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Keith Getty on Five Ways to Improve Congregational Singing

Keith Getty recently listed five ways to improve congregational singing:

  1. Begin with the pastor.
  2. Sing great songs.
  3. Cultivate a congregation-centered priority in those who lead.
  4. Serve the congregation through musical excellence.
  5. Manage the congregation’s repertoire intentionally.

Go read his explanations, and then come back and let me know what you think.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.

35 Responses to Keith Getty on Five Ways to Improve Congregational Singing

  1. Matt Phenix says:

    Getty’s first point really is crucial in the life of a worshiping church. No matter what the title that the worship leader may have; the pastor is the main worship leader. The way that the pastor worships will be the way that the congregation worships. Working at different churches, I have seen the influence that a pastor can have on a congregation. If the pastor has a heart for worship, he will push the congregation to be a worshiping people. If the pastor just sees worship as an ends to a mean as the preparation for HIS sermon, then that is the way the people will see worship. The pastor really is a main key on whether the church will be a worshiping church or not.

  2. ai-chin says:

    I agree with that it all begins with pastor. A pastor has to be a good model for the congregations in a corporate worship. I remember many years ago I read a book on how to nurture a musical kid. In the book, the author makes a very good point and provides a very good example. The author’s point is that parents have to be a good model of music lover in order to nurture a musical kid. The example is as below. Encouraging children to eat vegetable is the desire of parents because it is a healthy diet. If a parent servers a child a bow of salad and on the other hand serve him or herself a plate of steak at a dinner table, then encouraging the child to eat vegetable will not work here. Likewise, a pastor must be engage in a corporate worship in order to encourage the congregations’ engagement.
    Another point that I agree with this article is “But art ultimately expresses life, and low-quality songs do not reflect spirited, serious believers.” We are all a piece of wonderful art that God has created. Therefore, when we come to God and worship Him, we have to come in awe of Him and present to the best art that we have.

  3. Ben Little says:

    This is one of the best articles that I’ve read in a while from a worship leader’s standpoint! Points 3 and 4 resonate to me because I have personally seen the effects (if not been the leader and learned from my mistakes) of poor leadership mentality and musical excellence.

    “It is an awful witness for outsiders to watch believers so disinterested in singing to their Creator and Redeemer” (Point 3). The worship of a church speaks to the actual spiritual health in a way that numbers never will be able to display. When people worship in the “I just rolled out of bed because it’s Sunday and I have to be here” way, it is such a poor witness for anyone who walks in not knowing our Savior? Why would anyone want to be saved if worship is such drudgery to the very people who confess to love God and gather with His people?

    “Every singer, instrumentalist, and choir member should share in facilitating the high calling of congregational singing” (Point 3). This is a common theme in our culture of rock-star worship-leaders/praise teams. All leadership should acknowledge that worship requires the leader to be a servant. We are to encourage congregational singing, not outshine or impress the laity with our skill.

    “This leadership requires people who are trained and well-prepared” (Point 4). Too often, worship is less than excellent because the preparation continues to be stalled due to busy schedules. Even when skilled people are in leadership, time should go into preparation to communicate the importance of giving our best to God. If the leadership does not do this, how can we expect the congregation to?

  4. Megan M. says:

    I like how Getty brings up the point of how a lot of worship leaders have an “unhealthy priority on performance” (point 3). There have been so many services I’ve attended where the people on stage were more focused on drawing attention to themselves. They act like rock stars; not someone who is trying to lead a congregation into worshipping the One who deserves all the praise. It always makes me sad to see worship leaders doing that.

  5. Aeil Park says:

    This article reminded me of how important the influence of the pastor (spiritual leader) is in worship. One of the pastor’s primary duties is to give the congregation healthy,spritual food because spritual leaders’ words and spritual condition are a huge influence in our worship. I agree with what the article said, “we need pastors who constantly delight in their congregation’s singing and the musicians who serve them who also joyfully and authentically participate themselves”. We should pray for our pastors, because church worship, including congregational singing, begins with the pastor.

  6. Leyi Ling says:

    I strongly agree with Getty’s first point: “Begin with the pastor” . I think it is very practical. Since many of the pastors are not musicians, they usually did not care what music is handing to the congregation, as long as the lyrics are not theologically wrong. To make them see the importance of the role that music playing in worship is the biggest challenge for so many churches. I think Getty’s suggestion on having a close relationship with the pastor and help them see what we see is very practical. Once pastors start to pay attention to the music, the church will start to hear the pastors’ view on music. Eventually, the congregation would have a better understand on what they sing on Sunday. And all that start with a close relationship with pastors. When we have good relationship in Christ, then it is no longer people serving the Lord, but a team, a body of Christ serving the Lord.

  7. Keji L. says:

    I strongly agree with the first point:”begin with the pastor”. Today, many pastors don’t have any music background and do not know much about the church music, they think as long as the lyrics are theologically appropriate, music does not really matters. However in many cases, those pastors are actually the main leaders of the worship service. Church musicians and ministers have to listen and obey their suggestions. Thus, in order to lead the whole congregation worship in an appropriate way and improve congregational singing, the first step should begin with the pastor.

  8. Debbie Lamb says:

    My favorite part of the article is when Mr. Getty said that the question to ask on Monday morning is: How did the congregation sing? We get so focused on our own performance or on how well we managed transitions that we forget about the congregation. When the congregation knows the song and they sing with all their heart, it is a powerful praise to the Lord. Since our worship service is a contemporary one, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to perform as concert artists. Our focus needs to return to the congregation – together we all praise the Lord.

  9. Janis Felts says:

    I appreciated Getty’s comments about the “performance” atmosphere in many worship services. However, I do not agree with the heading of that point(3), that we should “Cultivate a congregation-centered priority in those who lead.” While many of his comments were good, I believe we must rather have a God-centered priority, along with his other suggestions of choosing great music, working with the pastor, serving with excellence, and being intentional in ordering the service. Then we must leave the results with the Lord. After all, only God knows the hearts of the congregants, and He is the One who draws us to worship.

    I appreciated Alistair Begg’s comment that we must be spiritually alive, spiritually assisted, and spiritually active. This should be true of all believers, but I believe all participants leading in worship must evidence this level of commitment to the Lord.

  10. Jiazi Gao says:

    I agree that the pastor plays an important role in the congregation worships. I also agree with Matt that the influence of a pastor can have on a congregation. Based on the article, as the author says that as a worship leader pray for your pastor faithfully and build the relationship and to communicate with the pastor is important. The second point which I really like is that the author said we can’t be lazy in choosing songs. “It is an art form that arrests our emotions and intellect in mysterious ways.” In this sentence I think the author really stated a sufficient reason for why we can’t be lazy in choosing songs. The song used in worship is not all about music, but all the elements that fit together with the content of the truth of God’s word in the purpose of glorify and praise the Lord. Therefore, “we can’t be lazy” and “must sing great songs”.

  11. John Gray says:

    This is a great article. It speaks to the desire for a Music pastor to lead the congregation in truth, by the Holy Spirit, in excellence. I loved the statement that he took from his pastor that said, “in our song worship, we have to be spiritually alive (dead people don’t sing), spiritually assisted (through the enabling of the Holy Spirit), and spiritually active (committed to daily walking with the Lord). We must notice that the worship service is for believers, we must be led by the Spirit, and we should desire to walk with the Lord daily. I also love the point he made about pastors being involved in the singing of the congregation. Today to many churches lose the desire to sing theology and doctrine to each other and the Lord. This is something that the music pastor should try to teach in every possible way. Congregational singing is a great gift from God, may we use it in a way that brings all the glory to him.

  12. Brandon H. says:

    This article is very helpful for those who lead worship and desire to be the best leader possible for their congregation. While, every point was valuable, I really liked the point Getty made about musical excellence. Those who were called to lead worship in the OT were trained and skilled and the music reflected that. It is sad that in the majority of churches today, the music is not taken seriously. Like Bradley said, the church use to be the place where true musical art flourished; this is defiitely not the case today. While I am not going to argue styles of music in this post, the point is clear that no matter what style of music is chosen, it needs to be done with excellence. God deserves our absolute best and nothing less than that. Because we are being trained musically, we have the responsibiliy to lead the congregation with musical excellence.

  13. Seung Joon Shin says:

    How valuable singing a great song in worship is! As the author mentioned, it is very important to choose a suitable song for the congregation. The songs help us to open our mind and leads us to God. That is why worship leaders should be very careful and sensitive when they choose congregational songs.
    I also agree the author’s view on “congregation-centered priority.” Even though the musicians playing for the congregation in the worship are professional, they may not serve the worship service well if they do not understand the style of the congregational song. For example, I am a member of worship team in my church. All of the instrumentalists are in major of their parts. Our worship team leader always reminds us that we should not display our musical talents, but support the congregational singing. Thus, we always try to prepare well the music technically and spiritually to serve the congregational song.

  14. Debbie Lamb says:

    I appreciate that Ben emphasizes the point that musicians who lead in worship should be trained and well-prepared. When we are leading the congregation to worship our Lord we need to be skilled and knowledgeable about our craft so that we bring our best to the Lord. This is not to draw attention to ourselves but to keep the congregation focused on Who we are worshiping.

  15. Sarah Teichler says:

    Getty makes excellent points and I appreciate that his comments come out of his experiences in many different churches. The problems he sees are not unique to a few churches, but are widespread. I, too, can attest to the truth that the pastor sets the example and the congregation takes its lead from him. A united vision for worship between the senior pastor and the music minister fosters a healthy congregation.

    I also like what Getty says about leaders using our gifts “for the purpose of supporting the congregation.” How many of us have ever been told something like this? I daresay not many of us. But the very phrase “leading in worship” should have us thinking about the congregation. He gets right to the heart of the issue when he says we can combat most of our troubles with the “worship team” by teaching them that their role is supporting the congregation.

    Lastly, I don’t believe most of us think about the witness that our worship bears to non-believers and other believers as well. Our seriousness (or lack of it) about worship not only has bearing on our relationship with God, but on those around us.This is a stark contrast from the trend of teaching that even corporate worship is a personal thing – it’s just you and God and no one else matters.

  16. ai-chin says:

    Ben Little, I second your last point. “Even when skilled people are in leadership, time should go into preparation to communicate the importance of giving our best to God”. We need not only spending time in communicating, but we also need to spend time in praying before the worship begins. There are many things we can pray for during this prayer time.
    One thing that I would like to share at here is, we as a musician must pay 200% attention, to serve God with a pure and humble heart. As Megan said, easily, many musicians are drawing attention to themselves.
    Many year ago, I shared with my sister that I was tired of serving in a worship team. My sister threw me a great question. “Are you really tired because of spiritually dry or because you no longer get applauds that you have before?” This made me search my heart.
    Serving God in a worship team not only require musically best but also spiritually best. I always remind myself, when others praise me, I can receive their praise, but I must immediately return it to God, who has given this precious opportunity to serve.

  17. Kyu Lee says:

    I can not emphasize more that it is very important to communicate with your pastor. You might find some things you did not know or realize of worship and how congregations respond. I totally believe what he listed.
    And its very important to share your sincere thoughts and genuine pray with pastor is important too.

  18. Ben Little says:

    Getty brought to attention that new songs are also to be considered among the greats. Hymns, choruses, praise songs, etc. can all be considered great as long as they convey truth and not superficiality (mostly in text).

    I will never again have the same attitude in evaluating corporate worship as a leader again. It is extremely insightful to ask “how did the congregation sing” rather than “how did I perform.” Worship is not about the leader, it is not only about the individual in the congregation, but about the edification of the entire congregation. I’m seriously rethinking my thoughts on any form of individualism within worship (offering personal worship in the corporate setting).

  19. Matt Phenix says:

    I completely agree with Ben in asking “how did the congregation sing?” compared to “how did I perform?” If the aim for any worship leader is to bring people to the Throne of God Almighty, his concern should be that of how the people are worshiping. Sometimes certain songs resonate within a church and that song becomes the anthem of the church. The worship leader should keep in contact with what the congregation likes to sing and use their input in planning worship. But, the worship leader must still make sure these songs are of quality whether it is a hymn, praise chorus, or worship song.

  20. Megan M, says:

    Getty’s fifth point is something I had never thought about before. Growing up in a church where the song choice depended on what the worship leader felt like, that’s just how I had always thought that worship was planned. Reading in this article (and hearing in class as well) about just how much should go into consideration when creating your worship set list is a real eye opener. There should be some sort of logic or reasoning behind the worship songs you choose. “Why are you singing this particular song at this particular time? Is this song appropriate for this point in the service? What message is this song conveying?” Those are some good questions that have been changing how I look at worship songs and what qualifies them as worship songs to begin with.

  21. Sarah Teichler says:

    Ben, your comment (and a recent, but unfortunately not unfamiliar experience I had) got me thinking about another related question that the worship leader needs to rethink: How did I worship? I was playing with an instrumental ensemble and the worship leader was singing with all his heart, his eyes closed, and oblivious to the musicians who really needed his direction and leadership. I have no doubt of his sincerity, passion for God, and pure motives, but he was not filling his role as worship LEADER at that moment. Worship (outwardly) looks different for worship leaders, singers, and instrumentalists (Audio/Visual guys, too, actually, now that I think about it). I think the root is the same error: thinking individually, rather than congregationally. Corporate worship is corporate, and when we have accepted a position of leadership, we must consider that role carefully. Thoughts anyone?

  22. Janis Felts says:

    I agree with the “Nine Marks of a Healthy Worship Leader” posted in the link on February 22. “Your worship leader should be chiefly concerned with honoring God and upholding Jesus and the gospel, more than reaching the next generation or any other pre-determined demographic.” I believe that many churches have failed in their main objective. I have worshiped in settings where “honoring God and upholding Jesus” was the main emphasis and in other settings where the focus was more on pleasing the people of the generation. It seems that in the latter, it is easier to get caught up in the performance rather than in worship, which is, after all, our purpose.

  23. Mana Amy Hiroshima says:

    Choosing congregational songs is a huge task with intense responsibility for us as the one who leads worship service. Since it is consider to be a “service,” it needs to be lead by the power of God, Holy Spirits. So Getty’s first point “begin with the paster” is really understandable and requisite. Each service ay have each concepts in order of the Church Year. Like to remember the passion of Jesus Christ before Easter. So we do need to build a service with a strong foundation on the Bible with our pastors who can lead us to the correct biblical world.

  24. Keji L. says:

    Getty’s fifth idea “manage the congregation’s repertoire intentionally” is also quite important. I like his describe:”don’t treat your library of congregational choices like selecting ‘shuffle’ your iPod.” Often time, people sing the song they familiar and used to, each generation has its own repertoire. As a corporate worship leader, we should always learn from the rich heritage of liturgy and exam the song before bring it to congregation . Also, intentionally lead the congregational to build their repertoire and let them know what they are singing.

  25. Aeil Park says:

    I agree with Getty’s third point: “Cultivate a congregation-centered priority in those who lead.” The purpose of congregational song is singing together to praise God. It is very important time of worship when we sing a song together with one voice; because of that, leaders should have the responsibility during worship to encourage the congregation in worship so that it goes well but many churches are not conscious of this. Worship time is not just a time of singing but also an opportunity to sing together with one voice to glorify God as the one body of Christ. “Music leaders should using their many rich and clolrful gifts for the purpose of supporting the congregation. Every worship serve people should have the consciousness for sharing in facilitating the high calling of congregational singing.”

  26. Leyi Ling says:

    For Getty’s third point, “Serve the congregation through musical excellence”, I strongly agree. It is very easy for people in church to say that “it’s OK”, “it’s not professional”, “let’s do not spend too much time on fixing (tone, mistakes….)”, “it’s just for a Sunday service”. Christians are trying to be “nice” in church, but very often this “nice” attitude give people a wrong impression of serving. It often makes people think it is not a very serious thing to serve the Lord. In addition, it would not help people rehearsal well, because people would not want to be pushed to give the best to God, but music need good practice to reach the excellence. Give God the best should be one of the main principle.

  27. Mana Amy Hiroshima says:

    For having an intergenerational worship service, we need to choose the congregational songs which can break through the border of the ages. at Getty’s second point, he mentioned about the same thing too. The congregational songs need to be opened for all generations, and there is a way to find the best one for all generations. So I strongly agree with his saying “There are great new songs—they breathe fresh air into our singing and help connect age-old truth with modern sounds. These are appropriate, too, though harder to find.”

  28. Jiazi Gao says:

    As I reading through the article again, the fourth point caught my attention, “serve the congregation through musical excellence”. I really like that the author mentioned the bible verse evidences. I think serve through musical excellence is a reminder and also a commandment for music or worship leaders. Worship leaders need to be well prepared and get trained. The equipment shouldn’t just in music areas, but also theologically. Therefore, when the worship leader lead the congregations, he or she would know how to be best prepare and lead the congregations with the right spirit to worship our God. God deserves our best.

  29. Brandon H. says:

    I think Getty makes an important point when he states, “low quality songs to do not reflect serious, spirited believers”. Like the story he mentioned, it is a good test to see what an unbeliever would think of the quality of music done in church. If we as believers are serious about music done in the church, we will choose great songs that are both deep and musically excellent. It is a bad testimony for us to worship God half halfheartedly with low quality songs.

  30. Kyu Lee says:

    Often many times we tends to show how beautiful worship music was and how skillful the musicians were. But the bible never tells us the size of the choir or how skillful the worship leader was. God sees the true worshipers.

  31. John Gray says:

    I fully agree with Ben’s emphasis on the congregation singing. It is truly a gift from the Godhead to worship together as a congregation. The loss of this during the middle ages was a tragedy. I also believe that placing emphasis on congregational singing it will help to fight against a performance mindset.By God’s grace may we pursue congregational singing to the glory of the Godhead.

  32. Seung Joon Shin says:

    I agree with Mana’s thought. A music leader, who generally musically trained, in worship tends to choose songs that the leader likes. If rhythm and melody of a song is too hard, old generartion may struggle to sing it. All generations should sing the congregational song in worship.

  33. Matt Phenix says:

    As Seung Joon said “all generations should sing the congregational song in worship.” Does that mean we cater worship to all generations or do we teach all generations to like all types of music?

  34. Burl Becker says:

    Getty makes this statement: “Week after week we are spiritually renewed, realigned and sanctified by singing to the Lord and singing to each other as the body of Christ.”
    Comment: The Bible doesn’t teach that we are to wait for singing some songs on Sunday to be renewed:
    Lamentations 3:23 “They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”
    2 Corinthians 4:16 “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.”
    Comment: The Bible also doesn’t teach that we are sanctified through singing:
    John 17:17 “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
    We are sanctified by Jesus Christ through the word of God.

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