What’s Gone Wrong with the Worship Song?

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I recently came across Andy Chamberlain’s article “Radio Killed the Worship Song” in this month’s Worship Leader magazine and I couldn’t agree more with him.

Chamberlain’s point is that today’s worship songs are no longer “congregational”, more particularly, that they aren’t being written with the average church congregation in mind:

Many of our best known worship songs simply aren’t congregationally singable in their original format, and sometimes if you change the format, the song just doesn’t work at all….

But it’s not simply a matter of changing key. Lots of big songs written in the last few years have a range as wide as a 15th, meaning that whatever key you place it in, parts are going to be too high or too low for too long, and then people just stop singing.

He goes on to add:

Another way to get big climactic lift is to jump up an octave in the final chorus, and many newer songs use this idea. Again it works brilliantly on CD and in huge gatherings but simply isn’t usable in avery sized churches.

In my post Confessions of a Dyed-in-the-Wool Worship Musician, I said that worship should be more like a jazz bar than a rock concert in a stadium. It needs to convey connection and intimacy. Growing up in church during the 90s, worship expression was beginning to develop its own form as the wave of the Jesus Movement receded. Spearheaded by the likes of Hosanna Music, Maranatha and Vineyard Publishing, there was a real emphasis on musically-excellent, well-crafted worship experiences with the church congregation in mind. Worship leaders were worship leaders, not worship artists.

The era of the worship artists meant a new emphasis on technical excellence and creativity. This is actually not a bad thing because it began to restore to the church a renewed call to capture the arts but also to speak a creative language that the unchurched could understand and connect with. But it also meant that worship delivery was starting to move beyond the grasp of the average church musician who tried to emulate what was on the CDs without the ability or resources to do so.

This gap has now widened.

Worship songs used to be a lot simpler, more economical in thought and focus, more repetitive and simpler to sing. I used to be able to sing almost any worship song that was published.  Recently, I was trying to find a comfortable key for Israel Houghton’s “Your Presence is Heaven” (which by the way, is a song I love to listen to) and realised that it was almost impossible to find that key which would still allow me to sing the high octave part.

So for all the good that worship artistry has brought us, including a greater emphasis on skill, excellence and creativity, perhaps the pendulum should start to swing back slightly. Let’s keep the good things, but let’s return to the roots of congregational worship. Let’s make the songs simpler to sing so that as much of the congregation as possible can take part. Let’s take worship away from the radio, the big conferences and the stadiums and make it accessible to churches both big and small.

Maybe radio hasn’t killed the worship song completely, but let’s do something before it does.

What do you think?


    1. I totally agree with you re this posting. The volume of music in church drowns out the congregation, God wants our heart, and worship which comes from a God centred heart is more precious than anything. I believe that God wants to change how we do worship. God bless you!

      1. Thanks Linda. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten that our job as worship leaders is to facilitate the congregation’s expression I worship instead of delivering a great production.

  1. Dear Lester, how do I become a good blogger. I write stuff and then I point out all my faults and constantly fear somebody will attack me or contradict myself, then I will look very stupid. How else do I express creativity without fear of being condemned. Eg. tattoo.. (oh Leviticus says don’t cut) but its old testament. Maybe I am not destined to be a blogger or get a tattoo. But I do enjoy reading your blog and you also follow Ragamuffin Soul. 🙂 Thanks

    1. Hi jess. Thanks for reading. I’ve always enjoyed writing but I suppose you just need to put your fears aside and not worry what other people think. I just have to accept that not everyone will share my opinion and that’s okay. I suggest you give it a try and see how you go. If it’s meant to be, you will find enjoyment in the process and blogging will be fun. But if you don’t try I guess you won’t know!

  2. I was almost jumping up and down when my husband shared this article with me while cooking dinner – as a worship leader who has been thru almost all the phases of worship as it’s developed the last 30 years it saddens me that today there’s more time spent pointing towards the “performance to attract” than to God. We’re so busy trying tickle peoples ears and make them feel like they’re at a concert or nightclub that we’ve taken the reverence and focus of Worship off God and focused on making all about “feel good”. It’s sad and I’m sure it saddens God – just like the song said, “I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it cuz it’s ALL about YOU, ALL ABOUT YOU JESUS.”

    1. Amen Cheryl Ann! Thanks for sharing. It’s frustrating that the way the trends in worship music are going that we are shutting out God’s people from being able to “access” worship and God’s presence because the songs are too hard to sing. We are unfortunately going back to the Tabernacle of Moses and keeping people in the outer courts, rather than a Hebrews 10:25 accessibility of being able to “come boldly to the throne of grace”! You are right – it’s time to get back to the heart of worship!

  3. “Maybe its just me”… but if the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart…
    Integrity Hossana of the late 80s to 90s I wish we could bring it back afresh
    1)it was scriptural
    2)it was Anointed/prophetic
    3)we all were excited about our Lord Jesus Christ in song
    4) it definately honored God
    5)it was choir&orchestra(almost heavenly)
    6)lastly it lifted up the name of Jesus to draw all to Him
    I just feel back then it was all about God… Im not saying we dont have great stuff today we do, but it seems today its more what we can get from God than what we should be offering to God.
    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

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