How to Get People to Sing in Worship (why repetition matters).

How many times have you been in a worship service and no one is singing?

I think this is especially true in many contemporary services.

People often think there isn’t a way to specifically fix this. Instead, they blindly hope the Holy Spirit will fix a problem they can easily own.

Last year on Facebook, an article on Patheos by Dave Murray began trending. I don’t think the problem specifically applies to men, which Murray identified in his article. It was just part of a growing group of articles going viral talking about the lack of participation in contemporary worship services (and I think it dually applies to traditional worship).

If we aren’t singing in worship…is it really worship?

I think local congregations need to tackle this problem headlong. My team knew we could do better, it would just take some intentional leadership?

How to Get People to Sing in Worship

You have to make it repetitive. Plain and simple.

When I stepped into my current role as the pastor of a contemporary congregation we had over 200 songs in our rotation. We could pick out of any of them every week. It was way too much.

People weren’t singing. A few were, but as a whole we had a participation problem.

Designing worship is a deliberate activity. The songs any congregation sings matter because sung worship is a vocabulary building activity. When people aren’t able to engage in the singing they slowly become mute towards the language of the Gospel.

Over the last 6 months we have only sung around 30 songs. If you figure five or six a Sunday, that isn’t many. This Easter, we sang the same song three weeks in a row.

Why Repetition Matters.

  • We wanted a powerful Easter service. Part of that meant people really singing along with what was important theology for Easter. This meant a couple of new songs. There was no way we could have had great engagement on Easter Sunday with a brand new song. Not just a basic knowledge, but an extreme familiarity.
  • These songs taught and embodied a great view of who God is. When we sang these words over and over throughout Lent and Easter (our Lent wasn’t very Lenty). While this was a bit odd, it made sense for the current group of people and our situation.¬† What we couldn’t anticipate were issues and concerns which would rise up during Lent and these songs provided a pattern of hope and healing.
  • We built up a better theological vocabulary. We sang songs about the “largeness” of God, the power of Christ and the timeless action¬† of the creator. We sang words from scripture we probably haven’t in some time.
  • When people are comfortable with the songs, they will sing more. We had around 70 people more than our average Sunday on Easter (almost 50%). What could have been an awkward experience for folks not normally in worship was much easier to participate in, because the people around them were interacting with the sung worship.


If you are unsatisfied with the amount of singing in church, let me suggest trimming things down and repeating songs frequently. It was a semi-conscious experiment over the last 8 months or so and it has contributed tremendously to our times of sung worship.

  • stephen fife

    Awesome post.

    I find this especially true in traditional churches that start a contemporary service rather than churches that start out as contemporary. We are teaching a new songbook to folks. It is like learning a new language.

    Two issues I noticed in teaching the songbook that I had to reevaluate:

    1. You have to have buy in from the worship leaders. The worship leaders I have worked with HATE repetition. They want to be done and on to the next big thing especially in the contemporary world where if you still sing God of Wonders you are now “old”.

    2. You have to have sing songs people can relate to. Singing a song over and over again won’t work unless the people pick it up and make it their own. At my last place every time we did Song of Hope we got tremendous response. The congregation adopted as their own song. We did Like A Lion(pre-Newsboys) and it never really took off.

    Now most pure contemporary services I have been to are something like this:

    • Ha! I remember that video. I wish it sometimes wasn’t so true.

      In regard to your question-
      1. We actually sang tons of “old” songs. Why? Because people knew them.

      2. We added a song back into the rotation after it was picked randomly one Sunday and the congregation BLEW IT UP. It is one of our favorites now. It has great theology, so it wasn’t a big deal and really fit in with our current pattern.

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  • johnwleek


    You mention having a song y’all sung three weeks in a row so folks would know it for Easter Sunday.

    I’m curious where that song appeared in the service.

    (I’d think of three places one might: at the very beginning to get more folks participating up front setting the tone, at the climax (toward the end of the service), or as the last song for “invitation” and to have folks leave on a high note.)

    Did y’all put any thought into all that? (I know I haven’t put this much thought into songs we’ve sung and where!)

    • John-


      We usually try to introduce songs at the offering time. Folks are seated for around half the song, they they are led to stand up. This is a great time for a songs debut.

      After that we usually put a song 2nd in our set. It gets it early in the service and it is at a time that is still alright for people to be unfamiliar.

      The third week we could have stuck it anywhere. Usually as the first isn’t good (we try to have great energy, but besides that any space is opening game.

      Another good slot to use in introducing a song would be during communion. People are interacting, but not necessarily singing heavy.

      • johnwleek

        Thanks Chad. That’s helpful for understanding.

  • Great points, Chad. Very helpful. Churches that use repetition for the reasons you outlined often get accused of being shallow. I’ve heard it argued that the worship songs aren’t teaching enough theology (I thought that was the role of the sermon – silly me).

    I agree with you. It’s about worship, and we can’t call it worship if people aren’t participating.

  • jdwalt

    Chad. These are helpful reflections and I agree; however, in my experience another major obstacle hinders congregational singing– particularly in contemporary formats: PEOPLE CANNOT HEAR THEMSELVES OR ANYONE AROUND THEM SINGING BC/ OF THE AMPLIFICATION OF THE MUSIC.

    Here’s a question for us: Is it actually corporate worship if you can’t hear anyone else but the leaders singing?

    It’s a huge problem Chad.

    One solution that can at least mitigate this is for worship leaders to drop out all the instruments at appropriate points during songs. Those are some of the richest moments in worship– when the “Body” truly “tunes” together and becomes the instrument of worship rather than being drowned out by the accompanying instruments.

    What do you think about this?

    • Tom1st

      I think this is an interesting point of conversation. Until I joined the choir at my local church (5 years ago), I had NO IDEA how to hit a note. I joined in order to learn to sing.

      But BEFORE THAT, when I was in the congregation, if I could hear myself, I would NOT sing. If the music was loud and I knew no one could hear me, I’d bellow it all out. But definitely NOT if I knew others could hear me.

      The dropping the instruments thing, while it sounds good, actually still throws me off. While I’m sure I can hit notes, I’m still not that good of a singer. When a worship leader does that suddenly, it throws me off and makes me NOT want to continue singing so boldly.

    • JD-

      I think this is a completely contextual question. In some places, you absolutely need to pay extreme attention to this (and I agree with your last paragraph, those moments are truly beautiful)>

      However, I remember leading in a particular setting where people wanted it LOUD, for the reason Thom mentions.

  • Tom1st

    Boom. Good stuff.