Recently, I shared some thoughts on why we repeat things when we’re singing. Simply put, the Bible encourages it.
But there is such a thing as too much repetition, and it can be a valid criticism that worship leaders repeat things too much.
So how do worship leaders know whether to repeat or not repeat? I’ll try to get very practical here:
1. Assume that once is enough
Your baseline for a song should be to sing through it once. Simple.
2. Repeat something that’s unfamiliar
One way to think about leading discerningly is this way: Effective worship leaders have four antennae up the entire time they’re up front. One for the Holy Spirit’s leading, one for the musicians who are leading alongside, one for the congregation and one for the pastor.
If your congregation antennae tells you that they didn’t quite get that first verse or that chorus (i.e. it’s still new or the lyrics weren’t up in time), then it’s probably a good idea to sing it again.
3. Repeat something the Holy Spirit wants to drive home
Using your Holy Spirit antennae, as you’re singing through the song, be sensitive for his prodding and prompting. For me, this comes in the form of a gut-sense that the Holy Spirit wants to drive a particular point home that we didn’t fully grasp the first time.
For example, recently at my church we were singing the Matt Maher song “Christ is Risen.” At our second service, when we got to the second verse and we sang the line “In strength You reign; forever, let your Church proclaim …” I had the sense that we should sing that line again. We hadn’t rehearsed it, we hadn’t repeated it at the first service, and I hadn’t ever repeated that line of the song before (and our church really likes that song, so we’ve sung it a bunch of times).
But I was pretty sure that the Holy Spirit was telling me that we should repeat that line a few times. And so we did, and the band followed right along, and the choir and congregation did too, and the lyrics operator kept those lyrics on the screen, and as we sang that statement three times in a row, there was a palpable sense of faith and celebration building in the room. It propelled us into the chorus as we continued singing, “Christ is risen from the dead! Trampling over death by death!”
That little bit of repetition made a big difference. But on the other hand …
4. Be aware that too much repetition works against you
One time: baseline.
Two times: Can be helpful depending on the group.
Three times: You’re pushing it.
Four times: You’ve crossed the line (unless you’re in a Pentecostal church).
Five times: You’re in your own world.
Six times: You’ll never be asked to lead worship at this church again.
Once you start repeating things, be aware that you have to gauge whether or not your repetition will be adding or subtracting from the effect you’re hoping to achieve. Effective repetition is an underline. Ineffective repetition is white out.
5. Be aware of your congregation’s and musicians’ comfort level
If your congregation isn’t used to repeating anything, use repetition sparingly. Same for your musicians. Gradually get them used to the idea with practice, and by repeating only what’s really important, to show them how it can be helpful.
6. Are they still hungry?
There are times my two-and-a-half year old daughter won’t eat anything. Sometimes it’s because, while she is hungry, she doesn’t realize how good the food on her plate is. But sometimes it’s because she’s actually not hungry.
When you’re leading a song, try to be aware if they’re still hungry or not. Sometimes by repeating something you can help them realize what they’re missing and then they’ll gobble it up. Other times, by repeating something, you’re trying to pry their mouths open and force it down.
7. Favor repeating objective truth over subjective responses
Think to yourself when you’re leading worship: Is there anything we’ve sung that we’d benefit from reminding ourselves about again? By repeating the truth about who God is and what he’s done for us in Jesus Christ we allow “the word of Christ dwell in (us) richly” (Colossians 3:16).
And that really is the point of repetition—to let the word of Christ dwell richly in our hearts. It’s not to work people into a frenzy or a mindless state, but to help them grab hold of the glory of God by helping them sing with understanding.
Wisely—and discerningly—using repetition as a tool, worship leaders can pastorally point their congregations to the one who is worthy of unending praise. May our use of repetition point to Jesus as an underliner, a highlighter and a spotlight.