Is it clear? The second question to ask is, “Is it clear?”, meaning, does the song have a single, central message that is easily understood? Can I listen to it once and know its central theme? Are there parts of the song that confuse me to the overall meaning of the song? A song is a sermon, and like all good sermons, it should have one central point. It should be clear. The hymns are very good at making a clear, central point: “How Great Thou Art”, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, etc. Many of Matt Redman’s songs have a very clear, identifiable central point: “Blessed Be Your Name”, “Here For You”, etc. Examples of songs that are unclear include: “Mighty to Save”. For example, the bridge states: “Shine your light and let the whole world see. We’re singing for the glory of the risen King, Jesus”. Is this bridge asking Jesus to shine His light so the whole world sees? Or is it encouraging believers to shine their light? And how does it fit into the overall message of the song? It doesn’t. Another song that is scatterbrained is “Forever Reign”. A good tool to help you know whether a song is clear is by printing out the lyrics and reading them aloud, before you ever sing the song. Then ask yourself: “Do I understand what the central point is?” Make sure your congregation knows what they’re singing. Help them focus in on one major aspect of God’s character per song.
Is it singable? If the song passes the lyrics test, the next test is, “Is it easy to sing”? The average church attender does not have incredible singing abilities. For this reason, a song should have a predictable, simple, and easy to sing melody. It should be something that’s easy to follow and easy to remember, since they probably will only be singing that song once every few weeks. Avoid songs with tricky or technical timing. The song should also fall within the average singers vocal range, meaning it shouldn’t be too high. A good rule is to not sing over the high E string of a guitar. Ultimately, leading worship is about helping our congregants to sing to the Lord. Make sure the songs you put in your repertoire don’t get in the way of that goal because they are too complicated or too high for the average person.
Is it God centered? Another question is “Is this song God centered?” People come to church to meet with God. It’s hard to do that if all the songs we sing are always about how “I” feel, how devoted “I” am to God, how “I” will follow Him. Those songs are “I” centered. To be sure, there is a need to occasionally sing a song of response about how “I” love you Lord, and How “I’m” grateful for all the things you’ve done in my life, but for the most part, our people need to be singing to remind themselves about God’s attributes. They need a fresh revelation of God; of His faithfulness, of His power, of His love, of His forgiveness, of His grace that covers our failure. It’s only once we’ve sung about God’s power, love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, holiness and wrath that we can have a right response to Him. We see and sing about His attributes and then we can rightly respond in worship. At this point, throwing in an “I” centered song is appropriate, because it is now informed response. Remember, God wants us to worship in Spirit and in Truth. Make sure the songs you choose our God centered. It’s what our people need.
Do we need to sing it? Another consideration when choosing songs to introduce to your congregation is “Do we need to sing about this theme?” Again, we want to feed our congregation a healthy, balanced diet of theological content. If all of our songs are about the love of God, but we have no songs about repentance, or the cross, then we have an unbalanced diet and our people will be unhealthy. If we have a ton of songs about the Father, but none about Jesus or the Holy Spirit, then we are again feeding our people an unbalanced diet. Take a look at your repertoire and write down the major themes of each of your songs. Which themes are you light on? Are you covering all your theological bases? If not, add songs about that particular topic.Make sure you have songs in your repertoire that cover all of the major biblical themes and that you’re allowing your people to sing them regularly.
Did it connect? Once you’ve finally decided that a song will be beneficial to your congregation and try it out, the final question is, “Did it connect”? What this means is, did the people like it? Did they engage with it? Did it meet them where they were at? Did it help them worship? How was their response? Now, truthfully, it’s going to take a few Sundays of playing the song before you can actually gauge their response, because it takes people time to learn / get used to the song. But once you’ve done it a few times, you will be able to accurately gauge whether it’s “working” for your people or not. If it did, keep using it (but don’t use it too often so you kill it). If it didn’t connect, cut it or save it for later, or for a “Special” music piece. **One note, sometimes people might not like a song, but they still need to sing it…just as kids might not like their vegetables, but still need the nutrients they provide. Use Holy Spirit inspired discretion to know whether or not to keep singing a song that has high nutritional value for your people.
So those are the questions that I run my potential new songs through before deciding whether or not to introduce them to the congregation. Below are a few other practical thoughts for you in regards to introducing new songs.
Keep A Running List: One thing that has been helpful to me is to keep a running list of new songs that I hear and like (I use Evernote, but any note taking method / app will work fine). I write them down in my list as I hear them and I let them sit there for a few months. Often, after a few months, the songs that I thought would be incredible to teach the church end up losing their shine, or I see that they’re not really as good as I thought at the time. The best ones usually rise to the surface, and from there I can start introducing them to the congregation.
One a Month: When introducing new songs to the church, it is best to introduce only one new song a month. Introduce it during the offering time, play it again the following week, give it a week off, and then play it a final time. Hopefully people will have caught on by then. It takes people several weeks to really get used to a song, especially because a lot of people aren’t at church all four weekends out of the month, so they’re only hearing it once or twice. If you introduce too many songs at one time, you’ll hinder your people from singing, and getting people singing is the whole reason why we do what we do. So don’t introduce more than one song a month.
Rejecting Recommendations: Oftentimes people will come up to me before or after a service and say “There’s this great new song that I heard on the radio. It’s really ministering to me! You should introduce it to the congregation soon!” I usually tell them, “Thank you for the recommendation. I haven’t heard it yet. I’ll definitely go check it out and see if it might work, and if it’ll fit well into any of our upcoming services. I have several filters that I run songs through to make sure they’ll be a good fit for Cypress.” This lets them know that I am intentional about how I pick songs for our church, and also that there’s no guarantee that they’ll hear it in the set next week. If a song isn’t a good fit, I’ll usually follow up with them and explain why: “I loved the song. It’s such a great and powerful song…but it’s not very congregationally friendly….it’s not God centered…it’s not….etc, etc”. This creates a teaching moment where they can begin thinking more strategically about what qualifies a song to be good as a congregational song.
That’s the key to this whole thing: There are many great songs. But that doesn’t automatically make them great congregational songs.
I hope this is helpful to you as you pick songs for the people you lead! May God bless you! I’m praying for you!