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Choosing Songs for Corporate Worship

Choosing Songs for Corporate Worship

By Eric Rubio on August 21, 2014

Every church has a general outline for the regular worship service, whether or not the particular local gathering is of the liturgical high-church variety.

At my church, we generally start the planning process with the outline of the service (Calling, Giving, Proclaiming, and Responding with Communion and other special elements on certain weeks) and placeholders for the announcements, sermon, and benediction. That leaves about 30 minutes to fill, mostly with music, primarily of the congregational type. 

The challenge is how to pick the songs that will fill those minutes. Churches today use a wide variety of music--some songs originally written several centuries ago and some written within the decade-- and truthfully, we will never get to the end of all we can say through song about God and the work of Jesus Christ. The database of songs will only increase. 

So we need some basic criteria for selecting from this ever growing range of song choices. I propose three simple but significant criteria for choosing songs for corporate worship: the content, the craft, and the congregation.

1. THE CONTENT

The basic point of a song should be indisputable. If a local church gathers to celebrate God and the work of Christ, they need songs that explicitly celebrate God and the work of Christ. Beyond that, it is also important to examine the text as a whole and lyric-by-lyric, to ensure it contains biblical truth and sound theology.

In addition, attention ought also be given to the relationship between songs in terms of content and its relationship to the Scripture proclaimed that week. To do all of this successfully, of course, the service planner(s) need a working knowledge of Scripture and Christian theology. 

2. THE CRAFT

Is the song well crafted? The artistic factor. Are the words matched with an appropriate rhythm, with syllables that receive stress in speech placed on the strong beats in the song's meter? Does the song have a logical harmonic structure? Is the orchestration well balanced and supportive of the melody? 

With those questions in mind, it's also important to note that varying styles are appropriate, acknowledging the diversity within the global Church.

Finally, we must remember that corporate worship is not the place for artistic experimentation. The music should not distract from the singing. Which leads directly to the third point. 

3. THE CONGREGATION

Much has been said elsewhere about performance-oriented worship. The easiest way to avoid a "rock star mentality" is to remember people come to church to sing. Thus, any song intended for corporate worship should be easy to sing for the average member of the body. (Side note: "corporate" derives from the Latin word for body.)

This means a friendly key and relatively smooth melody, preferable one that is reused for each stanza of the text, so a new melody is learned more quickly.  

Praise God for the gift of music and the endless ways we can sing of Christ's redeeming work. With so many songs already available, we have the luxury to pick the ones that best help us lead our local gatherings to greater worship of Jesus. 

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Eric Rubio

Eric Rubio (Guest Writer)

Eric Joseph Rubio is a music educator, church musician, and arts administrator from Chicago He currently serves as Orchestra Director at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois. You can find his blog at ericjosephrubio.blogspot.com

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