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?

“We Don’t Have Enough Time for Music in the Service!”

Worship leaders, senior pastors, missions committees, and other church leaders are constantly jockeying for time in the services.  Worship leaders want more time for worship music, but the missions people want to keep the church’s missionaries front and center, and every ministry in the church wants time as well.

I have been playing on worship bands since I was 14.  Back then my dad was planting a church.  Because we were a small church we only had one service.  Also, because my dad, the pastor, loved music, worship music was always a priority.

When my former wife and I left for grad school the church service included about a 45-minute block for worship music at the front of the service, as well as a song after the message.

When we arrived at a new church in Rochester, NY, the service included a 15-minute block for worship music up front with an offering song and a song after the message.

Talk about culture shock and experiencing the polar ends of the spectrum.

The church in Rochester had about 1200 adults attending at the time and had 3 60-minute services in 2 styles.  My dad’s church had grown to 60 people and had just one service that varied in length.

At first I felt things were stifled with the small amount of time, but as time went on I grew comfortable with the change.

Now, 14 years later, a 45-minute block of uninterrupted worship music can even seem a bit long at times.

So I have to ask myself two questions:

  1. What contributed to the change in my thinking?
  2. Is there an optimal length of time for worship music in a service?  Why or why not?

I believe several changes occurred in my thinking and perspective.

  1. Before I moved to New York I believed I as a worship leader created space in the service for the Spirit to move.  Now I believe that the Spirit creates room for himself in the service; we only create room in our hearts.
  2. Before I moved I believed that certain elements in a service had more to do with worship than others.  Now I believe that no service element is in and of itself worshipful.  Elements become worshipful only when the heart of the person is already worshipping.

So is there an optimal length of time for worship music in a service?  You may have guessed by now that this is not the right question.

Instead, ask this question:

What will enable us to create room in our hearts for worship and for the Spirit to move?

Truthfully, you may not like the answer.  Matt Redman has described the now famous story of how his pastor felt their worship music was distracting from the worship service itself (my words).

In a move that would rock any church, he removed the band and sound system from the service for a period of time.  People would simply sit and share songs or Scriptures from their seats as they felt led to do so.

And this was at Soul Survivor, a very large church in England.

Eventually they began add music back in, but their hearts were different.  Matt wrote The Heart of Worship out of this experience.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
and it’s all about you
it’s all about you, Jesus
I’m sorry for the thing I’ve made it
when it’s all about you
all about you, Jesus

The next time you feel tempted to launch into a heated discussion about how the service needs more time for music, stop a moment and ask God what would best help you and those who come to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit.  You might be surprised at the answer.

How have you solved your church discussions about time for worship music in the service?