Group singing is becoming increasingly countercultural in our society.  Over the last several months, I've had this conversation several times with colleagues and friends in vocational worship ministry.  While attending a gathering at the Upper Room here in Minneapolis, I also heard their teaching pastor brooch the topic briefly in a series on worship and I appreciate the fact that there seems to be an increasing awareness of this phenomenon in church leadership.

Before the days of radio and television, group singing was more normal.  It's how cultural stories and history were sometimes passed from one generation to another.  It's what families did for fun.  In previous centuries, many more people had instruments in their homes and group singing was a regular part of social gatherings.  Bars had pianos.  Campers had acoustic guitars and nearly everyone enjoyed singing common songs together.

But then two things happened:

First, we saw the advent of radio and television.  Early on in those days, the popularity of variety shows remained strong.  Families would still gather around the radio to sing or watch the bouncing ball across the lower third of their television screen where song lyrics were displayed.  Slowly but surely, however, this type of programming has disappeared and there are fewer and fewer places in our society (outside of the church) where group singing is the norm.

Secondly (and related closely to the first), is the super saturation of music.  Radio - and now the internet - have given nearly everyone in the world access to popular music through an entire industry that had never existed before.  Christianity has also capitalized on this and there's now more Christian music in the world (in whatever style you could ever want) than at any other point in history.  While the accessibility is great, it also means that worship leaders and churches have access to thousands of great songs to sing for worship and it's now possible for two neighboring churches to have completely different repertoires.  Just 10 years ago, nearly every church was singing Shout To The Lord and Lord I Lift Your Name On High but now (with the obvious exceptions of Tomlin, Brewster and a couple of others) there are very few songs that everyone is singing.  Because of this, people aren't hearing songs as frequently and, therefore, aren't as familiar with songs they're being asked to sing as a group.

On top of all of THAT, there's also the reality that our culture has become much more spectator-oriented and less participatory.  You see it everywhere.

So how do we fix it?  I don't know if we can.  I certainly know it can't be easy and personally, I'm just happy with people coming to this realization.  Society is always changing.  The church will always be countercultural.  We're instructed to worship God when we come together.  Often, we do this by singing and making music as a group.  We must continue to acknowledge both realities and seek out ways to encourage people to be willing participants in the symphony of worship in which we participate.