I heard someone say it recently: “The music at that church is great.” It didn’t take me long to understand what he meant—that the church has a great music program. They have a band composed of talented musicians who play and sing with skill and beauty. To be part of that church is to benefit from the skills of an incredible group of musicians.
This is what we tend to mean when we consider a church’s music. When we say a church’s music is great, we are usually referring to the combined skill of the five or six people who stand and lead at the front. But I’ve long-since made this observation: some of those churches have bands that perform beautifully but congregations who can’t or won’t sing. They have leaders who lead with skill, but members who follow in near silence. Keep your eyes focused on the front and you can’t help but be impressed; look beside and behind you and you can’t help but be concerned.
I am convinced that the best measure of a church’s music is not what takes place on the stage, but what takes place in the pews. It is not so much the sounds and sights of a band leading, but the sounds and sights of a congregation worshipping. A church with a truly great music program is the one that could worship just as well on the day the power goes out and the instruments won’t play. A church with a truly great music program is the one that generates far more sound from its raw voices than its amplified instruments. A church with a truly great music program is the one where the people sing—they really sing.
I was recently thinking through what our churches do to train and equip our congregations to sing. The Bible does, after all, command us all to sing as a core part of our ministry to one another (see Colossians 3:16). Besides our worship services, we tend to have all kinds of teaching and training opportunities—we have Bible studies and youth groups, we have classes for systematic theology, parenting, and Bible knowledge. But few churches have opportunities to train our congregations to sing. Our bands practice and our choirs rehearse, but we rarely instruct the whole congregation. We rarely create opportunities to teach new songs, to teach them to sing those songs in parts, to help them grow in their skill. Singing is one of the few parts of the worship service in which every person participates and serves, yet we rarely train our congregations to participate and serve well in this key ministry.
If you’d like your church to have a great music program, perhaps it would be worth asking this: How are we training our church to sing?