The Hidden Cost of a New Song
Ever had this happen? You hear a great new song and you think to yourself, "I have to do this song!" You snag the chord chart and mp3 and slap it in to the next available worship service.
At times, it works: your team learns it and loves it, the congregation engages in it, and several people come up to you after church and ask you, "Who sings that song? Where can I get it?" The only thing that could have made it better was if white doves had been released during the final chorus.
But let's face it, most of the time it's something less: the team struggles through it, glued to their music stand; the congregation stares at the screen, occasionally moving their lips; and the momentum of the worship service stops as you lead people through the soggy ground of this new song.
After too many trips slogging through the new song swamp, I started to realize something: there’s more to pay for a new song than the $1.29 iTunes cost. New songs require an investment. Here are seven investment “costs” that we encounter with new songs:
1. The Selling Cost
At the beginning, every new song needs to be "sold" to someone, whether that's the team, the senior pastor, or the ever-dreaded worship committee. I've got a fair bit of autonomy to select new songs for my church. But I still choose to get buy-in from my worship leaders and other key team members. I've skipped this cost and gotten away with it at times. But other times, it cost me more in the end—like when it turns out the song isn't as good as I thought.
2. The Learning Cost
This cost is actually three-fold. First, it requires personal investment for each person on the team to learn his/her part of the song. Second, it costs time and energy for the team to put it together as a band. And the third aspect is the time it takes for the congregation to learn the song. We'll talk more about that in a moment.
3. The Confidence Cost
There's learning a song, and then there's knowing a song. The confidence cost is the time it takes to truly know and execute the song well enough to lead others in worship. Unfortunately, many worship teams attempt to lead songs for which they haven't yet paid the full price for confidence.
4. The Worship Service Cost
The worship service takes on a different dynamic when a new song is being learned. Often it's a time marked by lower participation (since the congregation is still learning it) and a loss of momentum in the flow of worship. To be sure, the time taken out of a worship gathering to learn a new song isn't wasted—that is, as long as the song is worth it.
5. The Sunday Cost
Not only does it cost a portion of the worship service, it also costs several Sundays. It takes more than one week to make a new song "stick." You need to repeat the song multiple times in the first couple months so it catches on with your congregation. Remember, the average person doesn’t learn songs as quick as us musicians.
And all that repetition? It leads to the next cost:
6. The Overexposure Cost
By the end of your introductory phase of a song, your team might already be getting sick of it. When that starts to happen, you can safely assume the congregation is just starting to catch on. So you have to keep reminding your team to not check out as you continue to use this song in your rotation.
And the final cost? It takes its toll on your catalog.
7. The Catalog Cost
That sounds kind of odd, but look at it this way: our space for songs is extremely limited. If we're going to repeat songs enough so our church can know and can sing them from their hearts, we have to limit the overall number of songs in our active catalog.
So that means as I add new songs, I'm looking for songs that can be dropped from the rotation. I just can't keep every song around and still add more.
Why worry about the costs of new songs? Because as worship leaders we've been entrusted as stewards of the worship music in our churches. We need to have an investment mindset as we curate songs in and out of the church.
Our goal isn't to have the hippest set lists in town. Our goal should be to provide our churches with a rich vocabulary of worship—songs both old and new—that they can sing to and about the Most High God every time they gather.
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