1. Poor Acoustics
Something I see (and hear) over and over again are newer, plush church facilities designed to be cost-effective and comfortable, but not to be "sung in." Carpeted floors, padded seats, noisy heating/air-conditioning units, and porous ceiling tiles conspire to create a worship space that sucks up sound. Some church leaders, aware of these kinds of problems with their buildings, have made changes to worship areas so that the setting will be more conducive to genuine worship. Good for them.
2. Praise Teams
I have no theological or aesthetic objection to praise teams. But I do think that they can be a barrier to the participation of the whole assembly. In some of my experience, it seemed to me that the praise team was a little too loud. The distinctive, amplified voice of the team was saying, "Listen to the performance" rather than "Sing along with us." Sometimes this feel is compounded by the on-stage music minister/worship leader who doesn't acknowledge the assembly, encouraging them to sing, but who constantly looks to and directs only the team. These sights and sounds combine to communicate: "We're going to sing for you. Just sit and listen." When it comes to good congregational song, I think that praise teams can be most effective when their amplification is subtle, their presence is inconspicuous, and when the worship leader looks to and leads the entire congregation.
3. Performance Music
That Christian recording artists sound great singing their songs on the radio is no reason to try to get a congregation to sing the same songs. Sometimes the differences make a huge difference. For example, sometimes music performed by Christian entertainers requires a vocal range that most people just don't have. Sometimes a song is just too complex for a group of non-specialists. Too, sometimes the rhythm and feel of performance music is generated by instruments, a major problem in most Churches of Christ. I realize that many of the traditional songs sung in congregations include moving parts, alto leads, etc. But those songs were introduced and learned at a time when a good number of Christians attended annual singing schools and when the musical training of a congregation was much more of a priority than it is today.
4. Unfamiliar Songs
Every well-known song was once brand new. Some of today's newer songs can be worthy additions to the church's repertoire. But new songs should not be sprung on the church in the context of Sunday-morning worship. Small groups, Bible classes, and Sunday-evening worship times can be the setting in which new songs can occasionally be tried out and learned.
5. Lowered Expectations
It seems like singing in worship is no longer understood to be a religious responsibility. Does anyone under twenty years old sing in worship anymore? In some churches, it seems like the musical part of worship is a time to look around, talk to the person next to you, watch the music minister and praise team, etc., but not sing. Not so long ago, there was a time in Churches of Christ when not singing was about as unacceptable as "forsaking the assembly" (that is, not going to church). After all, the same New Testament that said "not forsaking the assembling our ourselves together . . ." also said "speaking to yourselves in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs." Case closed. Singing was considered an act of worship that God required. So you either had strep throat, bronchitis, or laryngitis plus a doctor's note, or you sang. Looking back on that time in my life, I happily realize that sometimes the theology of our mostly-borrowed songs was actually more-balanced than the theology of our pulpits. Consequently, we sometimes sang our way into a truer way of seeing. But what if we hadn't sung?
These are some of my observations. What do you think?