How to Select Songs for Worship Services

Every week worship leaders select songs for upcoming worship services.  The process of selecting songs can be an enormous task, complicated by well-meaning people offering not-always-so-helpful opinions on what songs to use.

Just the other day I met a gentleman for the first time.  After a few minutes of conversation, he says, “Make certain that the first song and the last song of every worship service are familiar ones.  Starting with an unfamiliar song just taints the rest of the music.”

This gentleman is not a member of any worship group, and, by his own admission, has not been involved in music since high school.  He does, however, feel that he has the right to share his opinion on the music and that his opinion is right.

Worship leaders everywhere experience these kinds of comments and interjections every week.

Pastors are constantly talking about wanting to hear and see the congregation be more involved in the music.

Musicians want fresh music and not the same old stuff every week.

Members want to sing their favorite songs.

So how do you choose songs in the middle of this continual and usually all-over-the-map feedback?

Here are a few things I consider in my planning.

  • Be able to fully articulate what the service is about and what you hope to accomplish in the service.
  • Know the congregation’s favorite music.
  • Know your pastor’s musical tendencies.
  • Pray before planning.  Always.
  • Read the related Scriptures thoroughly and note what phrases and ideas jump out to you.
  • In general, begin every service with an up-tempo song focused on who God is.
  • In general, end each service with something uplifting and at least medium up-tempo.
  • If you have three songs in a set often the first song should look up at God, the second should focus on how God interacts with us, and the third should be our personal response to God.
  • Introduce on average one new song (new to the congregation) a month.  Repeat new songs immediately the following week.
  • Courageously cut tired songs.
  • Ruthlessly scrutinize the theology of your songs.
  • Do not take critical comments about music personally.
  • Do not take yourself too seriously.
  • Hold loosely to what you plan.  God can run the universe without you, so he can probably work in a worship service even if you have to change what you had planned.
  • Keep the difficulty level of the music reasonable for your worship team.
  • Keep the melodies of congregational songs no higher than D.
  • Make certain that song melodies are singable.

These are just a few ideas.

What guidelines do you consider in selecting songs for congregational singing?

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2 thoughts on “How to Select Songs for Worship Services

  1. Some great general advice here Maurice! I’m walking with some of students through a similar process right now, and fully resonate with everything you’ve said!

    Now comes your advice time… Do you think, in regards to worship, that a weekly college worship service should be approached differently from a weekly church worship service?

    • I don’t see them as any different. In each case there should be an overriding vision for what you are trying to accomplish, and your planning should support that. In each case you want life change, and in each case you are training musicians and worship leaders.

      Thanks for the question! What’s your thought on the matter, or Newby’s , for that matter?

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