A few weeks ago, WorshipIdeas.com celebrated an 11-year anniversary. The first WorshipIdeas newsletter went out to about 400 people on Feb. 11, 2002. Here’s the article I wrote for the second issue. I used examples of popular praise songs of the day—apply the same principles to the latest Tomlin and Hillsong United tunes.
It’s so easy to slap your congregation’s favorite songs together and call it worship. Not that this is necessarily bad. Once in a while, this method makes for a fun worship service, kind of like an old-time Sunday night singspiration. But with just a little extra thought, you can take your worship to the next level by guiding your congregation through a worship experience.
I like to go somewhere during worship. Start here, end up there. Give the congregation a spiritual, musical and emotional journey. Consider these ideas for planning a worship flow.
Find a foundation song for the praise set. Determine if there’s a theme you want to explore, a sermon topic, holiday or a song God may have put on your heart. These ideas will reveal a song or two that will become your foundation for the set.
Is this foundation song upbeat or slow? If slow, you might want to put the song in the middle or end of your set and piece other songs together that lead toward it. If fast, pick another song or two that will thematically form an upbeat opening to your set.
Now, try these methods for linking songs together to make a worship set:
Text link: First, look at the lyrics (if considering a hymn, look at the first and last verses). Are there any key words or phrases that suggest another song? Example: The last few lines of the first verse to “You Are My All in All” read: “Seeking You as a precious jewel/Lord, to give up, I’d be a fool/You are my all in all.” These words connect nicely with the song “More Precious Than Silver.” In our praise sets, we’ll do both verses of “All in All” mid-tempo. Then we’ll slow down and do a reprise of the first verse. We’ll follow with a prayerful rendition of “More Precious Than Silver.” In this case, the word “precious” is the text link that ties the two songs together.
Thematic link: Identify a theme and build your praise set around it. Themes such as grace, praise, mercy and love can be used to inspire entire sets. Try using your hymnal’s topical index for ideas. Integrity’s and Word’s “Celebration Hymnal” has a topical index with hymns and choruses, as does Word’s “Songs for Praise & Worship.”
Response link: Determine the thematic thrust of the song and choose a song that will answer it. Sing the song to yourself and think, “Where do I naturally want to go next? How do I want to respond?” Example: You might follow the hymn “My Savior’s Love” with a response of “I Love You, Lord.” After singing and contemplating with the hymn all that Jesus has done for us, we would naturally want to respond with a simple song like “I Love You, Lord.”
Tempo link: Join songs together based on similar rhythm and tempo. Be careful with this one, as you might combine songs that flow together but have completely different themes. Not necessarily bad (the singspiration idea), but we’re trying to have a purpose in our praise sets, aren’t we?
Of course, not every song needs to connect in a perfect flow. But just two or three songs that fit together will enhance your worship. Your congregation will notice and appreciate your effort (even if they don’t tell you!).
Bottom line: Craft a praise set that will take your congregation on a spiritual journey. Link songs by text, theme, response and tempo.