This past I week I had the chance to be part of the congregation while one of our teams lead worship without me on stage. (It’s one of the great joys of leadership when you get to watch the team you have trained and cared for lead with as much excellence and power as if you were on stage with them.) I had been standing in the back row worshipping until it was time for me to come forward to do the communion meditation and prayer when I got to the front row it hit me. The church was singing out LOUDLY! There are few things on earth that I love more than to hear the church sing.

Backing up a bit, I was having a conversation with an elder at another church recently and he mentioned that he has noticed a growing trend of people standing and watching the band and vocalists during worship instead of singing along. He then asked me if I thought that was okay? I told him it was not only NOT okay, but that there were some simple ways to make it easier to help and encourage them to do so with joy.


These are some of the tips that I’ve found to help unleash our church to sing in worship:

  1. Lyric Presentation- Lyrics are poetry and unless you’re reading a children’s book for little tiny kids, very rarely are there only two lines per page. I know there are reasons to put only two lines of lyrics when you’re overlaying them with video from IMAG but I’d like to make a case to consider another option. People are better able to visualize, understand and internalize the meaning of the words they are singing if they are presented as a complete thought. I know some people don’t want words put in their mouth unless they have a chance to process it for themselves and decide they agree before they sing. It also helps to have the lyrics split into phrases when there is a rest or break between singing. This is a visual cue so that people know when to stop singing between words.
  2. Vocal Range- I ALMOST NEVER do the song in the original recorded key. I’ve gotten more pushback on this than most of the other tips I’m going to share but here are my reasons. The original recording is in the key that it is most likely because it’s what the original artist sounds best singing in and that means they can sell their music better. However, your average persons voice is no where near the range of Chris Tomlins or some of those other guys so do your congregation a favor and transpose it down. Here is an article that does a great job of explaining it by Jamie Harvill. My only addition is that the bell curve applies to voices. At the bottom left there are very few real basses and on the right there are very few real tenors and sopranos. Right in the middle is a giant group of baritones and altos so find the keys that comfortably fit the majority of voices.
  3. Simplify- I heard someone say one time that when things are hard human tendency is to try and make it easier. The same can be said for complicated melodies and rhythms. People in your congregation are going to go ahead and simplify what they sing so you might as well make it simple for them and go ahead and have your vocal teams sing them that way in the first place. For example, if the second verse of a song is different than the first but it can be sung the same way as the first, chances are your congregation is going to do it that way.
  4. Teach it- The first time I saw someone do this it was so simple that I felt stupid for not thinking of it myself. Take time in the service to teach it to the congregation. Tell them that you’d like to teach them a new song and then explain that you’ll sing the verse first with just a piano or guitar and then have them sing it along with you after, then repeat the proceed with the chorus and any other part of the song you need to. More times than not I remind them that they are the choir and we’re the accompanists and we’re having an impromptu choir rehearsal. Then after we rehearse it I will say something like great job choir, now lets sing the whole thing together for our Father.
  5. Repertoire- One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the last couple years is that it’s important to keep and manage a concise list of new, well known and classic worship songs in your repertoire. Just enough: new songs to keep things fresh, well known songs that people already connect with and the classics which I will call hymnody that are timeless but not so many that it’s too much for your average person to know. CHECK OUT THIS RESOURCE TO LEARN MORE. For our congregation, not everyone comes every week and we’ve grown a lot in the past couple of years so there are quite a few new people. This meant it was all the more important for new people not to have to learn a ton of new music before they could start to engage in worship. I whittled down a whopping song list of over a 120 songs we had done over 7 years down to about 70.
  6. Subliminal Programming- Okay, so it’s not really as devious as it sounds. Basically if there is any way to put the music you’re going to be doing in front of people out in advance they’ll pick it up quicker. I put together a worship quarterly playlist in Spotify that consists of all the new music we’re more than likely going to introduce over the next 4 months as well as any new music we introduced over the past 4 months. We then play this as pre and post service music. That way people are hearing the music consistently for a while before we ever sing it. I’ll also post video links on our facebook of a song that we’ll do the week before that Sunday to get some additional people listening to it. It’s also a great idea to post each Sundays Setlist with the name of the songs and the artist so if people want to purchase it for themselves and listen throughout the week they can.
  7. Volume- Can they hear themselves singing? If not, it’s too loud and you’re covering up one of the main reasons we have music in our services. However, if it’s too soft then people will feel self conscious and worry about whether other people are paying attention to their voice and judging them. The volume needs to be loud enough that people feel safe and soft enough that you can hear yourself just above the music. There is no perfect number for decibels and a bad mix will stink even at low levels so you will need to figure out what fits your room, instrumentation and congregation best. For us we’ve found that we like it between 88 dbs in the soft parts of songs – 92 db in the loud parts when it’s mixed well.
  8. Sing With Not Over- Sing along with the congregation, not over the top of them. I’ve seen worship leaders that continually jump up fifths and octaves over the melody line at the ends of phrases or ad lib their own phrases before the lyrics have finished and consistently tag a “whoah” or “yeah”. There are times for individual expression and if you’re in the middle of an instrumental or a congregation that is used to spontaneous song then go for it, however if everyone is singing the same thing go ahead and join them.
  9. Let the Scripture Inspire- God is the one who inspires our worship so let him speak to your congregation and encourage them himself to respond they way he designed them to. Use a scripture right before you sing that speaks to the heart of why you’re singing, or during an instrumental before a particularly powerful section that focuses people’s hearts even more. For more tips on what to say as a worship leader check out this article.
  10. No Talent Required- Encourage them by letting them know that God is the one who gave them their voice and doesn’t care whether they can sing or not. Singing is about our hearts responding to who God is and what He has done for us and not about winning American Idol. There is no Simon Cowell waiting to smash them with criticism during worship. One of my favorite moments in worship was hearing a man with Down syndrome sing at the top of his lungs who was completely tone deaf but didn’t care because as he said “Jesus is Awesome and singing for him is fun!”

I know there are other tips that are working in your churches, I’d love to hear what works for you!

Picture of Nic Cook

Nic Cook

This article was first published on as part of a series of resources for worship pastors/directors, and volunteers.