What does it take to produce a deep and meaningful worship experience? What elements are involved behind the scenes? Everyone knows it takes talented musicians and a good sound system, good leadership, and of course lights and haze never hurt.
Strong worship isn’t just about Sunday morning. It begins with prayerful planning and intentional efforts at curating a meaningful experience. One of the most key elements in planning a worship service (and in a church’s cumulative worship experience in general) is song selection. This is an area that I personally believe is essential to do with excellence, because years down the road it will show in the spiritual maturity of the worshippers. A cumulation of small decisions (often made by one maxed-out person) now will bear some type of fruit for the church body.
Think about it. What will the spiritual climate of your church be in 15 years based on the types of songs that are selected for worship? Will your songs create a slow growing cancer of ignorance and shallowness? (pardon my strong words!), a stale and stuffy lukewarm group of people?, OR, will it produce deeply maturing believers propelled to live out their faith with personal devotion to Jesus; people who adore him and show it though living lives that reflect him to those in their sphere of influence.
I’ve got a few blogs brewing in me about worship and this is one of them, I’m living in this reality right now because it is my role at South Bay Church to curate worship. Song selection is hot on our list now because Christmas is over and its the beginning of a new year, so we are rolling out some newness here in the next few weeks.
Song selection can mean two things, so let me clarify the two.
- Song selection in terms of new songs added to an existing body of songs,
- Song selection from that body of songs to create weekly worship sets.
This blog will focus on the first of these, and I’ll talk about worship set selection in a future blog.
It should never go without saying that the Holy Spirit is the one who transforms people. He is the one who is ultimately responsible for calling us, unveiling us, and changing us from wrecked broken people to beautiful new creations, truly alive in Jesus. And lets be honest, God can reach someone in the forth stanza of an old hymn, or as you sing a 25 year old maranatha praise chorus. He transcends us. HOWEVER, we have a very important responsibility to facilitate people connecting with God. As worship leaders, we are tasked with creating an environment where people draw near to God so HE can do his work.
1 Cor 9:24 says “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” If you are involved in worship planning, then what does this verse mean for your role? Today, particularly as it applies to how you select songs. I’d like to provide a few items for consideration on how to select songs thoughtfully and intentionally to run as to get the prize!
- Know your worshipping community and choose songs that you anticipate them connecting with.
Diverse, Intelligent, Catholic, Lonely, New to Church, Networked, Young. These are some words that describe our community at South Bay Church. These characteristics inform how we do church in general, and how we do worship. We are striving to grow in this area as well.
Who sits in the seats in your church? How would you describe them? What might they be going through in their personal lives or considering spiritually? You can select songs with these types of people in mind.
- Assess where you are in order to know where to go.
Get a pulse on what types of songs you are singing. One way to do this is something we’ve just done at South Bay. Find a list of categories (I would suggest something with lots of categories like the Baptist Hymnal index) and take all the songs you do and assign them to the category(ies) where they thematically belong. You’ll learn a lot about what themes you are super strong in and what themes are lacking. For example, we have realized that we introduced 3 new songs (One Thing Remains, With Us, and Your Love Never Fails) this past fall of different styles, but all 3 had basically the same message, that God is faithful and he doesn’t leave us. All of these songs are awesome but we would have been better off to spread them out a bit.
- A bit of pressure is a good thing!
Audiences need pressure. Pressure helps growth happen. This is true in life in general as well as in worship. Let me explain through an example. We’ve been on a journey of taking our mostly-spiritually-young body of worshippers into deeper places of intimacy in worship. It is a slow and careful journey! One particular song that we introduced is taking us to a different level it seems. I Want to Know You by Jesus Culture has lots of open space, and intimate language. Our folks weren’t super used to that type of song but our band has taken on the task of growing in their own maturity to let the song sit and be spacious. When they feel comfortable and are worshipping, our people feel comfortable to observe at first, and then engage as the learn the song and it pulls on their heart.
I want to know you, let your spirit overwhelm me. Let your presence overtake my heart…
There. Are. A. Billion. Songs. As worship leaders/curators we need to take the time and have patience to find songs that make US excited and motivated toward God, and are an excellent fit for our setting. If you are tired of the song by the third time you hear it as you practice, then don’t do it! As a matter of fact just this week I was in our curating meeting saying that I could not find a single opener on itunes that I liked! But I know they are out there. We just have to find them. They have to fit.
Content and Music/Instrumentation are like 2 wings on a plane. If you’re too concerned about one over the other then your plane will crash. ha. Both are super important as well as a few other criteria that we look at on our team: Singability (melody is somewhat easy to follow and catch on to). Creativity (the song doesn’t sound like a clone of what we already do but is interesting and has an element of freshness) Grabability. You’ve never heard this word? That’s because I just made it up. But it is a very real part of our criteria at South Bay. This means that people can engage with the lyrics. They can hook their heart into it and not just watch it pass by. This isn’t quite as important for openers, mind you, but for all other songs in the set it is a must.
Well I hope this helps you in some way. It is not comprehensive, as I never claim any of my blogs to be! ha. I’m just having some worship-brain dumping. Honestly it is just as much for me and for our team because we are working on clearly defining things around here. There is more to come . . .