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:
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.
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.
Style. Is this song within the stylistic spectrum of the church? Every church has a stylistic fingerprint, and each song should reinforce the fingerprint.
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.
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?
Evaluating new worship songs for congregational singing is a never ending job. Every day more great songs and lots of mediocre ones are being written, and worship leaders have to sort through them all.
My process of looking for new congregational songs contains two simultaneous processes. For me to present a song to our senior pastor for consideration it has to pass muster on a Quality Evaluation and a Fit Evaluation.
Quality Evaluation is examining the craft of a song from the lyrics to the harmonies. Fit Evaluation is deciding whether or not a song is appropriate for our particular church, given our history, culture, background, and so forth.
For this post let’s take a look at the Quality Evaluation. I will address the Fit Evaluation in a following post.
In a Quality Evaluation I look for five things:
Great Lyrics. Theologically sound and emotionally gripping. Grammatically clear. There is some give and take in quality between elements of a song, but certain things, such as the theology of the lyrics, must never be compromised.
Great Melody. Natural phrasing, reasonable range, fits the text well.
Great Harmony. The harmony does not need to be complex; it simply needs to take us somewhere. The harmony needs to be married well with the text, just like the melody.
Great Rhythm. What is the overriding rhythm to this song? Does it stick in your head and your gut? Does it match the mood of the text?
Great Hook. A memorable song has a great musical gesture, whether that gesture is in the introduction, the melody, or some instrumental interlude somewhere in the song. Some songs can survive without a great hook if all the other elements are excellent.
Once a song passes muster on these five points you can then do a Fit Evaluation. We will take a look at that process in a later post.
Browse through your songlist (if you are a worship leader) and see how the songs measure up in these five areas. If you are comfortable with it, please share the results and your action plan with us.