Have you ever wondered how songs are selected for Sunday worship at your church? Whether you’ve been part of a church community for a long time or a short time, there is a good chance you’ve been part of a church gathering that has included corporate singing.
Perhaps you’ve been curious about why particular songs have been chosen for corporate singing, or you’ve noticed that some songs just seem to ‘work’ better than others. Maybe you’re involved in the song-selection process for your church and you’d like a framework for helping you make great song choices for your community’s worship gatherings.
In this article we look at some of the key questions that worship leaders and worship planners ought to consider when selecting songs for worship gatherings. So, whether you’re selecting songs – or singing them – you’ll gain a greater appreciation for all that is involved in thoughtfully preparing for sung worship.
In the past, and in some traditions today, songs for worship may have been selected months in advance according to a fairly imprecise rotation schedule or – on the other end of the scale – they may have been hastily chosen in the morning before the Sunday service began. (Can anyone remember the days when song requests were taken from the congregation?) These days, however, our worship gatherings are typically far more nuanced. For a variety of reasons, choosing songs for gathered worship calls for a balance of both thoughtful forward planning as well as a pastoral awareness of what God is doing within a particular faith community at a given time.
The power of a well-chosen song list for gathered worship has the potential to help people connect with God, through an interplay of corporate and individual revelation and response, that creates opportunities for spiritual formation (and transformation) into the likeness of Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
While there is no such thing as a “perfect” song list, there are many factors that can influence and inform which songs will be most appropriate for a given worship service. Often these factors need to be held in tension. For instance, consider how familiar a song is within a particular faith community. Familiarity can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, familiar songs are easier to engage with than newer songs. On the other hand, however, songs that are overly familiar can become lifeless and boring.
Here are at least 10 important questions that we can ask (and hold in tension) when selecting songs for Sunday.
- Biblical Resonance: “Does this song resonate with the themes, truths, language and narrative of Scripture?”
- Cultural Resonance: “Does this song align with the culture, language, style and real world experience of our particular church community?”
- Thematic Relevance: “Does this song fit with the sermon, teaching series, current themes, season or event?”
- Contextual Relevance: “Does this song express something meaningful and relevant into our particular community at this particular time?”
- Accessibility: “Can most people in this congregation relate to the lyrical content, style, arrangement and melody of this song?”
- Familiarity: “How well do we know this song?” (The answer may influence the presentation, arrangement or placement of the song within the service.)
- Flow: “Does this song connect with the other songs I’ve chosen, both musically and thematically, and does this song help to create a sense of journey through the service?”
- Playability: “Does my worship band know this song and do they have the capacity to be able to play and lead this song well?”
- Singability: “Is the melody memorable, within the average vocal range and will most people in this congregation be able to sing along?”
- Leadability: “Can I, or one of my team, vocally lead this song with confidence, competence and integrity?”
While there are many factors that can influence which songs are selected for Sunday worship, these 10 questions can hopefully help to provide a framework for choosing songs that are relevant, meaningful and accessible for your faith community. Selecting songs for corporate worship is a significant responsibility and one that should not be taken lightly or treated casually.
It is important to remember that with a wide range of musical tastes and preferences represented in every congregation, songs for Sunday services should never be chosen to simply ‘appease’ a certain person or demographic. We can never please everyone, which is certainly a challenge in our consumeristic, “entertain-me” culture. I believe that laying down our personal preferences for the sake of others is at least part of what it means to offer a “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15).
Let me encourage all who bear the responsibility of selecting songs for Sunday worship: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)