There is quite a variety of singing styles too – each denomination has their own version or variation it seems – and many churches within a denomination can increase the variation, making for more confusion.
Kenny Lamm wrote an interesting article on the nine reasons people aren’t singing in church these days. Mr. Lamm writes from a Baptist perspective, so there isn’t a whole lot liturgical background to add in and you can see it in some of the points he makes. Having said that his list is worth reading.
My own observation of why people don’t sing come down to this main point:
We make a whole bunch of faulty assumptions – like people know when to sing, what to sing, how to sing. We assume people will know the melody. We assume people don’t know how to read music. We assume people do know how to read music. We assume people equate singing with worship. We assume people like to sing. The list could go on and on.
For many churches, these assumptions are safe assumptions – especially if you have regular worshipers who know the routine of how your church worships.
For other churches, we forget that there are people walking in the door who aren’t familiar with how things are done – they may be from the same denomination, but it’s still a new place. They may be from a different denomination, which means they don’t know the order of the service. Or they may be someone who has limited or no experience with church at all – meaning they don’t know anything, or very little about what happens when.
How to deal with this? It depends on what the church is going for? If your church focused the current membership, then you’re likely to cater to the members. If your church is focused on new members, then you’ll have a different focus. And if your church is focused on the unchurched, then you’ll have a completely different focus and experience.
The point is that, ready, the context matters. There is no one right answer for why people don’t sing in church, or why they don’t do anything they are supposed to do in church. It depends on the context. Know your church and you’ll know the reason why people don’t do something, or why they do. But this requires honest assessment of the situation. Often that is hard to do when you are on the inside.