Teaching new songs to your church can be a difficult bridge to cross for worship leaders. Teach too many new songs and you’ll lose the trust of your congregation, teach too few new songs and you’ll lose the vibrancy that comes with creativity.
How many new songs worship leaders teach and how to teach them are not laid out specifically in scripture so this is an issue that we need to explore and learn from others. The concept of new songs seems to be very important to God and so we should be making this a priority in our churches.
Look what scripture has to say about new songs:
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
you islands, and all who live in them.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
New songs seem to be very important to God in that they indicate how God has changed our lives and demonstrate that He is the source of everything. New songs can indicate that our life used to be about THIS but now my life is about HIM. New songs can demonstrate that God has done THIS and we continue to praise HIM.
We can find several roadblocks when it comes to teaching new songs. Here are just a few:
- How does a worship leader FIND new songs?
- How does a worship leader FILTER new songs?
- How does a worship leader FEATURE new songs?
Let’s work through each of these one a time and see how unlocking these three keys will help every worship leader teach new songs to their congregation.
How do I even find the new songs which are out there? What resources are available to me to discover new songs which are being written for the church?
There are really so many ways to answer this question but let me give you three quick resources which have been helpful for me in finding new worship songs for my church:
- CCLI Top SongSelect Songs
This requires a membership but your church should already be paying for a CCLI license and SongSelect is a small amount to pay on top of that, depending on the size of your congregation. The Top Songs lists those songs which worship leaders around the world are searching for and using in their congregation. By looking at this list every now and then (I usually check it a couple of times a month) you’ll find new songs which are being sung in churches now and you can have confidence that worship leaders are finding these songs are working well.
- Planning Center Online Top Songs
Again, this requires a subscription but if you use Planning Center to plan your services you have access to their top songs which is a compiled list of songs across all of the plans in Planning Center. Essentially this is a snapshot of what the global church is singing each weekend.
- Twitter & Facebook #worshipset hashtag
Each week worship leaders around the world post the songs they are singing and attach #worshipset to the end of their tweet or facebook post. (Facebook hashtags – ooooo!) Scan these posts each week to see titles of new songs which are being sung and to discover what other worship leaders are singing in their church.
Okay so after we FIND all of these songs, how do we decide which ones we sing? How do we FILTER new songs into ones which we will actually use? What are the criteria we can use to help make a decision on whether or not we’re going to use this song to help our congregation worship God passionately?
You should develop your own criteria and if you haven’t yet done this, I’d encourage you as a worship leader to think about the kinds of songs you want your people to sing. Remember that our songs are forming and also informing – that is, they help shape how our congregations view God and also speak to what we believe to be true about Him. You need some kind of filter that will help you decide what kinds of songs you will put in the mouths of your people.
For me and my church, here are three characteristics I want every song to hold:
The lyric of the song must be accurate in its description of who God is and what He has done. The song has to be more than what I do, how I feel, how I will respond and must be centred around, focused on and leading towards the exaltation of Jesus.
Great theology set to a bad melody is useless. The goal of leading worship is worship and that happens partly through singing. If my people are not singing, worship is not happening. (Please note I’m not talking here about worship being more than singing. Certainly it is.) The melody of the song needs to be in a range and at a comfort level that people in my church will sing.
Every song has a lifespan. Some songs are meant to last for generations, some songs are meant to last only for a moment. Either way, the song must be memorable. If the lifespan is generations it will be because the melody, the lyric and the response driven by the song are life-changing. If the lifespan is only a moment – a single Sunday! – it will be because the moment requires that exact song sung to allow changed lives. These moments must be memorable.
You need to find the right combination of theological, singable and memorable when you’re deciding which new songs to teach to your congregation. As a worship leader, this is one of those things that you may get wrong more than you get right but over time you will develop a better sense of the kinds of songs which will work better for your own congregation. Trust the process.
Once we are able to FIND new songs and then FILTER new songs the third key is to FEATURE the new song.
Every church has their own way of doing this – playing the song through before the service begins, having the band play the song once and then asking the congregation to join in, or maybe singing the chorus a few times so the people pick it up as you go. Neither is the wrong way but I don’t do any of these in my church.
When we are teaching a new song at our church we use the 2-1-1 method. I’m not sure if I picked this up from someone else or landed on it by trial and error but the 2-1-1 method goes like this:
Include the song in the service for 2 Sundays.
Take a break from the song for 1 Sunday.
Sing the song again for 1 Sunday.
So over the course of four Sundays you are allowing the congregation to hear and sing it three times. I rarely introduce or setup the song as being new but typically include it where it fits best in the context of the service for those first two Sundays.
This also allows me the opportunity to gauge my church’s response over a month or so rather than deciding whether or not a song will live on in our repertoire after one shot. Sometimes a song will die on that first Sunday but by the fourth Sunday when we bring it back it’s a homerun. Sometimes the song is a hit the first time we sing it but doesn’t have any momentum by the fourth Sunday. Either way I’m glad that I’ve committed to giving the song those three Sundays out of four before deciding whether or not we keep it around.
So there we go. Three keys to teaching new worship songs in your church:
Have those resources available where you can see what songs are being sung in other churches.
Have criteria which will help you decide which songs are chosen to be included.
Give each new song a fair chance by allowing it the opportunity to live or die over several Sundays.
Although I’m not addressing them here, there are often other questions which come up whenever you talk about new songs.
How often should new songs be introduced?
I typically break the year into quarters and will only teach 3 or 4 new songs each quarter. Any more and I find we lose consistency and confidence with our congregation. Any less and I find my song library gets stale and dated.
Who chooses the new songs, the person leading worship, the worship director/pastor or the senior pastor?
At the end of the day, the flock is under the shepherding care of the pastor and the elders. Some churches work best with the pastor recommending and choosing new songs, other churches are setup so that the worship leader that Sunday is giving the freedom and authority to select songs whether they are familiar or new. In our case, the choice of new songs falls on me and I try to include my pastor and other worship leaders in the decision-making process on which songs we keep long-term.
How many new songs can we do in one service?
I generally don’t do more than one new song on any Sunday. If it’s the first Sunday of that 2-1-1 format then that new song will be the only one I do. I might bring a new song in on the Sunday that we are taking a break or the fourth Sunday of the 2-1-1 but generally I won’t do more than one brand new song in a single service.
I hope that’s helpful. I’d love to hear how you teach new songs in your church, what kind of process you’ve developed for introducing those songs and how you are using new songs to equip and encourage your congregation.
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