It’s Gloria in excess, says Jonty Langley. Worship leaders are reporting they’re overwhelmed with new songs to choose from. Could it be time for a moratorium on the release of new music?


Allan Swart / Alamy Stock Photo

Well, it happened. We reached Peak Worship. A new study by Worship Leader Research has found that 44 per cent of worship leaders want fewer new songs to consider for their churches.

The reasons are complex and so we are left to surmise why so many are feeling New Chorus Fatigue. There seems, for example, to be no scientific data relating to how many times the human body can repeat phrases like “your glory” disconnected from any meaningful reason to do so before going into catastrophic organ (or rhythm section) failure. But the basic question many people are asking is: are too many worship songs being written?

The self-consciously righteous answer is, of course, ‘No!’

But when a massive, billion-dollar industry has arisen around the writing, producing and publishing of worship music, and when some churches have grown worryingly large and powerful because of their worship exports, perhaps we can have some sympathy for worship leaders. Some of them, faced with recommendations from peers, requests from congregations and targeted ads from the Big 4 worship houses, may feel the pressure to learn and teach new songs to be overwhelming. Never-ending. A stress that chases them down, even.

It’ hard enough to be a worship leader these days. There’s the usual pressure to play and sing well while simultaneously focusing on the Lord. There’s the pressure not to be insufferable (which is a temptation for anyone on stage) by demanding the church smile, raise hands or do a small prophetic dance during worship. Equally important is remembering you’re there to lead other, less musically talented people in sung worship and the resultant restraint needed not to vogue vocally or sing harmony while you’re on lead mic while everyone else becomes your backing singers (please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t do this, some of us are following you and if we get too confused, we cry). Everyone’s a critic. It’s literally a tough gig.

So when you add an endless supply of new songs to vet, it’s got to feel like a lot. But does that mean, as some have suggested, that we need a Year of Jubileaders, where worship leaders don’t have to think about the latest new song and can focus on sifting through the approximately 900 billion songs already out there? Do we need a moratorium on new songs being released, like a ban for a full year to let us all catch up?

Excuse my French, but heck non!

While I feel for the worship leaders who responded to the survey, it’s worth keeping in mind that those from churches with more than 2,000 members were far less likely to want fewer new songs to choose from. In those churches, 35.7 per cent of worship leaders said they could handle even more new songs. There are a few ways we could read that, but the most obvious is that big churches with more staff and more resources (or who may even financially support their worship leaders) create environments where this particular pressure is less stressful. So the answer might be to reduce the number of new songs, but it may equally be to lower expectations on volunteer worship leaders who are doing their best.

But what about us? It’s all very well asking the leaders, but we, the congregants, members, attendees and righteous brethren are the ones who have to sing these songs. We don’t even get to choose. And there are more of us affected. Do we need to be learning a new blessed song every blessed week?

Or, for a different kind of congregant: do we have to be singing the same blessed songs every blessed week?

I’ve been both kinds of congregant because I have been to both types of church. I have hummed awkwardly along, certain that the whole worship band, everyone singing around me and all the saints in heaven are watching my poor attempt at lip-syncing the latest Daigle banger. And I have started muttering passages from Job under my breath as, for the nineteenth consecutive week we’ve sung a song that felt old when it first dropped in the 90s.

The fact is, it’s impossible to get right. If churches can’t agree on important things, then how on earth do we expect to on issues as generationally and culturally divisive as aesthetics, taste and personal devotional style?

We are told to sing unto the Lord a new song, yes. But we are also told that the Lord is perfectly content to listen to angels serenading him with the undoubtedly valid but clearly repetitive: “Holy, holy, holy…”

I personally wouldn’t know where to start on surveying angels on their preference. So many eyes. Unsettling.

So, in the absence of a clear biblical steer one way or the other, and avoiding any pious objections to either the “over-professionalisation” or the “lack of excellence” in the worship music industry, perhaps we should look at the purpose of these songs. Not of worship (I can see someone called Nigel in a parka striding towards me to drop the never-before-shared bombshell that “worship isn’t singing, you know”), but of the songs.

The songs are there to help us sing to God. Hopefully with helpful words that focus the mind, and with enough artistry to give us some pleasure while we do so. The pleasure helps us to focus, to remember the words and to at least avoid obstacles to joy as we sing to our God.

May I therefore suggest something ironically unpopular? Could we learn from the world of pop music? Could we regularly introduce new songs and give them a decent shot at getting popular, keeping the more popular ones on ‘high rotation’, while letting less popular ones have their day and fade away?

And could we cut our worship leaders some slack?

(Unless they sing harmony on the main mic, obviously.)