How can a singing evangelist capture and hold the undivided attention of his audience, and, what is more important, obtain their enthusiastic participation? Let's make them want to sing ! Here are some methods and suggestions in outline form, as a continuation of an article in the March, 1946, MINISTRY.
I. Proper Tempo
1. How well it would be if we could always strike a happy medium—not too fast, not too slow. Gospel songs are often accused of being jazzy and unfit for sacred use. I believe one reason for this could be the excessive speed at which we sing some of them. Homer Rode-heaver says that the song, "Since Jesus Came Into My Heart," was never intended to be sung fast. "It is full of a rich experience in salvation." Try slowing it down a bit.
2. Work with your pianist on establishing a proper tempo. The people will almost invariably pick up the tempo set in the prelude. Here again it is obvious that the accompanist is a vital link in the chain that holds the song program firmly together.
3. Don't be afraid to vary the pace within a song. The words of the first stanza may be bright and cheerful, while those of the third may be solemn and awe inspiring, and those of the fourth dark and dismal. It is easy to set new tempos for new moods. But it is a good plan not to surprise your singers too often. Tell them what you want to do on the next stanza.
4. Positive, graceful motions are much more pleasing than dead square-angled beats of the hand. This is a subject that might well be enlarged upon. I highly recommend to all song leaders a booklet by Homer Rodeheaver and Charles B. Ford, both veterans in this exhilarating profession. Rodeheaver writes on the practical side; and Ford, on the technical mysteries of making people sing. The title is Song Leadership, and it is published by the Rode-heaver Hall-Mack Company at Winona Lake.
II. Chorus Songs
1. In the last few years the use of the chorus has gained in popularity, until now there are many books which contain choruses only. Although all choruses may not be worthy of recommendation, yet there is a wealth of good chorus songs that can really contribute to the song program. Limit yourself to a few and let them be learned well enough to be enjoyed before going on to the new ones.
2. Try some out and hold to those that "take" well. The short ones usually go best. An exception to this, however, is "Jesus Is the Joy of Living," from Christian Service Songs (Rode-heaver Hall-Mack Co.). We used it during the Week of Prayer at La Sierra College this fall. The students learned it quickly and sang it in a thrilling way, even though it is a bit long.
3. Sing the chorus two or three times in different ways and tempos to add variety.
4. "With Thy Spirit Fill Me" (Gospel Melodies) is a spiritual chorus that can be used at a definite time in the program, possibly before prayer is offered. It brings a heavenly hushed atmosphere into the meeting.
III. Song Service With a Subject
It is essential that the program be planned in line with the evangelist's topic for the evening. Think of the possibilities of fitting the music to the subjects like "Heaven," "Jesus the Hope of the World," "Second Coming of Christ," "Love of God," "Cross of Christ," and many others. The special numbers should also be part of the theme and add to the build-up for the sermon. Take a sermon on the cross, for example. Here are a few songs:
"Old Rugged Cross" (an old favorite)
"The Way of the Cross Leads Home" (another favorite)
"When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" (hymn by choir)
"The Christ of the Cross" (solo)
"Near the Cross" (consecration hymn)
The subject of Gethsemane makes an impressive service. I like to sing a song with the lights out, and a single light burning behind the well-known picture of Christ in the garden.
IV. Theme Songs
To open the song service you might use "Jesus Is the Joy of Living" if you like to start on a joyous note, or "Open the Door of Your Heart" if you wish a quiet beginning.
For use as the ministers enter, "With Thy Spirit Fill Me," "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus," "Spirit of the Living God," are all effective. It seems to have a quietening influence if you remind the congregation of the presence of the Holy Spirit as they sing. To precede the sermon, if you are working with an evangelist who can and will sing with you, try "Jesus Whispers Peace" (Rodeheaver) as a duet. This helps solidify the impression that the song leader and the preacher are a team, working together.
As the people leave the auditorium, "I'm on My Way Home" (Gospel Melodies), sung by the choir, will leave in people's minds a meditation on keeping a heavenly goal.
V. Choice of Music
1. Here is one of the most important things to remember. For every type of gospel song or hymn, there are people who are especially devoted to that class of music. In the evangelistic field we must honor people's likes and dislikes, and if possible, mold our program according to the group with whom we are working, at the same time upholding the standards of quality and musicianship. Older folk love to sing the tried and true stand-bys, while a young audience often enjoys the new songs.
2. Let us not discriminate against all songs in a certain signature. I know one song leader who is filled with horror at the thought of using a song in six-eight time. Another evangelist once wrote an article in one of our papers in which he deplored the sacrilege of including music in three-four time in any sacred program. Now I can name several hymns and songs in each of these signatures that have stood the tests of time and popularity. As examples, take these in Gospel Melodies: 'We Know Not the Hour" (No. iii), "0 Let Me Walk With Thee" (No. 59), 'Faith of Our Fathers" (No. 236), "Grace Greater Than Our Sin" (No. 9). Hearts are touched and won to Christ by music that is loved and enjoyed, regardless of the key, signature, or rhythm.
3. A well-balanced song service will find use for both hymns and gospel songs. The proportion of each naturally depends on the nature of the service. An evangelistic service often calls for more gospel songs than hymns, for it is in this medium that the stories of salvation, God's love to man, and the basic doctrines of the gospel are set to music. I like to make it a feature of the evening to use one of the old well-loved hymns at the half-way mark, and present it, or sing it, in a different way. People look forward to a regular feature of this kind.
4. Have you tried selections from the floor ? This is not always a safe practice, but if you use it, you should know your book and song numbers by memory, and be careful to allow only those songs that are good for group singing. If you use this plan too often, however, you may give the impression that you did not take time to plan the program, and this must never be.
5. After the effort is well along in weeks, it is interesting to find out people's favorite songs and hymns. Pass out slips of paper and ask each person to write down three of the songs he likes best. Then a night or so later, after you have time to compile the results, build your service around the five songs that polled the most votes. Start with number five, progressing on up the list until the climax comes on the number one song of their choice. You will be surprised at the outcome sometimes! Anyway, it is another way of finding out for sure what a particular group of people likes to sing.
These are but a few ideas. You can think up many more by a little concentrated effort. People love to sing, but sometimes we have to prove it to them. Convince yourself that you have a worth-while product to sell by getting enthusiastic over your own and others' ideas. Then sell this product—good music—with a smile on your face, and a prayer of thanksgiving in your heart to God who gave us voices to sing!