March 24, 2017

May 24, 2013


Why Men Have Stopped Singing In Church

Interesting stuff from the Church for Men blog:

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.


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14 comments

Introducing new religious music is one thing, but when we start losing people who prefer the magnificent old hymns, that’s something else again.  All too often, we find this happening, and it doesn’t have to be that way.  We try to introduce music calculated to attract and keep younger people, but we do nothing to keep the older generation, and that has got to change.  I don’t think projection screens are a bit helpful, and in fact they destroy the quiet reverent atmosphere of traditional worship.  “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord?”  Yes, but do it reverently, because you are in His house, and not in a civic auditorium.  The younger generation often says that the hymns are “boring,” but are we in the business of entertaining them in order to keep them in church on Sunday morning?  No, we are not!  We’re there to worship God corporately as His people, and not as a crowd to be entertained.  Therein lies the difference.

[1] Posted by cennydd13 on 5-24-2013 at 09:10 AM · [top]

I attend a blended worship service and everyone sings well. Performance worship is found at all points of the worship spectrum.

[2] Posted by Pb on 5-24-2013 at 09:34 AM · [top]

I attend a blended worship service and everyone sings well. Performance worship is found at all points of the worship spectrum.

[3] Posted by Pb on 5-24-2013 at 09:34 AM · [top]

Congregational singing takes time and effort from the music director and sometimes means telling the rector “NO” when they suggest something unsingable. There are reasons why we have the oldies but goodies in hymnody and this might include:

1. Good theology.
2. A good tune.
3. A good harmony.
4. Singable phrases and pitches.
5. A message that connects.

When a new song comes along that is just trying to connect (#5) it will fail in the long haul. If you ask people to sing something that they don’t really believe (#1 bad theology) they will not be back next week. If you fail #4 (singability), they will remain silent and eventually may drop out of church altogether because they feel out of place in your worship style. Lousy tunes (#2) are hard to remember, and singing is strongest with familiarity.

My gripe with projection screens:

1. When trying to sing SATB, the parts may not be projected.
2. When the homilist is a bore, there is nothing better than reading a good Hymnal.

[4] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 5-24-2013 at 09:41 AM · [top]

All of which makes a lot of sense.  But, Pb, choral singing is not meant to entertain the congregation, but to help lead and lend beauty to the service.

[5] Posted by cennydd13 on 5-24-2013 at 09:55 AM · [top]

#5 I agree. I was responding to why men do not sing. In another life, I played in a worship group.  My mentors were insistent that it was not what we put out but what came back that mattered. I think much performance music only entertains the performers.

[6] Posted by Pb on 5-24-2013 at 10:24 AM · [top]

#5 I agree. I was responding to why men do not sing. In another life, I played in a worship group.  My mentors were insistent that it was not what we put out but what came back that mattered. I think much performance music only entertains the performers.

[7] Posted by Pb on 5-24-2013 at 10:24 AM · [top]

I think this article is recycling the now debunked “bar” tunes story.  The “bar” is not a tavern, but rather refers to the musical form.

“Recently, church scholars have presented pretty convincing proof that Luther and the Wesleys did NOT do so, and that the legend arose from a misconception about the word “bar tune” or “bar form,” which seminary students assumed meant a tune sung in local drinking establishments, but is actually a form of poetry popular in Medieval times—a different kind of bar altogether.”

On the music front, I despise projection screen music with just the words and hymnals with just the melody line printed.  Give us the full music so those of us who read music can sing new songs by sight, and occasionally sing a harmony line if we so choose.  At the very least, make printed copies of the music available so those who read music can grab a copy on the way into the sanctuary.

Also, put the musicians back where they belong, in the back of the sanctuary or in a choir loft.  I simply cannot stand a group of women behind their microphones waving their hands and swaying to the latest “Jesus My Love ...” contemporary song.  Liturgical musicians are there to enhance worship, not to perform for the congregation, although special services that concentrate on music are occasions where the musicians deserve to be front and center.

Finally, not all old hymns are good, and not all contemporary music is bad. But at a minimum the lyrics must be theologically sound and the music of a high quality, no matter the style.

Whew, rant finished.  This article touched a nerve!

[8] Posted by Daniel on 5-24-2013 at 11:07 AM · [top]

To be honest, I think much of the pressure to always put new songs into the “rotation” is as much commercial as it is the desire to keep up with the outside world.  If we really stop and think about it, unless the unchurched who show up have been listening intently to a praise and worship Christian radio station, most of them don’t differentiate between a new praise and worship chorus and a really new one.  Unfortunately too much of our praise and worship is a commercial product.

David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church is a men’s ministry classic, but it was controversial when it came out (and still is).  It took me several years to convince the men’s ministry I used to work for to put it in our “rotation”.  Until we tackle the issues he puts forth, we have long-term serious problems on our hands.

https://www.vulcanhammer.org/2008/02/17/book-review-why-men-hate-going-to-church/

[9] Posted by vulcanhammer on 5-24-2013 at 11:19 AM · [top]

Undergroundpewster (#4) said:

Congregational singing takes time and effort from the music director and sometimes means telling the rector “NO” when they suggest something unsingable.

I hear you but the Rector also needs to say ‘No’ when the music director wants to use some contemporary chorus or song that is theologically shallow or not even implicitly Christocentric but little more than something even a devotee of Zeus might sing without compromise.

Daniel (#8) said:

Finally, not all old hymns are good, and not all contemporary music is bad. But at a minimum the lyrics must be theologically sound and the music of a high quality, no matter the style.

Amen to that.  Some like the modern hymn ‘Bring Many Names’ (what I not half-jokingly have subtitled ‘Process Theology Meets Mother Earth’) should be tossed into the trash bin.  The good songs and hymns usually are those that can stand the test of time.  People won’t be singing most of the more popular contemporary songs twenty-five years from now with the exception of many (but not all) that are written by people like Stuart Townend and Keith Getty.  Interestingly, they are composers of hymns, a form which can carry the theological freight far better than any chorus by itself.

[10] Posted by Ross Gill on 5-24-2013 at 12:52 PM · [top]

I remember that my father could really sing the Doxology and if I remember correctly, almost all of the men and women in church could sing Doxology with ease when I was a child.  I don’t know what has changed but now it seems that the organ plays a slightly different tune that overwhelms the voices and makes even the Doxology difficult to sing.

[11] Posted by Betty See on 5-24-2013 at 03:25 PM · [top]

Hymns of faith, such as “Guide Me Oh, Thou Great Jehovah” and relatively new ones such as “How Great Thou Art” are timeless, and should never be replaced.

[12] Posted by cennydd13 on 5-24-2013 at 03:44 PM · [top]

The great beauty of the Hymnal, whether we use the 1940 edition or the 1979 edition is the inclusion of some of the great hymns and service music of the Church, but the unfortunate thing is that many are somehow deemed no longer appropriate for use in the Church of today, and that’s probably true.  But when you look at it that way, it says that according to the theology of today, many of those beautiful and often powerful old hymns are somehow “out of date,” and should be discarded, and that is truly unfortunate.  While it’s true that for many people, some of those hymns are un-singable, most aren’t, yet they are very seldom used.  I estimate that we probably don’t use more than 25% of the hymns and even fewer of the service music.  For example, most parishes that I have attended during the past 45 years seldom if ever have Evensong more than once a year, and that’s a shame.  It is also hard to try to get people used to trying some hymns that we don’t normally sing because of maybe two or three people saying that they either don’t like the hymns, or that they can’t sing them, and therefore you have these same people limiting the choice of music, which others may have no problem singing if they were to be given the chance, and by accepting this, we put ourselves in what I call a musical rut.

[13] Posted by cennydd13 on 5-25-2013 at 02:30 AM · [top]

There is no value to novelty, though I agree that new things should be tried occasionally. What are we in church to do? Thanks to many years in choirs, I know of dozens of nearly unsingable hymns in the 1940 and 1979 hymnals that wise choir directors steer clear of despite their fine lyrics. It’s a collective effort. In my parish, if enough parishioners complained about the music, something would be done. Thankfully, there is no big demand for contemporary “praise and worship” music here.

In fact, I seriously wonder if such a demand ever existed anywhere but in the minds of music directors who shouldn’t be in the music director business…and trend-following pastors and priests?

[14] Posted by ears2hear on 5-25-2013 at 07:09 PM · [top]

The old Hymns were the only thing that kept me showing up at the Episcopal outlet the last 10 years I considered myself a member.

[15] Posted by midwestnorwegian on 7-7-2013 at 06:37 AM · [top]

There are fewer men singing because there are fewer men attending.  There has been a feminization of hymnody as well as theology that is keeping at least some men away.

[16] Posted by Nikolaus on 7-7-2013 at 08:28 AM · [top]

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