Let's talk about every worship leaders favorite and least favorite topic all at once… song selection. How do we choose songs for our worship services?
Ah, the age old question. Every worship leader forum on Facebook is one long argument about which songs are good, which songs are bad, and which songs we should do next. So I’m not going to “tell” you the best way to choose songs for your church. I am going to tell you what is most important to me, when I choose songs for my church.
The 4 most important attribute of a worship song, in order of most important to least important, when I’m choosing a worship song are:
1) Good Theology
The most important thing to me in song selection is Good Theology. If you’ve been reading or watching me for long, or you watch Reawaken Hymns, or you’ve just met me once, you know that good theology is the most important thing to me when I choose worship songs. Now this usually happens way before you pick songs for the week. This happens when you’re picking songs to go in your worship repertoire and the group of songs your church will sing. Hopefully you have a good theologically rich repertoire and then each week when you choose songs, you’ll know you’ve already gone through the theology and already know it’s good.
I’m not going to go into depth on what good theology in a worship song is, because 1) a lot of people have different ideas about it, 2) that would be a very long post. Hopefully one which I will write in more detail in the future. We can all tell when a song treats God and Christ with proper reverence as opposed to a song that could be about a high school crush.
Good, rich theology is always the most important thing. Once I have songs that have great theology, then I’ll look at the singability of a song.
I don’t know if singability is a word or not, but that’s the word we’re using today. Singability, we all know what it means. Can your congregation actually sing this song? There are 2 aspects of singablity we need to consider.
1) How the song is written. Does it have a range that is ridiculous that no one can sing, or really fast rhythmic lyrics that only Lecrae could pull off, or crazy dissonant intervals and harmonies everywhere? Was the song written to be singable? That is very subjective, I know. The next one is even more subjective, and that is:
2) Can my church sing it? You know your church’s skill level. A song that might be singable to a lot of congregations might not be singable to your church. This is why all those debates about singability can get a bit “iffy”, because nobody knows your congregation better than you do.
For instance, in my little tiny church I have people on both sides of the hymn and contemporary spectrum. I have people that can sing hymns all day long, but really struggle to sing contemporary worship songs. And then, I have people who can sing contemporary worship songs all day long, but really struggle when it comes to hymns. So you may know what your church can sing best and this can help you choose the songs. So first we have good theology, then good singability, and next we have theme.
Both Theology and singablity are considered when choosing songs for your worship repertoire. With theme we get down to the individual worship service. What I mean by “theme” is: does it fit what you are talking about in service that week? Does it fit the scripture or topic that your pastor is preaching about?
I know some churches don’t actually worry about this. They don’t choose songs based on he theme of the week. They just have a worship set of general worship that’s not necessarily related to the sermon. That’s fine, I’m not going to tell you how to run your worship services in that regard, but I personally try to theme the whole worship service around the scripture or topic for the week.
Every song won't be exactly about the topic. If we’re talking about Jonah then I’m not going to try to choose 4 songs about people being swallowed by fish. That would be difficult. What I mean is I find the themes within the story. Themes in Jonah could be stepping out in faith when you’re scared, or following God wherever he take you. I would then choose 4 songs that relate to those themes.
4) Song Quality and Emotional Impact
So, we have good theology, good singability, good theme-ology?. Finally we have the thing that a lot of worship leaders put first, but I would put last. The quality of the song and emotional impact.
I’m putting these together because quality and emotional impact are often related. Now when I say I’ve put this last it does not mean that I don’t care about quality. In an ideal world, I want all of the songs we choose to have all 4 of these qualities. But if I had to throw one out, I would choose a song that has great theology, great singability, fit the theme, but maybe isn’t the best quality song.
I would caution you against putting emotional impact first - I know it’s really hard for that not be the heaviest weighted issue when choosing a song. I’ve done it before, a song just hits you and you think, “alright, I’ve gotta put this in my worship set because it’s going to hit everyone else hard as well”, but that’s not necessarily the case. Emotional impact is very, very subjective. I know theology and singability can all be subjective, but they are not nearly as subjective as emotional impact. So yes, have songs with great emotional impact, that’s awesome, just don’t make that the first thing.
Now if we’ve done this right we have a group of songs with good theology, good singability, they fit the theme, and they’re quality songs with emotional impact. That is hard to beat.