Congregational singing, and how special does ‘Special Music’ really need to be?

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

Nearly all churches use music of some kind—congregations sing hymns or worship songs, and some churches also use ‘special music,’ i.e. a selection of music (vocal or instrumental, solo, duet or ensemble) performed while an offering is taken up, or as a set-up to the sermon, or even as part of the message for the day.

At one time in our fellowship ‘special music’ was the norm—whether from an up-and-coming young music student, an established singer or musician, or a church choir. For years I was on a list of volunteer singers and musicians on a circuit to perform ‘specials’ at our home church in Pasadena and then make day trips to other churches throughout Southern CA. Great memories of serving and getting to know brothers and sisters in so many different congregations. But things change.

If you serve a very small church, it’s hard enough just figuring out how to do regular congregational singing, what less special music. If you’re really blessed, there’s a resident musician for accompaniment. For others, recorded accompaniment helps.

Sometimes we might feel bad about the humbleness of our small worship services—no huge sanctuary, choir, band or orchestra—just few folks gathered to pray, sing, hear the word, share communion, and fellowship. And while we’d all love to sound like angels, perhaps you say, “we can’t really muster up anything special enough to be called ‘special music’ and our regular worship music isn’t too hot either.”

Yes, we wish we could employ the grandest choir and orchestra to give highest praises to our God. But this blog takes a Christ-centered Trinitarian approach in reminding us that Jesus himself is our Worship. It is the Holy Spirit who has touched our hearts with the heavenly desire to glorify God in loving response. And in the living person that is Jesus, the Father has already graciously sent us the perfect obedient response, offering and worship, which we could never have given of ourselves. In Spirit and through the lips of our faithful High Priest Jesus, our fractured prayers and humble songs (indeed our lives as New Creations in Christ) are accepted as perfect at the throne of Grace, as our crucified, risen and ascended Mediator includes us in his ongoing life and worship.

In other words, no matter whether its congregational singing, or any other kind of worship, it is truly “from Him and through Him and to Him” that all things are done to the praise and glory of God (Romans 11:36). Jesus is our Song, our Joy!

What does that look like where you are? There’s no one ‘right way’ to design a worship service, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ church shoe for us to wear. Much depends on resources, circumstances, and what you see God doing in your midst. I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences, as well as ideas for moving forward. Feel free to comment either by name or anonymously.

1. What has proven to be helpful where you are (and what are the resources and circumstances where you are)?
2. Does your congregation use ‘special music’ in addition to congregational singing? Why or why not?
3. What non-musical things are you employing (describe and explain)?