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Covid & Congregational Song – Update May 20, 2021

The CDC released updated guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals late last week (Thursday, May 13th, 2021). Below are the links to the newest information we’re aware of, screenshots from a CDC graphic that is included with their recent update, and then our renewed recommendations concerning congregational singing.



When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated | CDC – This updated recommendation from the CDC is designed for individuals, not organizations. Because of the increased risk due to the complexity of social situations, the CDC has maintained different guidelines when addressing individuals and organizations.

In the “What we’re still learning” section of the newest CDC recommendation page, they say:

We are still learning “How effective the vaccines are against variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. Early data show the vaccines may work against some variants but could be less effective against others.”

We are still learning “How well the vaccines protect people with weakened immune systems, including people who take immunosuppressive medications.”

We are still learning “How long COVID-19 vaccines can protect people.”

And, finally, “As we know more, CDC will continue to update our recommendations for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.”

Chart of activities, including worship services and singing together (pictured right) by the CDC for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people: Choosing Safer Activities | CDC

CDC Graphic Screenshots taken 5-19-2021


Recommended Questions You Should Ask

The Hymn Society’s Underlying Principles & Assumptions

  • Our recommendations are designed for congregations within the United States with a specific focus on congregational singing. These recommendations do not directly relate to solo or choral singing.
  • We are a multi-national ecumenical organization with a relatively small staff. We cannot make recommendations specific to each local congregation within our reach or influence. Our recommendations must be made within a large context and should not replace the need for local committees or working groups to do what is right/best for their local community.
  • The science and therefore our recommendations are constantly shifting due to new available studies, updated data, and revised guidelines from the WHO, CDC, and other scientific entities. We do our best to review all updates and studies available to the public but have no “inside” access or knowledge other than what is publicly available.
  • As an organization founded on faith, our decision making and recommendations must incorporate theology along with the current science. This theology is based on the core biblical tenant that the command to “love your neighbor” is inseparable from the command to “love God.”
  • There are no “no-risk” situations when a congregation currently gathers. If your congregation is considering or already gathering (regardless of whether you’re singing together), you are assuming some risk. What our guidance is designed to do is to walk you through assessing your risk and risk-tolerance.


Questions to Ask:

The answers to the following questions for your congregation can be used as a guide for determining how much risk is involved in deciding to sing as a congregation:

What percentage of your congregation is fully vaccinated (“fully vaccinated” definition is here)?

  • Definitely 70% or higher = Lower Risk
  • Less than 70% = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

How much distance can you ensure between each congregation member (or pods such as a family unit)?

  • Six feet in all directions = Lower Risk
  • Less than six feet in all directions = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

What are the chances that someone unvaccinated will attend but also remain unmasked and un-distanced?

  • I know when there’s a visitor and we’re happy to ask them directly whether they are vaccinated = Lower Risk
  • There’s a good chance because I can’t control or monitor all our visitors = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

For those who should remain masked, are they using a proper mask that is well-fitted?

  • I’ve never seen someone in our congregation wearing their mask improperly = Lower Risk
  • We don’t or won’t monitor and correct congregants on proper mask usage = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

How many air exchanges (using outside and/or filtered air) per hour does the room you’ll be worshiping in have?

  • Three changes or more per hour = Lower Risk
  • Less than three changes per hour = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

How long will you be in the room together?

  • 30 minutes or less = Lower Risk
  • 60 minutes or more = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk


If you and your congregation can answer the questions above all in the “Lower Risk” category, then you are assuming the smallest risk possible for COVID-19 spreading by way of your gathering. However, there is still risk.

With each question that you answer in the “Higher Risk” category, the chances of someone in your congregation spreading/contracting COVID-19 by way of your gathering increases.

So, after assessing your risk level, the question to be answered is: Is singing together worth _____ amount of risk for our congregation?


The Hymn Society’s Recommendation

We do not currently recommend that congregations sing.

  1. The CDC still indicates that for unvaccinated people gathering and singing together is a high risk activity.
  2. 27,000 new cases are still being reported daily in the U.S.
  3. Worship services are by their very nature public events which include a number of variables that, depending on how each variable plays out, can quickly change the risk-factors involved in a gathering.
  4. The new recommendations for unmasking only apply to those who are fully vaccinated, which still makes up far less than 50% of the total U.S. population.
  5. The CDC guidelines for Communities of Faith | CDC have not changed or been updated since February 19th, 2021.
  6. For any public group that does sing, wearing a mask will reduce the risk of spreading infection.




As of today (April 19th, 2021), we have some important updates on the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and congregational singing. Many of you will be aware that a large number of public education organizations have been sponsoring a scientific study out of the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Maryland. That study has just released another update on their findings and updated their recommendations. Below is a link to the full paper, important excerpts that pertain to congregational singing, and my personal summary of the new information.


Full Paper Link

NFHS Scientific Study Prepress Paper (40+ Pages) (April 15th)

Important Excerpts

  • Using masks greatly reduced the aerosol concentration measured in front of the source. Plumes from talking, singing, and performing musical instruments were highly three dimensional and vary considerably in time and space. The plumes decayed rapidly and are highly unsteady, which lead to large variations in our plume-level measurements. In addition, our flow characterization data show that when masks were used, plumes were shorter and plume velocities decreased, which decreased the trajectory of highly concentrated jets of aerosol.
  • CFD modeling showed differences between outdoor and indoor environments of singing and playing the clarinet without masks. In an outdoor environment, ambient wind breaks the musician’s thermal plume and expelled airflow and accelerates the dilution of aerosol. In an indoor environment, the musician’s thermal plume and expelled airflow contribute to the spread of aerosol due to space confinement. In addition, the indoor walls force the formation of smaller eddies, and the consequent distribution of the particles. To minimize infection risk to musicians and audiences via aerosol, this study showed lowest risk with an exposure duration less than 30 minutes for indoor singing and clarinet playing, and an exposure duration less than 60 minutes for outdoor performance.
  • Face shields are only effective at close range to stop large droplets (such as the visible droplets from a cough or sneeze) and do not prevent aerosol from being emitted or inhaled. Much of the respiratory particles emitted are small in diameter and follow streamlines around face shields.
  • Performers should follow social distancing protocols as recommended by the CDC for music activities. Aerosol concentrations are highest closest to the source, both inside and outside, and decrease with distance.
  • If indoor spaces are used, we recommend having at least three air changes per hour in the rehearsal room and limiting rehearsal time to 30 minutes at a time before leaving the room for at least one air change. For a room that has three air changes per hour, one air change is 20 minutes.


My Recommendations/Summary

  • This new information reinforces the importance of proper mask-wearing.
  • In general, outdoor events are significantly safer than indoor events.
  • This new information reinforces the difference been shields and masks. Shields do not protect the wearer or other from aerosol transmission.
  • Air circulation, distribution, and “air changes” are key components to virus spread through aerosols. However, air circulation and distribution are unique to each building and room and highly effects how much and where aerosols may spread. Unless you have an airflow expert analyze your rooms, this is a big variable that makes comparing situations between churches nearly impossible.
  • The authors of this study are not recommending any distancing beyond what the CDC recommends. The current CDC recommendations for communities of faith (found here) are the same as their general social distancing recommendations: 6 feet.
  • These recommendations remain true for fully vaccinated individuals as per the CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people here.


For more updates and resources on COVID-19 and congregational singing, please go to:

This update is written by Center Director Brian Hehn and should be used only as general advice in consultation with other trusted sources. This is his personal summary of the data presented and should not be considered scientific fact nor medical advice.

This page will be updated regularly as a count-down to when singing together is safe again based on current recommendations from the CDC and other public health institutions.


Total US Population Vaccination Percentage


Safe Congregational Singing:

National Threshold = 70% to 85% of population fully vaccinated

Current National Vaccination Rate = 54.6% (as of September 20, 2021)

Most up-to-date (and more specific state-by-state) stats can be found here: CDC COVID Data Tracker

Last updated: September 20, 2021


The most recent guidelines from Ecumenical Consultation The Center took part in can be found here.

The most recent update on congregational singing and congregational song by Center Director, Brian Hehn, can be found here.

The most updated scientific study on music, aerosols, and COVID-19 can be found here.

A summary of the study by Center Director Brian Hehn can be found here.


There are currently research teams across the world working on identifying how COVID-19 spreads and how to best protect the population from contracting the virus. Two ongoing studies are particularly focusing on music-making, which is what we will reference in this summary article. Before continuing, a few important considerations:

  • The author of this article is a professional musician, not a scientist. However, all information posted here has been carefully researched to the best of his ability.
  • Because of the nature this virus and of risk-assessment in general, every situation is unique and you and your team of decision-makers must try to make the best decision for your community. What is the best decision for a group in Atlanta may not be the best decision for someone in Dallas. Think for yourselves and do your own research.



There have been two recent studies specific to music-making and COVID-19 that are being posted on social media, advertised by sponsoring organizations, and being mentioned by media outlets. One is based out of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich and the other based out of the University of Colorado. Below are summaries of those study results and the highlights that stood out to me. Finally, we’ll offer recommendations for moving forward as it concerns congregational singing.


Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich Study

Article Link*,aerosolebeimsingen100.html

*The article and the quotes from it found below were originally in German and translated to English via the automatic Google Translate function via the Chrome browser.

Lead Researcher – Prof. Matthias Echternach of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

Important Quotes/Hightlights:

  • “As far as the widths forward [of the aerosols], it was the case that the sung text had the largest width. Interestingly, here it is so that loud and quiet didn’t make that big a difference, loud only went on marginally – and that makes sense. Because singers still have to convey the text very well when they sing softly. That means that they showed a lot of text accuracy and the width of the radiation to the front probably has a lot to do with the consonant abundance.”
  • “Here we had an average value of around one meter. But you have to say in the risk assessment that there were also singers who got over it up to a meter and a half. This means that the classic distance, as we know it from everyday life, is too small towards the front when singing. This is the first main finding. The second is the spread to the side. Here we were able to demonstrate significantly smaller distances.”
  • “What we have examined needs to be narrowed down briefly. We have not investigated how much aerosol is formed or how it can accumulate in the room over the long term, other working groups do that. Instead, we examined the process of how the aerosol behaves when it is ejected from the mouth into the room. This means that the advice we give can only relate to this impulse. If we think about distance rules now, we can say: two to two and a half meters to the front should very likely be sufficient, to the side one and a half meters should be enough – provided the aerosols are repeatedly removed! And this removal is not a problem in the fresh air. But it could be a problem indoors. If you could get a continuous ventilation, then you could probably orientate yourself on the normal rehearsal times. If this cannot be guaranteed, I have to have regular intermittent ventilation, preferably after ten minutes.”


Our Summary

  • This study is not peer-reviewed yet nor has its results been duplicated by other studies. It, therefore, cannot be deemed as scientifically reliable. It can inform our decision-making but should not be upheld as scientifically “true” until it meets more rigorous standards.
  • There were singers whose projection of droplets exceeded 6 feet, which is the current standard recommendations for social distancing. This study is recommending 12 feet.
  • Singing loudly or softly didn’t make a significant difference in droplet projection
  • They did not study aerosol dispersion or used masked/unmasked variants in this study.



Study Link –

Lead Researchers – Dr. Shelly Miller of the University of Colorado and Dr. Jelena Srebric of the University of Maryland

Important Quotes/Highlights:

  • “These preliminary results are from our few weeks of exploratory testing. They will be further defined as the study continues. We are providing these preliminary results to assist in the safe return to classrooms. (Normally we do not release data until they have been quality assessed and peer reviewed).”
  • “This study did not use a live virus or infected participants and therefore cannot be used to determine specific infection rates.”
  • Mask Graphic from study PDF:



  • After talking about efficiency/effectiveness of masks in keeping people safe, they say:
  • “These numerical findings need to be compared to actual experimental data as numerical simulations cannot replace experiments when studying new transport phenomena, especially the ones that threaten human life.”
  • “Performing arts activities have been found to create aerosol that is less than coughing, but more than talking. The following considerations are effective for music, speech, theatre and debate activities.”
  • Airflow matters significantly in aerosol build-up


Our Summary

  • This study is not complete.
  • This study is not peer-reviewed yet nor has its results been duplicated by other studies. It, therefore, cannot be deemed as scientifically reliable. It can inform our decision-making but should not be upheld as scientifically “true” until it meets more rigorous standards.
  • Singing and playing wind instruments is seems to be riskier than speech, however it is not as risky as coughing.
  • Masks make a difference, but masks must be fitted and worn properly.



As of today, we continue to err on the side of caution, not because we are fearful but because we are faithful. We believe that the health and lives of congregations across the U.S. are more important than any single act of music-making. God calls us to love and care for our neighbors. There will be a time we can sing together in our churches again, but the two studies referenced above do not provide scientific evidence that it is safe for a congregation to do so right now. They should give us hope, but they should not give us permission. The scientists leading the studies have said as much. So please reference these studies and continue to look for updates. But do not be fooled or allow yourselves to read those studies as scientific proof that there are risk-free ways of singing together.


For more resources and updates concerning COVID-19 and Singing, please go to:


Blogger Brian Hehn is the Director of

The Center for Congregational Song.



Guest blogger David Schaap is the president of Selah Publishing Co., Inc. based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.



Questions about Streaming Copyright

There have been many questions on social media about copyright for streaming or posting on YouTube your church services and other church events where music is performed, and hopefully this will give you some answers with regards to what’s required and available.

I have been a publisher of congregational song with Selah Publishing Co. for over 30 years, and church musicians are now quite aware of the legal need to ask permission for reprinting copyrighted hymn tunes and texts in bulletins and service leaflets, which used not to be the case. But current circumstances have thrown many of us into a new world of podcasts/Facebook live/YouTube channels and church website videos that we haven’t had to deal with before.

You’re aware of the reprinting permission required by copyright law, but there are other separate forms of copyright held by composers, authors, or publishers. You might be familiar with mechanical rights, where you get permission to produce a CD for a certain fee per disk. That’s a separate right granted to copyright holders from reprint rights.


US Copyright Law UnPacked

The U.S. copyright law requires permission for “synchronization” to allow you to broadcast copyrighted music with video, whether it’s Facebook Live, posted on your website, or on a YouTube channel (or even if it appears in a commercial, public service announcement, or feature film). According to the law, you must request permission before broadcasting it in any form. You can do this by contacting each publisher and requesting a synchronization license. The law doesn’t specify a mandatory fee, so it’s up to the publisher to decide what they charge to cover the cost of issuing a license and making a small profit. Many publishers have a minimum fee; for example, Selah’s is a minimum of $15. This could clearly become a nightmare of administrative work, even though we all enjoy that aspect of our work so much.

Or, you can subscribe to a service that allows you to do synchronization. The most comprehensive is Christian Copyright Solutions ( which works with ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC to license their artists’ works for streaming. Nearly all (but not all) composers and authors and publishers are members of one of these agencies. The lowest fee is $500/year and goes up to $5,500/year. A disadvantage aside from the expense is that much of these fees don’t make it back to the composers because of their wide variety of clients.



Many of you already have licenses with CCLI or or both, and know that they cover what you are using in worship. Both agencies fortunately offer a reasonably priced podcast/streaming license which you can easily add to your subscription. Or sign up now for your new foray into music videos!

The Podcast/Streaming license covers your Facebook Live broadcasts, archived Facebook videos from previous services, your YouTube channel, and broadcasting video on your church’s website. This covers copyrighted hymn text and tunes from their member publishers AND the performance of any of the member publisher’s organ/choral/instrumental copyrights. If you use them for permission to reprint copyrighted hymns or service music or other congregational music in service leaflets you can add the Podcast/Streaming license with a simple email or phone call to them. The fees begin at $67/year and go up to $655/year (for those churches with weekly attendance up to 30,000). You would need to do this as an add-on if you were providing a PDF of your bulletin with the copyrighted hymn texts or tunes, or if you are scrolling the lyrics during the video.

If you never reprint copyrighted congregational hymns for use, OneLicense has a new “Limited Podcast/Streaming License.” The title is misleading: it’s not limited in what you can use from their member publishers, it’s limited to only licensing for Facebook Live, YouTube channel, and website videos. And that license is the same price as the add-on, $67/year up to $655 a year.

OneLicense has also said they can make arrangements with churches if you would never stream a service and now are for the time being, but you’re not printing any bulletins or providing a PDF with copyrighted hymns at the moment, they can toggle you back and forth between one or the other option. And if you stop streaming at some point mid-license, they can remove that and prorate the fee.

Publishers from covered under both congregational reprints AND Podcast/Streaming include Augsburg Fortress, Church Publishing, Celebration, Concordia Publishing, ECS Publishing, Fred Bock (including Hinshaw), GIA (including Iona Community, Taizé, RSCM), Hope Publishing, Kjos, MorningStar, OCP, Oxford University Press, Paraclete Press, Selah Publishing, and hundreds more. So if you would be performing copyrighted hymns, choral music, organ or keyboard music, or instrumental music from one of these publishers, you would be covered with this Podcast/Streaming license.

CCLI has a similar arrangement at similar costs you can add if you already use their services. There are many publishers that are members of both (including Selah), but the majority of what they represent tends towards the more evangelical/Pentecostal repertoire, just as OneLicense tends toward the more liturgical traditions. They cover Word/Hillsong/Keith Getty and many more of the Praise & Worship resources out there, from over 3,000 artists and labels.

A caveat: to keep your videos online or available through YouTube or Facebook or on your website, you need to pay for the annual license, and if you don’t renew, you must take them down.



A really important part of this licensing is reporting your usage. You do not just sign up and are then fine forever, you have to tell the licensing agencies what you are using. This provides income to the composers, authors, and publishers, and is the fair and right thing to do. You should also indicate on your website or in posts that you are legally presenting the music under the license, and include your unique license number in the form they require under the license indicating those who created the work, the copyright notice, and the legal permission (i.e. Music by COMPOSER NAME, © 2020 PUBLISHER NAME, used with permission under CCLI/ XX-XXXX).

Note, these licenses DO NOT cover the broadcast of pre-recorded music by other artists. You can’t take your favorite organ music or choral music CD and play a track for a prelude on your Facebook Live broadcast with any blanket license: this can only be arranged by contacting directly the copyright holder of the recording (usually a label).

Sure, this is an additional cost for the church, but I don’t think we are going back to normal worship right away, nor that this might not happen again in the future. And it’s a small price compared to even what my church has been putting out for tripods, Bluetooth lavalier microphones, camera memory cards, lighting stands, routers, and cable to make live-streaming viable.

If you’re streaming or posting copyrighted music online, subscribe to a service, report the music you’re using on a regular basis, and indicate online that you’re doing it legally. We need to do what’s right and just in our work, and these agencies help you do just that.

David Schaap


Author Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Hampton, VA


God Moves in a Mysterious Way: Doing Music Ministry During a Pandemic

How does one do music ministry from home, when the church is closed and choirs cannot gather?

The answer is, you spend the first week or two scrambling to put together online worship. But, mostly, you spend those first two weeks grieving the losses.

The new musical setting for my church’s Lenten Wednesday worship was going so well; the cantors, choir, and instrumentalists had worked so hard and worship was lifting us to new heights. Gone! The handbell choir was really taking off and was excited about three pieces for Lent and three for Easter Sunday. Cancelled! The adult choir had just gotten their new Easter anthem, which would have combined organ, handbells, and trumpet. Not happening!

But then, like all things we grieve, we emerge at some point and face reality. And usually, that is when we are given opportunities to greet God face to face. 

For one thing, I sense God’s presence more now when I talk to my co-workers. I see them only online, and much less often, but, having had to talk through some very hard things, I also feel closer to them. That is God at work.

Additionally, I had initially rejected the idea of having any kind of online meeting for our musical groups, but I changed my mind and gave it a try. Technology is an amazingly sophisticated thing, but it has not figured out how to allow people in different locations to make music together online in real time. With some hesitation, I decided to start Zoom meetings for the adult choir. Would it be awkward? Would people be distracted by the disorder of my makeshift home office, with the sounds of small children screaming in the background? But, you know what? It felt so good to see each other’s faces. After catching up a bit, we watched a video together through Zoom’s “screen share” function and, with our individual voices muted, sang along with the choir in the video. It was possible to see each other’s faces as we were singing (see photo below) and it gave us a taste of what we’d been missing: that feeling of being with other people to praise God through the beauty of music. 

Before doing this, I was convinced that such profound moments of faith and community were impossible to do through the internet. Granted, it’s not the same as being in person, and I do look forward to when we can be together again. But I think part of what struck me was the surprise at just what God is capable of doing. God reached us in a way we didn’t expect, which is exactly the way God works. We work hard, but mostly we show up and wait in expectant faith. God does the rest. Even in the midst of a pandemic– isolation, anxiety, fear, and even death– God is there.

Perhaps you have had some similar experiences participating in online worship services or choir rehearsals, in other online opportunities, or even just chatting with neighbors from six feet away. In what ways has God taken your grief, skepticism, bitterness, fear, or anxiety, and turned them into ways to grow in your relationship with God?

Much love and peace to you all during this time. When we are together again, in the flesh with our worshipping communities and choirs, it will be quite a celebration.



A few members of the Adult Choir at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Hampton, VA, join in Zoom choir rehearsal.

“God moves in a mysterious way” is the title line from William Cowper’s famous 1774 hymn.


That’s right…these are carols (new texts set to familiar Christmas Carol tunes) for the Covid-19 pandemic.

*UPDATED 4-2-2020

Watch the full collection including sign language interpretations here:

Introduction & Guidelines

In this time of fear, anxiety, and isolation, the concept of caroling might seem trite, ridiculous, or even inappropriate. We’ll let history decide which of the three it might be. But for my family, it was a way to connect with our congregation members, make music together, and ultimately bring hope and a little bright light into people’s lives as they struggle with social distancing and quarantines.

As is reflected on the last page of this free downloadable collection, if you decide to go #covidcaroling, make sure you follow all the federal, state, and local laws and guidelines. For the most recent CDC recommendations, click here. Here are a few basic guidelines from us assuming you are able to go out in a safe manner:

  • Only go caroling with those you’re already in isolation with. People like spouses, partners, children, and other immediate family members or people with whom you share a living space.
  • Instead of knocking or ringing a doorbell, you can call the people to get their attention.
  • People can open their windows instead of their doors if they’d like.
  • You can carol from your car if the street is close enough to their house.
  • If you do ring a doorbell or knock, move away before they answer the door. Also use hand sanitizer before and after you touch their doorbell or door.
  • Have fun! This is designed to bring a bit of happiness and frivolity into people’s lives.



*UPDATED 4-2-2020





Last Sunday at my little congregation in Baltimore, the pastor decided that for the passing of the peace we would encourage people to say “peace be with you,” bow, wave, jazz hands…anything but touch. We made it clear that this was not out of panic, but out of thoughtful precaution. Although not hugging and shaking everyone’s hand at this small family-like church felt very strange, I think it was the right decision. Meanwhile, I’ve heard from many of you, especially in places like Washington state, where church services are being altogether canceled or substituted for online/streaming options with only the worship leadership team meeting in the same room. So what is the role of congregational song in all of this? Can singing together help? Is singing together even possible when we aren’t physically in the same place?

With the absence of human touch, it is easy to feel disconnected and unloved. For those congregations that are still meeting but are taking steps like not touching during the passing of the peace, we need to step up our congregational song game. One simple but powerful way to increase our personal connections through song is to ask people to look at each other while singing. Choose a song they know well (particularly something cyclical that they don’t have to look at a page to see lots of words) and after a few repetitions invite them to sing to each other. Looking each other in the eye while singing can be an extremely personal and moving experience.


Singing at Home

For those who are moving to an online/streaming option where most of your congregation will be worshiping from home, singing together becomes very difficult. But this can be an opportunity to reestablish the tradition of family hymn-singing in the home. Singing hymns with the family at home is an old devotional tradition that has largely be lost in America today. What if we took this opportunity to reclaim that tradition? Here are a few guidelines and ideas that might help re-establish this powerful singing tradition:

  • Tell people ahead of time that during the stream services they will be invited to sing with whoever they are with, whether it’s just themselves, their spouse and family, or their nursing home friends.
  • Set expectations. Things like:
    • We hope you will sing, even if you’re by yourself. While we can’t hear each other, God will hear our voices raising together.
    • It won’t sound like it normally does when we’re all together and that’s okay!
    • God commands us to sing unto the Lord and doesn’t mind if your voice is a little shaky or off-pitch. God delights in your voice because God gave it to you and only you.
    • Singing is an ancient Christian tradition. No virus or any other global crisis can keep God’s people from raising our voices in praise. By singing from home, we are engaging in an act of resistance, telling the world that no matter it throws at us we will be faithful to the God who casts out fear.
  • Have a hymnal or song-book team prepared to deliver books to your congregation. Let your people know that if they don’t have a hymnal at home or a song-book of some kind that they can contact the church office and someone will deliver it to their home. This is a great opportunity for your choir or praise team to serve. Also have a downloadable resource available if possible.
  • Have the music or lyrics prepared on your live-stream platform. Remember that people will have less support than they normally do for the congregational singing parts of your service. Providing them with more resources (like notation) than normal is important to set them up for success.
  • Choose songs that works well a cappella. This is where the great hymns of the past often excel. Simple melodies without big leaps, smaller melodic ranges, and less syncopation are all things that help make something more accessible to singers at home.
  • Choose songs that people know well. This is not a good time to choose new songs or try to teach. There’s enough uncertainty going around. Give people something to hold on to that is familiar and comforting. This is a time to lean on whatever songs and hymns that your people know and know well.
  • Finally, and this is important, have your leadership stop singing. Seriously. If a soloist is singing on the screen, people will be much more likely to just listen to it like a solo than to sing themselves. I challenge you to just play the accompaniment and not sing along, like a karaoke track. This will feel awkward to you in leadership. That’s ok…it’s not about you. It might work like this:
    • Friends, we’re now going to sing “it is well with my soul.” I’ll sing the stanza 1, but then we invite you at home to sing the remaining stanzas at home.
    • Sing stanza 1 with refrain.
    • Play stanzas 2-4 and only sing on the refrain. Have the music or “stanza 2” or something like that displayed on the screen so that people know where they are. Include the melody strongly on an instrument like the organ, flute, or other obbligato instrument.
  • Finally, follow-up with your people. Did they sing? What was their experience? How could it be improved. Make this a community effort to worship together while in diaspora. Let them know you’re there to support their song even when you’re not in the same room.


Singing for Others

There are times in our lives when we can’t do certain things. When we’re babies, our parents have to do pretty much everything for us. Until we get our driver’s license, we have to get driven around to our various events. When we’re young professionals we often need colleagues help to train us and teach us new procedures. When we’re older we often need help moving while downsizing, driving to doctor appointments, and so on. And then there are times when it is difficult to pray, such as when we’re grieving. The Apostle Paul reminds us that when we struggle to pray the Spirit prays for us. Likewise, when our congregation members find it difficult to sing, we can sing for them. This may be one of those times when your staff, worship team, and/or choir needs to step up their own singing game to sing for the congregation. While we must be careful that this doesn’t become a permanent replacement, it is good for us to take up the role of singing to the Lord on behalf of the congregation. This may be a time when more solos, choir anthems, and other “special music” is used instead of congregational song. Don’t apologize or lament this, name it. Take it up as a part of your mission for the church and handle it with respect, always ready to hand it back to the congregation when you are able to gather again.


Helpful Resources

Most popular hymns of all time as listed by

A Capella Sunday resources

Hymns in Times of Crisis – Free Download

Live-Streaming Copyright Guidelines


Prayer & Action

Every year the world seems to be in a new crisis: war/conflict, stock market crash, terrorist attack, or a global virus. It is in these situations where people are fearful or panicked that the church must step in to say “be not afraid.” We must be the voice of reason and peace. We must be the ones to say that violence is not acceptable, money is not God, and panicking out of fear is deadly. God has given us tools for dealing with idols and fear…things like preaching the gospel, prayer, and song. So tell people about Jesus, pray for peace and wholeness for this world, and sing with people.

The church must also help spread truth, not fiction. God has given us other tools and knowledge on how to live through global pandemics…things like hand sanitizer, common-sense health precautions, and global health experts to advise us. Use hand sanitizer, don’t go out when you’re sick, and listen to those knowledgeable about science and healthcare. In a time of fear and anxiety, let’s set the example on how to fact-check and spread thoughtfulness.

CDC Updates on COVID-19 (Corona Virus)
Johns Hopkins Article on COVID-19 (Corona Virus)

If you have other helpful ideas, resources, or thoughts, please use the comment section below to share.


Author Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song.