It happened again yesterday. I was attending one of those hip, contemporary churches—and almost no one sang.
Worshippers stood obediently as the band rocked out, the smoke machine belched and lights flashed. Lyrics were projected on the screen, but almost no one sang them.
A few women were trying, but I saw only one male (other than the worship leader) making the attempt.
A few months ago, I blogged “Have Christians Stopped Singing?” I did some research, and learned that congregational singing has ebbed and flowed over the centuries. It reached a high tide when I was a young man—but that tide may be going out again.
And that could be bad news for men.
First, a very quick history of congregational singing.
Before the Reformation, laypersons were not allowed to sing in church. They were expected to stand mute as sacred music was performed by professionals (priests and cantors), played on complex instruments (pipe organs) and sung in an obscure language (Latin).
Reformers gave worship back to the people in the form of congregational singing.
They composed simple tunes that were easy to sing, and mated them with theologically rich lyrics. Since most people were illiterate in the 16th century, singing became an effective form of catechism.
Congregants learned about God as they sang about God.
A technological advance—the printing press—led to an explosion of congregational singing.
The first hymnal was printed in 1532, and soon a few dozen hymns became standards across Christendom. Hymnals slowly grew over the next four centuries. By the mid-20th century, every Protestant church had a hymnal of about 1000 songs, 250 of which were regularly sung.
In the church of my youth, everyone picked up a hymnal and sang every verse of every song.
About 20 years ago, a new technological advance—the computer controlled projection screen—entered America’s sanctuaries.