By David Taylor
Scientific data suggests that singing in community reshapes our physical selves and our corporate connections.
One of the curious results of the COVID-19 lockdown back in 2020 was the opportunity to experiment with what I might call “soul only” worship. This approach prioritizes the invisible activities of the heart and mind over and against the visible activities of the body. According to this mindset, the “real” action of worship takes place in our immaterial spirits, not in these very earthy frames.
But that’s not how God has designed us as human beings, nor how the Spirit of God has wired us to experience corporate worship. It’s the Spirit’s pleasure, I contend, to work not just in our heads and hearts but in and through our physical bodies to form us wholly into Christ’s body.
And because the Spirit is the author of all things natural, not just supernatural, the sciences offer invaluable insights regarding the unique power of communal song to corporeally unite Christians in “Spirited” ways. In our relationally fraught and estranged times, this is good news for the church, I believe.
Here, I’d like to draw attention to two phenomena: entrainment and interactional synchrony.
What is entrainment? As Jeremy Begbie defines it, entrainment is “the synchronization of one rhythmic process with another.” In other words, it describes the way the body gradually syncs with another body or with an external rhythm, often unconsciously.
Entrainment happens all the time in corporate worship, it turns out. A particularly catchy hymn, for instance, may cause a person’s feet to start tapping unconsciously. A rousing rendition of a hip-hop worship song may find a group of people bobbing their heads in a synced way. Or, as the case may be at a …