Sing it out, Church! Yes. Because people love being referred to as a giant, indistinguishable mass, by someone who is quite obviously, not within that mass. There’s a reason why Chris Martin never says, ‘Let’s go, audience!’ You treat people as individually as you would want to feel, should you find yourself not on stage for a week. Remember how you would feel, and speak, push, prod, and encourage…only accordingly, and only when necessary.
You can only push and prod people so much during a worship set; so save the pushing and prodding for spiritual matters, and don’t waste it trying to get people to sing to a song with an angular melody or an awkward rhythm. Because the point is, you can get people to sing almost anything. But is that really where you want to spend your time while leading worship? And is that really how you want to use up the congregation’s energy? It is usually much more expedient to choose songs that are easy for people to sing with and get into. Then you have their patience and energy at full store, when and if you need to push and prod to get them to connect with God.
I’ve seen it happen many times, and have unfortunately done it myself many times, where we’ve used up so much of the people’s patience encouraging (err…yelling, oftentimes) them to sing out on songs that are just so difficult that when it comes time to ask people to really engage with God on ‘How Great Thou Art’, that they are just plain done. More than likely, within the course of a month or so of worship services, you will have to push and prod a few times. No one particularly likes to be pushed and prodded, so save it for things that matter. And doing the latest and coolest and hipster-worshiping-in-the-forest-whence-my-beard-is-one-with-the-tree-branches-and-the-iphone-generated-lense-flare-est song, is not what matters.
New songs, old songs, all is fair game…if chosen for the right reasons. And one of our responsibilities is allowing people to sing and worship with us. For the love of all that’s good in this world, choose songs that have melodies and arrangements and instrumentations that people can sing and clap to. So many times I hear nobody singing, and the frustrated worship leader calling, ‘Sing it out, church!’ And the ‘church’ is like, ‘Seriously bro, we’re trying! But we don’t know which way the woooo-ooo-oooh’s go, which way you’re going to sing them this week, why they hit a note that even you have trouble reaching, and what wooo-ooo-oooh is supposed to mean anyway. Is that Hebrew?’ I understand that often it is difficult to get people to engage in worship, because they don’t want to. However, it’s sad and frightening to realize how often people do want to, and can’t because I don’t let them. Because I sat at Coffee Bean and searched youtube, and found the most amazing set list, with a great mix of brand new and retro songs, with super deep theological content, poetic lyrics, keys that flowed, and a skill level that fit the band. I even prayed about it. But so incredibly often, we forget to give even the slightest thought to what the congregation can worship to this week. And maybe if we could replace ‘congregation’ with ‘friends’, it would help us remember to think about them. Not the church, audience, congregation, fan base, or constituents…friends who are looking forward to singing their hearts out to the Lord, with or without the latest youtube trending video.
And then when you feel the need to encourage your friends to let go and connect with God, not only will their patience not be completely used up because of how much you’ve had to talk to them earlier as you tried to get them to sing the most difficult melody ever, but they will actually be able to.
P.S. As always, there are exceptions. The special song that you don’t want people to sing and is only in the set because of lyrical content, the fact that if you’re doing a good job leading people in worship that you just may end up somewhat famous, or the church that just did a series on ‘being the church’, and as such, there is a sense of joy and responsibility in being referred to as such. But don’t let these exceptions become your rule.