Why Do Churches No Longer Sing?

Text: Isaiah 12:1-6

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Why don’t churches sing anymore?  Yes, why is it that people in churches across America don’t sing anymore?  Well, there are a lot of reasons why this is the case.  For example, some say: 

Nobody sings anymore because they do not know the songs; there are just too many new songs in churches today. 

Others say, 

The introduction of carpet into sanctuaries ruined the acoustics. 

Whereas other people will say things like:

Many of the new contemporary songs are too high, and men, well… they will not sing high-pitched songs.  

New churches with bands upfront create an environment of ‘listening,’ not singing.

Without an organ, it is tough to sing songs; it is difficult to sing to a guitar that typically doesn’t carry the melody.  

The list could go on and on and on.  

Now, it may surprise you, but before the Lutheran Reformation, parishioners were not allowed to sing in churches.  That is right, “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 [though] gave worship back to the people in the form of congregational singing. They composed simple tunes that were easy to sing and [combined] 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.”[1] 

Tragically, though, and as already mentioned, we are returning to how things were before the 16th-century Reformation, where people stand mute as professional praise and worship bands sing unknown songs with complex instruments.  This, my friends, is not how it is supposed to be.  


Reading our Old Testament Lesson from the Book of Isaiah, we heard that the Lord God is our ‘strength’ and our ‘song.’  Now, did you notice how that was stated?  When the Old Testament speaks of singing, it typically does so as if singing were so natural for the Christian that it would be no different than chewing gum, laughing, or cheering.  Listen to several other verses:

“Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” (Ps. 98:1)

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Ps. 95:1)

Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. (Eph. 5:19)

Indeed, the Bible speaks as if we Christians should automatically be singing as a part of the Christian faith.  Where there is Christianity, there you will naturally find communal singing.  

But then again, we tend to cringe at communal singing here in America.  In fact, in America, we tend not to sing in groups anymore – communal singing seems dead in American culture.  You see, once upon a time, you could find Americans singing together.  For example, consider the average baseball game; no one at the ball game was worried about whether they were good at singing.  They were happy amateur singers, singing, “Take me out to the ball game.”  In other words, in America, spontaneous communal singing is virtually non-existent.  

So, back to Christianity—back to us here at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. What does this practically mean for you and me?

Well, for starters, as already stated, singing is a part of the Christian faith – it is naturally a part of the Divine Services.  It is the way that it is supposed to be.  

Secondly, since singing is a natural part of the Christian faith, we have a hymnal that contains all our favorite hymns.  The hymns in the hymnal are the most widely known, easily sung, and most popular hymns of our Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  And so, all the hymns in our hymnal are our songs.  This means that we don’t just sing certain portions of the hymnal but celebrate all the good hymns because they are all gifts passed down to us from our forefathers.  

Thirdly, the songs in our hymnal are not poor imitations of popular music that would demand you and me to have Grammy-quality vocal cords. They are songs sung by Christians, young and old, around the world for centuries. They are not instrumentally driven songs but songs that focus on the communal voice of the congregation.  

Fourthly, we have not carpeted the whole church, which means that the acoustics in this sanctuary are still pretty good.    

Fifthly, great organists help us sing the Word of God. The organ is perhaps one of the easiest instruments to sing along with.  

Sixthly, we do not have a band up front to sing on our behalf.  Instead, we have easy-to-read hymnals with the lyrics and notes printed right before our eyes.  Why have professionals sing on our behalf when we – the congregation – get to sing ourselves?

And finally, the Lord God is our song. That is right; our Old Testament lesson says that the Lord God is our strength and our song. 

Baptized Saints, I cannot stress the last point enough.  You see, we humans typically sing when we have a reason to sing.  For example, when we attend a sporting event to cheer on the home team, we will sing the school song.  When we attend a birthday, we sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to celebrate our loved one.  When we get a job promotion, we crank on the radio in our car and belt out a familiar tune.  When we stand with pride before the National Flag, we sing our National Anthem. The point is that singing is typically an outpouring – a response to the events of life.  When we sing, we express our emotions.  When we sing, we typically reflect an event, situation, or occurrence in our lives.  

And so, right here and right now in this sanctuary, we sing not to entertain our Lord God.  We don’t sing to get God to somehow think favorably of us.  We don’t sing to prove our faith to God.  No, we sing because God is already our strength, and He is already our song.  

Simply stated, the reason why we sing is because of Christ and what He has done for us.  Only Christ is able to save you from your sins by His cross – and so, you sing.  Don’t let this point escape you too quickly: you were dead in your sins – estranged from God.  But the Lord God found you and rescued you from darkness by Christ and for Christ.  Furthermore, the Holy Spirit has called you and enlightened you in truth.  And in case that is not enough, it pleased the Lord to give you the gifts of Baptism, Absolution, and the Holy Supper.  …And so this puts a song in your hearts.  

But what if you can’t sing?  Ah, that does not matter.  Do you think the Lord God listens to your singing in response to His goodness and says, 

“Oh, dear John, you were a bit off-tune in stanza 3.”

And what if you don’t know a hymn?  Do you think the Lord God listens to our singing and says, 

“St. Paul’s, I only want you to sing the 30 hymns that you know really, really well because if you sing unfamiliar hymns in the hymnal, they won’t sound good, and I will not be entertained.”

And what if you don’t like the sound, tempo, and rhythm of a hymn we sing in church? Dear Christian, the hymns in our hymnal are not there based on your individual preferences. They are there because they are doctrinally sound and have blessed millions of other Christians around the world. And so, it does not matter if you don’t like certain hymns; you can sing them anyway, knowing that your neighbor next to you may be blessed by them. And who knows, you may be blessed by it someday as well, along with the millions of other saints. 

To the point, when it is time to sing in church, we sing:  

We sing our faith because Christ is our strength.  

We sing our theology because Christ is our strength.  

We sing familiar hymns because Christ is our strength.  

We sing unfamiliar hymns because Christ is our strength.  

We sing our favorite hymns because Christ is our strength.

We sing hymns we don’t like the sound of because Christ is our strength.    

When the words of the hymn are more convicting than uplifting, we sing because Christ is our strength.  

When we can’t carry a tune, we sing because singing is never a performance – but something we do because Christ is our strength and our song.   

Baptized Saints, the Lord God is our strength, and He is also our song – He is the content of our songs because He is good to us.  And so, today, we sing.  Next Sunday, we will sing as well.  And the week after that… we still keep singing because the Lord God has done glorious things for you and me.  

In the name of Jesus, we sing. Amen.

[1]  David Murrow, Why Men Have Stopped Singing in Church (https://davidmurrow.com/why-men-have-stopped-singing-in-church/), accessed April 27, 2024