It’s kind of a tired discussion—setlists, songs and how many new songs to lead. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just that my world revolves around picking setlists and finding songs. If I’m honest, I look forward to days I don’t have to pick out a setlist. It feels like vacation.
But this one activity we do day in and day out is something we can’t lose interest in or give up on.
Songs are important. Church aside, consider the prominence that songs have in our culture. Movies wouldn’t make sense without them. Sporting events would lack energy without them. Moments rarely pass without hearing some type of music. From department store background music, to wedding ceremonies and concert halls. From iPhones to elevators, dance clubs to churches, songs are the single most important vehicle of communication and connection in the world.
All of a sudden, “What songs are we singing on Sunday?” carries more weight, doesn’t it?
From a biblical perspective, songs tell the story of the Gospel and frame our worldview each week. And while I don’t buy the argument that every worship leader is a theologian (don’t give us that much credit, unless you are one), we are influencing the theological framework of our people on a weekly basis.
When a young couple has a miscarriage, our songs give them voice.
When an elderly woman is widowed, our sings give her voice.
When a 9-year-old boy is diagnosed with cancer, our songs give him voice.
Songs of lament, songs of faith, songs of truth, songs of hope.
While it’s rather common to daydream and zone out during a sermon (sorry preachers), songs stick in your psyche even when you’re not actively listening.
Music is powerful. Friedrich Nietzsche himself (who said “God is dead”) states:
God has given us music so that above all it can lead us upwards. Music unites all qualities: It can exalt us, divert us, cheer us up or break the hardest of hearts with the softest of its melancholy tones. But its principal task is to lead our thoughts to higher things, to elevate, even to make us tremble. … The musical art often speaks in sounds more penetrating than the words of poetry, and takes hold of the most hidden crevices of the heart. … Song elevates our being and leads us to the good and the true.
Guiding Principles in Choosing Songs
So what are some guiding principles we can abide by in this continual act of picking out songs to sing?
1. Realize the Power of Familiar
What is the sweet spot of how many new songs to lead? When is a song finished? How do I know if my congregation is sick of a song? You may not know the answer to these questions, but one thing is sure: There is something powerful about familiar music.
I know we artistic types value being “different” and “creative.” But that very well may work against you in your local church.
There are actually scientific studies related to the power of predictable and familiar music.
John Seabrook, in his book The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, says,
Familiarity with the song increases one’s emotional investment in it, even if you don’t like it.
If people know a song well, they feel more invested in it emotionally and will respond more. You and your team might be sick of a song, but realize that your congregation is just catching on and the song might give you the most traction after you’ve sung it 17 times.