How to Build a List of Praise and Worship Songs for New and Established Worship Leaders
Unless you are a professional worship leader (and they do exist…people are paid to do that!) you will likely have to squeeze choosing your list of praise and worship songs along with all the other jobs that you do as a worship leader in your church. And perhaps you even stumbled across this post in the hope that you would be able to plunder my own list of praise and worship songs. Sorry, no deal. I have put together some links to other people’s lists if that is what you really want at the bottom of the post, but apart from that you need to find your own way.
In this post I am going to look briefly at what your worship songs should do, and how they contribute to a service. Don’t forget to look at the ethos behind praise and worship songs as that will help you to know what underlies my own method for choosing which new worship songs to include and which to ignore.
Should you just choose your favourites for your praise and worship song list?
Christian worship music is not about choosing your own favourite songs. I am writing from the point of view of a worship leader, and yes I have my own favourites. There are styles I prefer. There are words I like and don’t like. But the bottom line is this:
Does the song help other people to worship God, both in the service and in their own lives outside of the church?
If not, then no matter how much I get out of it, it must be put to one side. That said, if I get NOTHING out of that particular song, I will not choose it either! You might ask at this point, then, am I not contradicting myself? After all, I must decrease and Christ must increase, and all that…
People are led by example. Whilst it is true to say that songs for worship must actually mean something, if I am just going through the motions and don’t actually have empathy for the words that are coming out of my mouth, then it is just wordless sounds. Or, to borrow from Paul, I become a clanging gong. Plenty in the bible about not wasting worship. My options therefore are that I either a) get someone else to do it or b) choose something else.
For this reason, a personal preference and extensive list of songs that DO work for me as well as for the congregation is going to save me a great deal of time when it comes to putting together a service.
I have tried to do it without, to just go to the books each time, but it just becomes a meaningless and pressurised task. I try to go one step further, I become familiar with the songs as much as possible by having them on my iPod (playlist marked worship) and play through all of them occasionally with guitar and vocal. That way I know how I am responding to the songs.
But how should you choose such songs?
Doin' the Choosin'
Assuming that I find them ‘worshipful’ or at least am able to change a more traditional worded song into something that works for me, then I start to explore the words to ensure that they fulfil my criteria of praise and worship songs.
Good so far.
Now lets check out a few facts.
- Does the song go no higher than a top D (or E at a push), and no lower than a bottom C (or B, again pushing it but doable). If it does, do I need to change the key? Remember too that men sing higher than women, even though it is effectively an octave lower, but that is simply the effect of vocal timbre.
- Is the range of notes more than 5? If so, is there a different song?
- Is the key point of doctrine expressed clearly?
- If choosing for a particular service, does the key point of doctrine fit the key point of the sermon? The word is the most important bit, but from liturgy to songs, even the humour in a service must point to the word of God as being the most important.
- Is this a congregational song, or is it written more for a band to perform?
Every congregation is different, so the answers to these questions will vary depending on the congregation. Which is why I cannot give you a definitive list of praise and worship songs!
If I am satisfied that all of these points are met by the song, then it moves to the ‘possibles’ list. I am hoping you are starting to see why now I don’t advocate going through the whole of Mission Praise or Hymns ancient and modern every time you are putting together a songs list. It would simply take too long to make sure that the songs work every time. And I certainly do not endorse the idea that ministers should choose their own songs! Many ministers are not musicians, and they choose hymns based on the idea that the words are good. This is a poor way of choosing songs. Words must work with the music since words are only good if people aren’t stressing over how to sing them! Which moves us to my next stage.
You put the new song out into the open. But even that needs care.
1) Make sure that the band know it. In fact make sure that they love it! They should be able to play it confidently, and you should be able to lead the singing confidently. If you are using CD, or better, CD with backing track, then you need to know where all the verses are going and be able to sing strongly to lead the congregation. You need to know how to worship with that song!
2) Have a plan of how you are going to present it. Are you going to teach it before the service, or within the service? Is it easy enough to be picked up quickly during the service?
3) Is this a song which people will know after the first verse – the tune at least? Will people be confident at singing up? My concern with church worship is that we are their to worship God, we are there to get our doctrine straight so that we can worship God during the week, and finally we are there to encourage one another (Hebrews 10.25). And how can we encourage one another if we just mutter and mumble? Sing up, sing out people! (think football matches and you will soon see how important singing is…)
Launching the new song...
The song is now ready to be launched. Don’t give it a great fanfare. Are there any tricky bits? Don’t tell the congregation! Just do it. You should have worked out all the harder bits by now anyway.
I tend to give a new song the first week to check if it works or not. If people grab it, and seem to have the idea by the last verse (or 3rd time through) it makes it to my ‘new songs to work on’ list. If not, then it gets shelved for a later date. I also go and ask both my band and the congregation after the service ‘what they thought of the new song.’ Don’t take it personally if they don’t like it, or they couldn’t get on with it. And don’t defend it either! From my compiled list, I tend to get my wife to choose the songs simply because then I don’t feel personally to blame if I make wrong choices, which means I can get on with the job of worship leading. And because she is good at it we rarely find a problem.
List of praise and worship songs resources
ccli are the Copyright minders for much Christian music (I have mine taken care of by them) and worship leaders are expected to submit a list of songs that are used in a service or elsewhere so that the writers can be paid from those little licence fees that you all pay. Don’t you? So it’s a good accurate-ish list of what is being used for worship. Start here if you are unsure where to go. Useful resource links are also posted such as guide tracks and chord sheets so that you can buy what you want.
http://hubpages.com/hub/My-Ten-Favorite-Worship-Songs right here on hubpages. This is one writer’s personal view and it's a pretty good list.
12 CD’s of praise and worship music. This is a resource I have found invaluable to creating my own lists of worship music
What to do next with your list of praise and worship songs
The following couple of weeks you will need to repeat the new song. That usually means that you need to have a bank of songs that you are introducing new material to. If you don’t, then I will explain that in a moment. You should repeat songs the following weeks even if they don’t fit with the service because that way you are increasing the congregation’s repertoire of material so that you have more flexibility to choose from in the future. Listen to internet radio, such as www.amplifiradio.com, or listen to new songs from worship central. Anything like that will help you source some new ideas. Old material helps people remember their roots, but new material jars people out of ruts and complacency. You need to find the right balance for your people.
What if you are a new church, or are setting up a worship band for the first time?
Simple is the secret. Keep to the tighter guidelines on song choices. Make sure that the ideas expressed are simple, use simple words, and fit easily with rhythms that work and are simple. Unfortunately many modern songs don’t fit this, and are played offbeat, but some are still pretty easy. Don’t default to old stuff, but don’t ignore it either.
Try to find 20 simple songs that work really well as far as you are concerned – and no, they don’t have to be the best worship songs ever! Introduce 5 the first week. Identify the 3 songs from that bunch that worked really well, and play them the second week, and introduce 2 more from your list. Do the same the third week choosing 3 that worked well and 2 new ones. Do the same for week 4.
Ok, not you have 13 songs that you can choose from, so choose 4 that you have done previously, mixing and matching the songs that received a positive feedback with those that didn’t, and introduce a new song. Do that over the next month. That will take you to 20 songs. During this month you can begin to source some new worship songs (I suggest another 5-10) which a similar in feeling and sound to those which have worked the best so far. At the end of this month you can now strip out the songs which really did not work at all well.
The reason for this approach is simply to make sure that the congregation have a chance to readjust to this different sound of church worship from that which they may be used to. Equally, they may be people who have never sung before, and in which case they will need to get used to the idea that singing is good fun, as well as spiritually uplifting.
At the end of 3-6 months it’s a good opportunity to take a step back and review where you are so far. Do you have a good mix now of bouncy songs with meditative songs? Do they teach sound doctrine? Are there songs in there for children? Strip out the dross, and find some more songs at this point, and move to the method of introducing new songs that I mentioned before.
Last top tip!
I wouldn’t encourage a new band of worship leader to go attending any sort of worship leader conference immediately or before they set out leading worship. You need in some respects to find your own way, and to lead from the heart of the congregation. All the prophets identified with their people, and so must you. To go and learn how to be a worship leader means that you are learning to be a leader in the style of someone else. Rather, you need to go from where your people are. Sure, buy books, but the beauty of books is that you can agree or disagree. Courses that you have invested in are hard to say ‘I think that you are wrong’ to.
However, after 6 months try to hook into something positive. Expose yourself to many different flavours of praise and worship music. Get hold of some new worship songs.
And enjoy the experience.
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