Whenever I introduce a song to our congregation, I have the urge to take a few minutes in the service to teach the song. You know, before we officially sing it. Teaching a song is comprised of having the leader sing a line, then having the congregation repeat it. The idea is that after this exercise everyone will know the song and the real singing will go much better. Problem is, this is what’s known as wishful thinking. In reality, teaching a song during a worship service is not very fruitful, and in some ways, is actually harmful. Based on my experience and feedback I’ve received from others, I no longer teach songs in our services. Here are 4 reasons I’ve given it up:
- After going through a song one time, even in a repeat-after-me setting, most of the congregants do not actually know the song. It’s simply not enough for them. They struggle with new songs because learning music doesn’t come naturally to them. For that very reason, one time through does not make much of a difference for them. Conversely, those who can learn a song from a quick lesson are mostly those who would be able to pick it up just by singing it. They are the type who hear a new song and instinctively start humming along. They don’t mind the work of learning by singing, and they are pretty good at it. This group is in the minority, though.
- It arrests the emotional momentum of the service. During an effective worship service, the congregation is generally ready at the end of each segment to move on to the next. It works well, for instance, to follow an impactful sermon with a powerful song that relates to the message. It feels natural and people are emotionally ready for the song. However, you have to move directly from the sermon to the song or people lose their readiness. By the time you’re done teaching, no one can remember why the song is so apt. Everyone is distracted and the effectiveness of the song is greatly diminished.
- It isolates those who don’t know the songs you don’t teach. Taking time to teach certain songs sends a clear message: we don’t teach other songs because people should know them. Is that really fair, though? One of our members told me the assumption that “everyone” knows all the old hymns makes him feel an outsider. It’s like we’re telling him he’s not a real club member. Understand, too, that this man is over sixty years old; it’s not just young people who don’t know the old hymns. You don’t want to make some people feel like outsiders because they don’t know most of the songs in the church’s repertoire.
- It sets a bad precedent. At some point, you will misjudge your congregation’s familiarity with a first-time song. You will introduce a song without teaching it first, even though most people don’t know it. Suddenly, a large part of the church will have something to feel frustrated about. Usually, their status as true club members is confirmed every time you teach a song they don’t know (see # 3). They’re not used to feeling like outsiders. In contrast, if you don’t make a big deal about it when you introduce a song, no one has a reason to be upset.
I think it’s best not to teach songs during the service. Almost any song you sing will be new to some and teaching a song just doesn’t fit well in a worship service. Maybe you have had a different experience, though. Do you see it differently? Do you think there are times when teaching a song is worthwhile?