Have you ever wondered how worship leaders choose which songs they use? Have you ever wondered how YOU should choose the songs you bring to your church? After years of planning worship services I can say that there are a few key things that I consider when choosing songs. By no means is this a complete list…and there’s lots of biased sprinkled in all along this process. However, I believe that these ten tips will help you be more confident in choosing the right songs for your congregation. Here we go!
Is it sing-able?
Does the song have a memorable melody line? Is it clear and melodic? Will “Joe the truck driver” (aka someone who doesn’t necessarily have much musical experience) be able to catch on? How many weeks will it take to teach it? I like to follow a rhythm of teaching a new song week 1, week 2, skip week 3 and again on week 4. Realistically that's 12-24 new songs a year for an average congregation and band to learn. So I have to ask myself, at the end of this cycle, will I feel like I can move it to my "known" library? This four week period is a testing time for me to see how the congregation reacts to the given song.
Is it true?
Jesus is looking for a Church that worships in Spirit and in TRUTH. Does the song hold to the beliefs of the congregation? Is it biblically relevant? Does it have meat or is it just fluff? Does it evoke thought...without being so deep we can't process the words in real time? Is it God centered and not "me" centered? As a worship leader you teach theology through music. This is a great responsibility, so we must do it with care.
Is it relevant to the season?
Churches have seasons. We had a season in our church where our pastor's wife was losing her battle with breast cancer. She was very known and loved and so naturally the tone of our services and our worship changed during that time. But there were other times where momentous growth and excitement of new property colored our times together. That’s when we searched for more upbeat and celebratory songs.
Does it grab you?
We are called to worship in Spirit and with heart. I'm always looking for something with a great “moment.” If it doesn’t move me, it probably won’t move our congregation. Is there a place in the song where I can see us wanting to linger? Or jump in excitement? After all, it’s not easy to teach a volunteer band a new song. It takes work to get the charts, tracks and recordings together. And then we still have the process of teaching the church. A new song must have something that really grabs you.
Does it fit with the message series/vision of the lead pastor?
You have to walk in the tension of following what God is putting on your heart, but also aligning the worship services with the vision of the lead pastor. Darlene Zschech said to “be committed to the entire service and not merely your role”. As a worship leader, you’re helping to carry the vision of the leadership through the corporate worship time. You get to help it be seamless. The service should tell a story from beginning to end. When done well, it’s a great opportunity to honor the leadership above you and help to carry vision forward.
Does it fit your church’s style?
What is the preferred style of worship for the congregation? I had seasons where my lead pastor asked me to push toward a more gospel, piano driven style. And others where it was more guitar led. And then there was the short time we did a ton of banjo. There were some songs that we could adapt from style to style. If I fell in love with a new song but it didn’t quite fit the style of the moment, I’d ask myself…can it be adapted to work? Or is it a “not now”?
Does your team have the talent to pull it off?
The reality is you have the group of people that God has given you for your church at any given time. The team that you have on a particular weekend can really impact the songs that you choose. If you’re a writer, be sure to write some songs that an average adult musician can play, understanding that their formal training and practice time may be limited.
Is it congregational?
You would probably be surprised by the amount songs that I would categorize as performance songs versus worship songs. Does that mean they are not worshipful? No way. Does that mean that I never use them? No way. But it does mean is that is not likely a song that I will use one of my few slots of teaching a new song for. I will likely use it in a quiet moment to hammer home a point from the message or to close out a worship set. And as such it will probably be used only once.
Is it simple to get my hands on?
I remember when I first started planning worship and I had to literally chart everything by hand because the resources were so limited for contemporary worship stuff. Many worship leaders today don't have the training or experience to chart their own music let alone the time. It is important that songs are easily accessible and plugged into the amazing sites and systems that exist to make our lives easier.
Does it seem God is raising this song up in this time?
Ok, this makes me giggle a little bit. Once I had someone bring me a list of all the songs we used regularly at church and put them into two categories “anointed” and “not”. (Don’t do that!) This is a tough one, guys. There’s so much room for interpretation here so we need to pray for grace and discernment. But, it does feel like there are certain songs that God chooses to breathe on and raise up in certain seasons. So of course, if you come across one of these-you use it.
This is not a comprehensive list, but I wanted to bring something from a practical perspective for those of you actively wanting to write for the church and those of you with the job of choosing what your church worships with. Planning moments for a congregation is both a joy and a great responsibility. Worship through the planning. Pray through what songs God wants to use in your church in each season. And if you’re writing, ask God to give you songs He wants His church to sing.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.