Every worship ministry leader should evaluate the congregational music they are teaching their church, but what should be the criteria?
- Guitar-led versus keyboard-led?
- Ease of learning for the band?
The list of possible criteria is endless. Every person would probably have a different take on this question simply from personal experience and preference.
In every church job I have had to evaluate our music to see what was missing or in need of shoring up, and I have yet to completely figure it out myself. There are, however, several criteria that stand out to me.
Teach the whole truth of Scripture through your music.
Over the centuries people have formed their views about God based on their songs. The Solid Rock taught them that Christ is a reliable, faithful, and dependable God. Higher Ground taught them that they needed to be pressing forward in their walk with Christ in anticipation of his coming. It Is Well taught them that even in the midst of extremely difficult times, God was with them.
Theology and doctrine are better caught than taught, and so we must select our music with care, making certain that what we are impressing on people’s hearts through music clearly speaks the truth. Your Grace Is Enough is a standard reminding us that salvation is through grace and not by works. In Christ Alone reminds us that Christ is the only way. Cornerstone gives us the truth of The Solid Rock in a refreshing current setting.
Keep a range of styles or genres in your church’s music rotation.
Every church has a distinct fingerprint in regards to musical style. My friend’s church in California is explicitly a rock-n-roll church. The last church I worked at focused on current and cutting edge music while remaining open to different styles.
The church where I work now has a fingerprint comprised of classical and classic worship elements in one service and more contemporary elements in another service. Diversity is highly valued, however.
Never paint yourself into a corner stylistically. Try new things. Paint with more than one color when it comes to style.
Life has its ups and downs, so the tempi of your songs should vary.
I find it helpful to divide songs up into Fast, Medium, and Slow songs. Just doing Fast songs in a service feels like telling people to perk up even if they are having a bad day. Playing all Slow songs is just depressing. A steady diet of Medium tempo songs is like drinking lukewarm water.
Just as in the area of doctrine you should embrace the whole of Scripture, so through tempo you should acknowledge the span of emotions and life experiences. A response should be in keeping with the element evoking the response. A delicate moment should include softer music, and celebration should be high energy and passionate.
Allow for more current syncopated rhythms and wide ranges, but make certain that the range and the rhythms of the melody are singable.
If the people do not sing with us, we have failed. Recently I introduced All Things New, from Elevation Church. The lyrics have a good message and we needed a song in a slower tempo.
The melody, however, has problems. The range is extremely wide and the melody is not terribly comfortable to sing, so we probably will not bring that song back.
A song like O Praise Him from David Crowder, while having an extremely syncopated melody, works because the melody is strong and moves somewhere. The range is reasonable as well, and the message is good.
These four areas are my primary grid for evaluating new songs. I look at other things as well, but these are the primary touchpoints for me.
What criteria do you use to evaluate the standard worship music at your church?