also try to not blast out our music, and are mindful to what the Spirit is doing in each service. We also don’t pick just any new song. It has to be singable in the music and be biblically sound. That cuts out about 90% of today’s music. Yet, we did 2 songs last week that are current. We may go three months without another one, but we always have an ear out. Btw, it’s hard for granny to get mad at a ripping guitar solo when the guitarist is older than her!

  • http://www.facebook.com/donniekeele Donnie Keele III

    It’s true that “intimate does not necessarily mean sexual” but many of today’s new worship songs don’t lend themselves to clarifying that point, leaning (perhaps unintentionally) towards to the cultural definition instead. If we were singing about sharing our doubts, fears, thoughts, and triumphs with Him that’s one thing…but more often then not we end up singing to Him things like “I just want to be with you” or “I want you to breathe on me” or asking him to wash, soak, or shower me in water, fire, or mercy (whatever that looks like). I’m all about an intimacy that describes full transparency with Jesus…but most of the time I feel like I’m asking Him to run his fingers through my beard while blowing me a kiss and I don’t know that even He actually wants to do that…

  • http://mostlyquestions.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

    Very well said, Donnie. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/timothy.w.callaway Tim W Callaway

    wasn’t there some old geezer way back, possibly the Buddha, who said “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?” – works for me…next question…

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    that same geezer told us to greet one another with a holy kiss, so pucker up!

  • Pingback: Why Don’t We Sing? | Sandpoint Adventist Church

  • Donna Carlaw

    Great comments, Evers. I agree 100%.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dell.ferkin Carly Danielle

    Ya know…When I am being spiritual and not carnal or critical I rarely even *hear* the words of a song much during worship. l… I am engaged with the Spirit of God. I am praying and worshiping, speaking words of adoration to THE KING. The songs are just background, supplemental, accompaniment to what should really be going on. Try it….try to connect with such genuine, whole hearted, praise that the music just fades into the distant background….seriously I dont even hear the Words as I am speaking my own words of LOVE and worship to HIM.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dell.ferkin Carly Danielle

    Seriously? Have you read the Song of Solomon? God wants to be very intimate with us.

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    So Carly, would you say that our relationship with God is sexual? After all we are his bride.

  • NorrinRadd

    My favorite “praise” music is my “Petra Praise” CDs.

  • NorrinRadd

    One thing that annoys the snot out of me is songs with lyrics drawn from Scripture, but in total disregard of context. The one that springs instantly to mind is, “Blow a Trumpet in Zion.” It’s sung as kind of a rousing anthem, but when you look at the lyrical roots in Acts 2, you see it’s a warning of judgment.

  • NorrinRadd

    How do you look at Psa. 149-150 and get “God is not LOUD”? ;-)

  • NorrinRadd

    “Hymnhuggers.” I like that.

  • NorrinRadd

    I got “saved” around 1980 at college, and so my formative Xian years featured “contemporary” music and overhead projectors at the campus fellowships I attended. Back home, I gravitated to churches that offered a similar experience. It is what is “normal” to me. But my point is that from my experience, the “overhead projector” thing is over *30* years old.

  • NorrinRadd

    Hymn books — No thanks. I find them a terrible distraction.

    So… Luther did not use tavern melodies, he used tavern-STYLE melodies. That comes fairly close to being a distinction without a difference.

  • NorrinRadd

    It’s nothing but normal to me. It was part of my Xian experience pretty much ever since I got saved in 1980.

    I have to say, though, my favorite example was the time the preacher said, “Turn to the person next to you and say, ‘Are you stupid, or what?'” That was a great ice-breaker.

  • http://sojensparks.blogspot.com/ Jen

    THIS. THIS. THIS. And amen.

  • http://sojensparks.blogspot.com/ Jen

    This is great :)