Worship leaders, do you have a process for deciding what songs you are going to sing this Sunday? I was recently asked how I decide what to sing. Here is some insight into what has worked for me.
1. Compile a list of the top songs for your congregation
What are the main songs that your congregation has been singing for the last 3-6 months? What songs have resonated with your congregation? A congregation can only comfortably learn and sing so many songs. I go through the most recent set lists and pick out the top songs and make a list to work from. Here is a list of My Top Worship Songs.
2. Pray and ask God what He wants
Everything begins with God. Is your heart right before God? What is God speaking to you about? What is God speaking to your congregation about?
After praying, God usually brings a main song to my mind that I will build the set around. The song might be an opening song, an ending song or a middle song. When building the set I will consider factors like theme, tempos, use of different keys, styles, key signatures, key changes, transitions and other musical factors that will help take the congregation on a worship journey.
My main goal is for the congregation to worship God. I want them to encounter the living God in our weekly corporate worship times. I just don’t want to sing or perform nice songs. People need to sense that God cares about them and loves them. The congregation should know that He is there in the midst of their worship.
3. Is there a theme for this Sunday?
There are certain times of the year when themes are huge: Christmas, Easter, Palm Sunday, Missions Sunday, Communion, Mother’s Day, Evangelism and in the city where God has called me ~ Calgary: The Calgary Stampede (i.e. country music).
Does your pastor do sermon series? Does your pastor ask you to develop a musical theme with his series? I am usually working on the set list 2-3 weeks in advance and not many pastor’s have asked me to do total theme services. If possible, I try to tie in a closing song with the message. But that is usually some type of altar call, response, or communion song.
My general theme for normal Sunday’s is getting people to focus on and worship God. Sometimes the song list might follow a general theme of the faithfulness of God, the love of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus or miracles or whatever attribute my main song’s theme is.
4. Putting the song list in a good order
My Sunday morning set list is normally 4-5 songs or 20-25 minutes of worship. I try to keep a balanced list of fast songs, medium songs and slow songs.
I have found that an uptempo song (tempo range 98-120) is often the best kind of worship song to start with. I want to find a song that gets people moving, involved, clapping, singing and praising God as soon as the service starts. The song will usually be about God as opposed to singing directly to God.
The congregation is often rushing to church and their focus can be all over the map. I want to find a song that is easy for them to sing and bring their focus to God.
From there I have often found that a slightly faster song second song will move the congregation ahead in their focus and worship to God. After the two opening songs I will often do a transitional medium tempo song that will continue the congregation on their worship journey to worshiping and focusing on God with their whole heart, mind and strength.
For the last song, I will normally pick a powerful slower worship song that has the congregation singing directly to God. There is something very powerful about directing their hearts and worship directly towards God. That’s usually my worship goal: getting people to focus upwards. I want to get the congregations hearts directed toward the One who heals them, forgives them, never leaves them, loves them and provides all their needs.
5. What new song is God speaking to you about?
Different congregations have a different disposition towards learning new songs. I usually teach a new song every 3-4 weeks. My normal practice is to make sure the ‘new song’ is sung three times in the first month. I will repeat the ‘new song’ the next week after introducing it, give it a week off and then repeat it again the 4th Sunday.
By that time you will really know if the song will work for your congregation. If the congregation is not singing it whole heartedly by that time, it usually means that song doesn’t work for your group.
Special note: The first time you sing the ‘new song’…. It is generally not a good idea to put the new song first or last on in your list.
Here is my blog on picking great new songs for your congregation.
6. Can your band and singers do a good job with that song?
Another factor that I consider when choosing songs is: Who are the main players for that week? I really try to develop the band and singers so that all the players can handle any song but sometimes there is a player who cannot handle a specific part. As a leader you need to aware of that and either pass on that song for that week or adapt the arrangement to work for that player.
7. Check your list against the top songs and churches in the world
I have found that CCLI’s SongSelect Top 200 list is extremely valuable. CCLI has developed a system to find out what the main songs that are being sung around the world. I want to stay in touch with what songs are ministering and touching the world-wide Body of Christ. PlanningCenter.com also has a great list (Top Songs) that gives you the info on what songs churches are singing that Sunday.
I will also often listen to the worship sets from some of the top churches in North America, Australia and England. I will sometimes stream the worship from Hillsong (Sydney), Lakewood Church (Houston), Gateway Church (Dallas) or another great church that God directs my attention to. I want to see what great churches from around the world are doing.
Question: How do you put your list together for Sunday morning? What factors are important to you and your congregation? What is working where you lead?
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Comments from FB:
Nathan Loomis: Great process. Regarding themes. I don’t think it is the job of the band to preach the sermon before the sermon. Worship is a time for, well, worship. The song set does not have to match the theme, and mostly shouldn’t. Trying too hard to pick songs thematically is one of the reasons that some churches do too many new songs and/or too many bad songs. It also prevents congregations from learning songs, which helps turn people who should be worshipers into spectators.
Mark: Thanks, Nathan, I totally agree
Craig Hickerson: I basically follow the same process. My first step before I even look at music is spend time in prayer and listening to God as I ask Him what songs He wants to hear from His children. After this, I look at song lyrics to find the song that conveys the message that God is placing on our pastoral team’s heart to share with the congregation. I then, look at music that conveys this message and then go through the steps of choosing songs to mesh them into the worship set.