Hymn-singing is the only portion of a church service in which all of the members do more than just listen. This is their opportunity to actively praise and worship God—plus, lift one another up!
The level of spiritual and emotional benefits of the hymn-singing depends significantly on the songleader. When the songleader puts his heart into his songleading, he helps the members to put their hearts into singing and worship.
To be a highly effective songleader, there is much to be learned about the combination of responsibilities, and much more could be written than this brief article. To begin with, I recommend “Principles of Songleading,” a YouTube video of a 2002 ABC songleading class conducted by Gary Antion. That can be accessed at bit.ly/songleading.
Elements of inspiring songleading
With church songleading, it is very important for the songleader to be an enthusiastic emcee (master of ceremonies). More about this later.
From a technical standpoint, it is essential for the songleader to be able to sense the beat of the music. His arm gestures should be in sync with the rhythm of the music.
It’s valuable if a songleader can read sheet music. It’s particularly important to understand the patterns of the arm gestures that are used with the 4⁄4 and the 3⁄4 time signatures.
Those arm gestures should be done gracefully. It’s wise to carefully watch effective songleaders to learn from their styles and techniques.
Having a good singing voice is a nice asset. However, having an outgoing personality and being a good emcee are more valuable than being a good vocalist. The songleader who lacks a good singing voice can sing softly or back away from the microphone during the hymn.
Advance prayer, planning, preparation and practice for the song service are imperative. If there is to be an accompanist such as a pianist, check to see which hymns he or she feels confident to play. It is considerate to send the accompanist the songs a few days in advance in case they need time to practice.
Give careful thought to your choice of hymns and their sequence. It’s good to start the service with a lively song. Generally, don’t try to learn more than one new song in a service, and put it in the middle of the first three hymns. On a piece of paper, make a detailed outline that shows the sequence of your words and actions. If you are not highly familiar with certain hymns, practice leading them ahead of time.
The hymn that follows a sermonette or sermon can reinforce the message if the right hymn is chosen. Therefore, it’s wise to contact the speakers and ask them if they would like to select that hymn. If they don’t want to make the choice, at least they can tell you the subject of their messages so you can make a suitable selection.
It’s very important that songleaders enunciate their words well and project their voices, especially for our hard-of-hearing brethren.
It’s important that the songleader isn’t attempting to speak over the din of conversation. Various methods can be used to try to achieve a quiet auditorium. I’ll explain the method I prefer. I go to the microphone and announce that the service will begin in five minutes. Then I announce the two-minute mark, and then the one-minute mark. Then I state that it is time to begin the service. This method has worked remarkably well.
Why and how to be a good emcee
All songleaders should appreciate the great importance of their responsibility. Having someone up front waving his arms is actually not necessary for singing the hymns, but being an enthusiastic emcee can be considered essential!
The songleader must get the service off to a cheery start with a warm welcome to everyone. He sets the tone! What members hear and experience through the week is often depressing so it’s a real blessing if the songleader lifts their spirits! And his cheerful personality and warm words help the listeners to be optimistic and responsive to the rest of the service. Speaking of words, avoid controversial subjects. Make any essential announcements including “let’s all silence our cell phones.” Be sure to thank the accompanists. Before the service begins, ask someone if he will give the opening prayer and another if he will give the closing prayer. Ask them to be on or near the stage by the end of the hymn so there is not a long delay before he gets to the microphone. It’s fine to thank the speakers after their messages, but do it consistently so it doesn’t appear that you are favoring one speaker over another.
A good emcee is outgoing and enthusiastic. This may come more easily for some songleaders than for others. Obviously a songleader should not be self-centered, trying to impress people, but he also should not be engaging in false humility, thinking that being holy means not being outgoing and dynamic. You are serving by stimulating interest and a little excitement.
We come to church services to “rejoice before the Lord!” It’s very helpful if the songleader radiates enjoyment, joy and love for the brethren. Smiling is contagious so it helps all of us if he smiles between hymns and smiles occasionally during each hymn. If you can’t sing and smile at the same time, just stop singing long enough to smile!
Adding a little wholesome humor increases joy. The Bible even contains humor. Of course, humorous remarks should be brief, positive, relevant, appropriate, in good taste, etc. For example, when I was a songleader at several Feast sites in Canada, I would joke about Canada and Texas, and many members thanked me for the added enjoyment.
So, to all songleaders: Thanks for serving at church services as a songleader! Do your best with God’s help to combine sound songleading techniques with being an effective emcee who is well-prepared, enthusiastic and joyful!