4 Reasons Not to Teach a New Song During the Service

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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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

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Some good points. Especially the one about breaking the flow of worship. Thank you.

But in fairness I think that we can note when a song is new to most people, such as knowing we've not sung it before in this congregation's worship, and help the people sing it well. The following will only apply to churches that use a hymnal.

We introduced Lift Up Your Hearts about a year ago. When we are singing what I am quite certain is a song unknown by most I will generally do two things. I will mention that it may be unfamiliar to many and invite those who read music to open their hymnal rather than just using the projected lyrics. And I will ask the accompanist to play through the whole song one time. It creates a minimal break in the flow while acknowledging that we may need to work a little harder to sing this song well.

Definitely agree, especially with #2.  If the worship service is well-planned, the appropriateness of the song will override individual members' concerns about whether or not they know it.  They can hum along or simply meditate on the words. If you're reasonably certain the majority won't know it, you can have the accompanist or worship band play it softly through once before it is sung, or depending on the style at your church, maybe have an individual member of the worship team sing a verse or chorus through softly and then everyone join in to repeat that section and go on together. The important thing is to keep the focus on worshiping God or responding to the sermon or scripture.

 

Admin

Great topic, Christy. A few times, I've noticed that our musicians often introduce a new song first as an offeratory (sung as a solo, or duet) with words on the screen. Seems like a good approach, and sure helps adoption of the song later. Have others taken that approach, or found other ways of 'sneaking it in' before the congregation is asked to sing it?

When people are new to Christianity they are probably not going to know any songs.  Why would they think they should? it might even be good for them to know that they are not the only ones who don't know a song. That everyone has to learn them at some point.
I agree about not putting a new song right after the message.

In our church the worship team will introduce a new song by singing it just before the service begins.
Then it will be sung again during the service.
We do not teach it line by line, but it is stated that it is a new song and that most of us might not know it. We will be invited to join in the chorus after the second time or maybe in the last verse.

If we are told it is a new song we know that and we just join in when we can,
I have not heard that this is a problem for people.
Sometimes a new song will be sung as a solo or just the worship team during the offering.
Then another day it will be sung before and during the service.

I do not have to sing to get good from a song.
In fact when i am deeply impacted by the words I often stop singing and listen.
 

Our (urban) church sings mostly gospel songs, led by our fantastic worship director, team, and band. One advantage of gospel is we repeat so many times, it's easy to catch on. (Of course musically gospel songs are typically simpler than hymns. Our main keyboard player -- excellent at improvisation, btw -- has joked that it's the same few chords over and over.) If it's a newer song, Maurice or another vocalist will sometimes sing the verses alone, with the rest of us joining on the chorus(es), but even then some of the congregation will already know it and sing enthusiastically from beginning to end. The hymns we include tend to be well-known and well-beloved by at least one of our ethnic groups.