Euro 2020 and the forthcoming resumption of singing in English churches raise some interesting questions around why singing matters so much. So, what does ‘Three Lions’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’ have in common?

I’m a pretty average singer. On the scale of tone deaf to Pavarotti’ I’d place myself precisely at the half-way point. Those who have ever sung in the pew or terrace in front of me would agree that I’m more about quantity rather than quality. And in the last year I have desperately missed singing with others.

There has also been something fascinating about watching the crowds of Euro 2020 belting out their anthems with such joy, unity and passion. Why do some football songs catch on and others fizzle out? Neil Diamond (Sweet Caroline), Rolf Soja (Yes Sir I Can Boogie) and Atomic Kitten (Whole Again) have been the unlikely providers of choruses that have resounded around Wembley, Hampden Park and beyond. Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds will have noticed a sharp spike in royalties alongside a large helping of nostalgia as the Three Lions – the nation’s favourite hymn – has reverberated around our stadia, streets and stereos. 

All the while, churches groan with anticipation, waiting for the moment when humming and whispering behind masks and crooning along at home, is replaced by church families rousing one another and lifting the name of Jesus high in song. But, what is it about singing together that moves us so deeply? Why do we crave the congregation, concert and crowd?

Firstly, singing, even on our own, makes us feel good. It has a considerable effect on raising the levels of endorphins and oxytocin in our blood. No wonder the Bible repeatedly urges to Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” (Psalm 96:1)

Then when you explore the effects of singing together, things get even more interesting. A study of London choirs by Daniel Weinstein found that not only did singing create strong relational bonds between those who sang together, but the larger the group, the greater the sense of togetherness. No wonder there is such a strong sense of transcendent awe and corporate unity when 60,000 England fans sing, It’s coming home!”

The second commonality of football fans and Christians is a sense of worship and devotion in our singing. The fervour of adulation and idolatry of football teams is a challenge for us Christians to be as passionate about Jesus. But there is also something powerful about the way in which we sing together in yearning for a corporate desired outcome. 

Russell Brand in his book Revolution observes this of fans in a football stadium and profoundly asks, If you are in Wembley Stadium… all about you are people the same as you, singing the same songs as you, craving the same outcome as you, there is a synchronicity that takes you out of the self. Where else do we get to cry and pray and laugh and sing in communion these days?”

When we sing together as a church, at our best, this is what we do. We fix our eyes and hearts on the one Lion that will not let us down. We bind ourselves to one another, strengthen the relational bond between us in community we were created for. As people made for a different world, we yearn together for a new kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven, where every tear is wiped from every eye. That is why I’ve missed singing in church and humming behind a mask isn’t the same.

So, when restrictions lift and we are back together in our sanctuaries, school halls and cinemas, let’s not take singing for granted. Don’t moan about the worship group or criticise the hymn choice, but let whatever the refrain point you to the great composer unite you with your tribe and beckon in a future where it really is coming home.

As people made for a different world, we yearn together for a new kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven, where every tear is wiped from every eye.