How to Evaluate Worship Songs, Part 2

Thousands of songs are being written every week, and choosing which ones to introduce to your congregation is like the cliché: searching for a needle in a haystack.

Choosing the right songs usually focuses on the merits of the song itself, as we discussed in a previous post. The individual merits of a song, however, are not enough to deem a song appropriate for your congregation.

After evaluating songs for Quality we must also evaluate them for Fit. 

What does Fit mean?

Think of this analogy. When we hire a new employee we not only look for their professional qualifications and recommendations but also their fit with the existing staff. Does the potential employee complement the skills of the existing staff? Is he aligned with the mission of the organization? Does he add to or detract from staff chemistry?

We must evaluate songs in the same way.

Here are 5 things to consider when evaluating a song for Fit:

  1. Alignment. Does this song promote the current purposes of the church? Just as every staff member and volunteer must be moving in the same direction, every song must support the same mission.
  2. Chemistry. Does this song meet a specific need or address a particular weakness in the current repertoire? Types of needs could be tempo, theme, style, instrumentation, and so forth.
  3. Style. Is this song within the stylistic spectrum of the church? Every church has a stylistic fingerprint, and each song should reinforce the fingerprint.
  4. Difficulty. Is this song at an appropriate difficulty level for the worship team? Is the melody learnable for the congregation? Many great quality worship songs are just beyond the ability of a worship team to handle. Israel Houghton’s band will be able to do more difficult music than most bands, for instance.
  5. Stretch. Is this song intended to stretch the congregation or worship team in some way? While numbers 1-4 focus on a song’s fit within the current musical repertoire of a church, some songs should stretch those normal boundaries in appropriate and thoughtful ways. NOTE: “Stretch” songs should be few and far between.

What other criteria do you use when evaluating a song for Fit?

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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?

Rehearsal Leadership for Beginners

Learning to lead a band rehearsal can be a hazardous process.

First of all, accepting the title of “leader” can feel like taking a target and taping it to your shirt.  You get to answer all of the questions and settle all of the disputes.

Once you have accepted that reality you must become comfortable with sharing your heart with people who are not always in your inner circle of friends.  This experience can feel much like undressing in front of strangers (not that I have, but just saying).

Deal with that and you still have not even begun deciding how to structure the rehearsal.

Help?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, let me tell you that I constantly deal with the first two issues.  If you are human you will need to occasionally revisit those things.

What you can do, however, is develop a rehearsal process that is clear and does not add stress to an already challenging experience.

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Begin on time.  No matter who is there always begin on time.  The key to valuing volunteers is valuing their time.  Those who are late should not penalize those who are on time.  Later that week (NOT after rehearsal) call those who were late and ask them to step up.  They are holding everyone else back.
  2. Always begin with prayer and a brief devotional.  By brief I mean 5-10 minutes maximum followed by 5-10 minutes of sharing and prayer.  The goal of this time is two-fold: 1) to enable everyone to deal with the baggage they bring with them, and 2) to emphasize that our focus is on Christ and worship and not on ourselves or perfection.  Treat your worship team like a small group.
  3. Deal efficiently with sound checks.  One of the most frustrating parts of a rehearsal can be getting the technical issues straight.  Cut this one off at the pass and meet with the technicians ahead of time to decide how you are going to handle set up and sound checks.  Set a time limit that is reasonable but preferably short.  I prefer to have my musicians arrive 15 minutes before rehearsal begins to set up and plug in so time is not lost within rehearsal.  Do not assume anything; communicate, communicate, communicate.
  4. Methodically go through each congregational song. 
    1. If the band has had a recording to work with in preparation, or if the song is familiar, play straight through the song without stopping.
    2. As soon as you end direct them to any major meltdown areas and play through those areas until they are comfortable.
    3. If things sounded fine to you, ask if anyone has an area they want to revisit.
    4. Finally play through the song once more without stopping.
  5. Play congregational sets through.  After you have worked through each congregational song individually, play through any groupings of songs in the service in order to get the transitions figured out and to get the feel of doing the songs as a group.
  6. Work up the special or performance tune, if you have one.  Leave at least 30 minutes for this.  You may even want to play the recording through once before you start, if that would help.
  7. End on time.  The best way you can value a volunteer is to end on time.  If you find you are consistently running over in time, ask yourself several questions:
    1. Am I leading the rehearsal effectively?  Usually there is something we as leaders can do better.
    2. Is the music too hard?  Quite often I have found that I want to do too much hard music for my team and I have had to pull back.
    3. Are we trying to do too much music?  Playing 4 songs well is much better than playing 6 songs moderately well.
    4. Have I allocated enough time for rehearsal?  2 hours should be a given.  1.5 is too short, and 2.5 is really long.
    5. Can we improve how we work with the technicians?  Sometimes the key to improving rehearsals is working more closely with the sound technicians to prepare more effectively for rehearsal.

Ultimately leading rehearsals is a lifetime learning process.  Hang in there.  You can do it.

What rehearsal leadership tips do you have for beginning rehearsal leaders?