How to Evaluate Your Church’s Music

Every worship ministry leader should evaluate the congregational music they are teaching their church, but what should be the criteria?

  • Style?
  • Tempo?
  • Guitar-led versus keyboard-led?
  • Singability?
  • Ease of learning for the band?
  • Newness?

Blue Hollow-Body Electric Guitar

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.

Doctrine

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.

Genre

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.

Tempo

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.

Singability

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?

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Two Great Sources for Music You’ve Never Heard

Are you like me?  How many times have you been accused of being stuck in the same style, hooked on the same songs, tied to that one band?  “All he plays in Tomlin songs!”  “Hillsong United is not the second coming of the Messiah.  Don’t they ever play music by any other bands?”  “I can’t stand that Lincoln Brewster bubblegum rock music.”  “Do we HAVE to play Shout to the Lord again?”  “Ugh, it’s another one of his original songs.  I definitely don’t know what is original about them.”  And on . . and on . . and on.

I want to share some great resources with you, but before I do that you have to decide several things.  Without these decisions my suggestions will be useless to you.

You will never satisfy everyone, so give up.  You (and everyone who has to deal/live/work with you) will be much happier.  Those few malcontents will continue to spew poisonous comments in the guise of “helping” you.  Cull what instructive notes you can from their comments and then carefully dispose the rest in your hazardous waste containers under the church stage.  (You do have those, don’t you?)

Objectively take stock of your repertoire.  You may need help from a trusted friend who is in your corner for this.  Find the weaknesses and strengths in your list.  “We have lots of songs about the greatness of God, but we have absolutely nothing reflecting on communion.”  “We have 95 thrash rock songs and 1 ballad.  Maybe we should introduce some slower songs.”

Whittle down your repertoire.  300 songs is too much.  Period.  Even if you use a hymnal you should not be trying to use all 600 hymns in a given year.  Keep the songs which you think will best help the church move forward, then remove the others to make room for newer songs.

Identify one type of song to add to your repertoire.  Baby steps.  Do not get overwhelmed with the options.  Just decide to add one or two ballads, one or two intimate worship songs, whatever.

Don’t yell at the “helpful” people in your congregation.  You need to quit drinking hat-er-ade.  Thank them for sharing their thoughts with you and tell them you will think and pray over their ideas.  Then think and pray over them!

OK, so once you have made it through those stages you will be ready to look for new music.  Here are two sources I am currently finding useful for keeping my ears fresh.

Pandora.  This is a “duh” moment for some of you, since you are probably already using this great tool.  Enter in a song like ones you need to find and see what Pandora comes up with.  Do the same with artists and styles.  I just got back to using Pandora, and I am loving it.

NPR’s All Songs Considered Podcast.  I just discovered this resource and I loved the first podcast I listened to with snippets of Norah Jones’ upcoming album and Sigur Ros’s new music, along with a crazy wide collection of other styles.

No, these are not necessarily Christian sources.  You will not go to hell for listening to secular music.  You have sung Happy Birthday a million times; it is a secular song and you are apparently still a Christian.

All snarkiness aside, the point is that you need to stretch your ears constantly if you want to keep from getting stuck in a rut.  Do it, and you can tell all of the nay-say-ers that you are actively pursuing new music.  That response is probably better than telling them to put a cork in it.

What resources do you use to refresh your ears and your repertoire?