A few months ago I wrote a blog about surviving, and even possibly getting to like, or at least constructively deal with, an instance of an unfamiliar song or hymn being introduced to the congregation. It was, until, recently, the most popular entry on this blog, and so I offer part two. This is not, strictly speaking, a sequel, since the first one was written for members of the congregation and offered possible things to do during and after such an occurrence that did not include running shrieking to the music director and declaring that you would leave the church unless you got to sing "Amazing Grace" instead of this bunch of noise to which you'd recently been introduced. Today I offer some advice to the persons in charge of introducing such effusions.
We all know some members of your congregation are more adventurous than others, and more flexible, and, let's face it, just nicer. And we know that the church as a body is not often known for innovation. But actually getting people to deal with something outside of the five hymns they like is imperative. Challenging the notion that they are the customer and that the customer is king is actually really really important. And learning and growth in a world which is just going to be larger than you can handle whether you like it or not and is peopled with people who are different than you and includes vast amounts of poetry and music that might someday become a favorite aid to the worship of your local congregation if they'd give it a chance is also of extreme necessity, spiritual and otherwise. So keep at it. But you don't have to make it too hard on people. Here are some ways to pave the road a little:
Make sure you sing the new piece for at least a couple of weeks. Don't just introduce it and then let it vanish never to be sung again unless it was such a total disaster the first time you don't think anybody could handle it again.
Have a soloist sing it the first week. Or have them sing the first verse, and everyone join in on the second.
If you are the organist, make sure the introduction to the hymn includes the entire hymn when it is new. I once told the congregation I'd play it all the way through and keep playing it until everybody looked up from their hymnbook and smiled, letting me know they thought they'd gotten the hang of it and were ready to go.
Play a prelude or offertory based on the same melody and let everybody know ahead of time what you are doing.
Have the choir sing it as an anthem.
Have the choir stand out in the congregation, or in the aisles, to help strengthen the singing, and lead the congregation from up close.
Sing a couple of verses, then play a verse while the congregation meditates on the words and doesn't try to sing.
Let everybody know you're "trying" something new. Be friendly. Be relaxed. Make sure the tempo is not too quick. Smile a lot. A lot of people get frustrated in a hurry by new stuff. Acknowledge their frustration, but keep smiling and be encouraging. Tell them "you'll get it!" and give them another chance.
Make singing something new a regular part of the service, maybe every other week. Make sure the other hymns are good and familiar. That way when somebody complains that "we never sing anything familiar" you can remind them politely that you also sang "Blessed Assurance" and "Amazing Grace" that morning. Keep in mind that people often have a good point when they criticize but completely fail in the delivery. Listen for the valid point and ignore the tone of its communication. Maybe they are bracing for an expected fight, too.
Expect some people to be completely unfair in their criticism. Expect the way to be difficult. That way you won't get knocked off your feet when the loudest congregants don't exactly feel swept off theirs by your selection.
Go home, get a nap, take some time to get away from people during the week, and go back in there next Sunday and try it again!