Further thoughts on this week’s episode of the podcast. Give it a listen for context.
Most worship songs we sing these days follow some form of pop songwriting ethic. Even the most “out there” worship songs can be linked to some similar sounding thing in popular music. But not all the pop stuff transfers equally. Not only do worship songs differ from pop songs, I find that pop songwriting techniques often work against congregational singing.
So, as much as we may enjoy the song-craft and twisty life of pop music, it helps to know the difference when we all start singing together.
Pop songs prioritize cleverness. Worship songs prioritize credibility.
A good pop song works best when it’s a little bit smarter (or faster) than you are. That lyric or melodic bridge takes you by surprise and in doing so, wins your affection. Worship songs don’t need to do that because when people are singing with you, they’re not waiting for you to deliver. They are participating in worship, which means the song simply needs to feel credible. It needs to feel like something they want (or need) to say to God.
Pop songs thrive with precise arrangement. Worship songs thrive with flexibility.
Pop songs benefit from skilled performance. That last chorus works so beautifully because the chord structure in the bridge was crafted to lift the final movement of the song to a new “fifth gear.” Pop songs work when they end well. But worship songs don’t necessarily do that. Worship songs very often work best when they can be adapted to the needs of the congregation. Maybe slower, maybe down a half step, maybe stripped to just a verse and chorus. Worship songs work best when they’re malleable.
Pop songs need hooks. Worship songs need themes.
A solid musical hook will absolutely delight a crowd of people. But it won’t necessarily make them come back to the song over and over. Short of nostalgia, most songs that “don’t say anything”—despite having a good hook—end up being mere tag lines for the rest of their lives. Worship songs need themes—they need to talk about things that matter to people. The reason Bob Dylan is so revered isn’t because of his tasty musical hooks—it’s because people resonate with the themes in his songs. Worship songs have to be about something.
Pop songs can say nothing or everything. Worship songs can’t do either.
It really doesn’t matter what your pop song is about. If it’s crafted well, it’ll probably get folks hyped, and this is why worship songwriting is harder than pop songwriting. A worship song about nothing isn’t going to bless and challenge your people and a worship song about everything is going to confuse them. Finding that singular-yet-universal focus in a worship song is one of God’s good gifts, and your people will love it!
Grow in your writing. Challenge yourself. Take all the classes, watch all the videos, go to all the seminars, but remember that writing for your people is something unique that many people don’t know how to do. Trust God to teach you!
This article originally appeared here.