Sing A New Song
The earliest followers of God sang their faith, which is no different today as we sing of the hope we have in Jesus.
A question I get pretty often from pastors and worship leaders is a simple one, “how can we get our people to sing?” Of course, singing is a significant part of our gathered times of worship, and singing is one of the things that the Bible tells us to do. The psalmist tells us in Psalm 149:1 to “Sing to the LORD a new song.” The earliest followers of God sang their faith, which is no different today as we sing of the hope we have in Jesus. Our worship times are filled with singing.
Regardless of how liturgical your church is, times of music or singing likely comprise about fifty percent of your service. So, whether you’re introducing new songs or just digging deeper into your hymnal, here are some practical suggestions meant to support you as you seek to encourage congregational singing.
Teach part of the song first
When introducing a new song or hymn, teach part of the song. I’ll often play through a chorus of a new song, singing it by myself, then I will verbally invite the congregation to sing it again with me as they feel comfortable. In some instances, I may sing it through with everyone once more. Several in the congregation will at least have a piece of the song to catch onto when the chorus comes back around. Or, in the case of a hymn, they will have a great sense of the melody and be ready to sing additional verses.
Repeat the song more than you think is necessary
Repetition helps people retain a new song. To do this, I will often utilize a practice I learned several years ago as the 3-1-1: I will play a new song for three weeks in a row, then give it a week off, and then play it again on the fifth week. The congregation typically knows the song at that point, and you can come back to it regularly without re-teaching it. Maybe this seems like too much repetition, but I’d encourage you to try it. As song leaders and worship planners, we often assume wrongly that the congregation is as familiar with the music as we are. In most cases, they are not.
Include familiar pieces
When teaching a new song, it’s also a great idea to ensure the other songs are familiar. It can be a frustrating experience as a congregant to attend a service and know none of the music. Maybe your church is brand new, or you’re at a point where most songs aren’t familiar. Try to make a list of five to ten songs that are familiar or more broadly known, and try to include one of them in every service. Some good examples include songs like “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art.”
Teach the song before the service
If you have a choir or a large group that shows up early, teach them the song, and they can help to carry the rest of the congregation. In these cases, it may be helpful to share the sheet music. This can be helpful even if those reading it simply understand that the notes are going up and down. This acts kind of like musical bumpers at the worship bowling alley: while we may not end up throwing strikes, the notes can help us get to the end of the lane.
Put the song in a playlist
Because hearing and repetition are so crucial to learning music, putting new songs into a playlist played pre/post service or shared with congregants may be helpful to teach people the music. Here’s a playlist of songs that I’ve put together that may be helpful.
While this list is not exhaustive, I hope some of these may help you as you seek to teach people to sing together in worship. If any of these ideas work for you, share with me on social media! I would love to hear if something works for you or if you have other ideas as you invite people to worship our God with the same words sung in a new song.