I think its fair to say that we all love new music. Even if your church doesn’t introduce new songs very often, new worship music is refreshing and needed. For one, it’s a demonstration of the Spirit’s work. This in turn inspires songwriters across the globe to create and write songs for the big “C” church. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 96 to “sing a new song unto the Lord.” Plus, it helps those of us getting older feel as though we can still throw down with the latest Hillsong/Elevation/Planet Shakers/Bethel synth groove. I’m sort of kidding, but sort of not.
However, we must learn to practice caution when moving forward with this conversation, because every church is on a different journey and thus must practice wisdom when selecting songs. A core value of my church that I wholeheartedly adhere to when introducing new songs is: we value each and every generation. This isn’t something regulated to just what we offer for different age groups throughout the week, but also what we do together when gathered on Sunday mornings to sing and worship together. Our calling as worship leaders is to help lead and teach others in the worshipping of Christ through song. We have to consider how accessible and engaging those songs actually are to our various age groups.
Furthermore, there’s no shortage of new music coming out these days. It feels as though every Tuesday on iTunes there’s another five great songs you could introduce to your church that would be successful. But if we’re honest, this can often be very overwhelming for a worship leader. It’s a never-ending cycle, and you’ll always feel like you’re running to catch up.
With too many new songs or a poor vision on how to introduce new songs, people won’t engage. Additionally, when you keep your song selection older, you risk becoming stale and disengaging younger generations. At the end of the day, I love seeing both young and old together on Sunday mornings singing their hearts out to the Lord. And it’s partly the worship leader’s responsibility to help create those moments.
With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when thinking through new songs:
Vision. Before you make any noise on Sunday morning or plan out your church’s liturgy, please make sure that you are aligned with the vision that the Lord has given to your lead pastor. This is key. You must be on the same page. If not, it will be a constant push/pull relationship. And it may even lead to disobedience and sin. The importance of vision alignment also comes down to the theology. Be sure you’re thinking through all the biblical accuracy of the songs you’re singing. Make sure they align first with Scripture and secondly to your church’s vision. Don’t assume that all songs are Scripturally accurate.
Values. What value does your church place on the singing or music portion of your Sunday morning gathering? Do they value new music? Do you even know if they value new music? One of the four core values of our home church is worship. We place a high value on an engaging time of corporate singing and worship. Whether we’re introducing a new song or singing familiar ones, we’ve worked hard at making congregational involvement a part of our DNA. For us, Sunday mornings aren’t a spectator sport. So if you value involvement in worship through song, here are four tips I hope will be beneficial to you and your congregation.
Tip #1: I’d suggest not introducing more than two new songs per month. This is a practice we’ve been able to refine that fits best with the culture we’ve built. Just make sure that the weeks you’re introducing the new songs—your other songs on the list are well-known.
Tip #2: Play the song for two weeks straight, then break for one week, and then again for a third time. If the song hasn’t really caught on by the third time you’ve sung it, take it out of your rotation. (This practice is something pretty common in worship circles.)
Tip #3: Try introducing songs by doing them acoustically during or after your teaching pastor’s message. Allow the words and music to be sung “over” your people. You don’t have to expect involvement from your people during these times. It’s also sometimes beneficial to nix the full band so it doesn’t pull the people’s attention away from the lyrics and melody. These have often been especially powerful times for us.
Tip #4: Avoid starting a service with a new song. There’s no better way to cripple a song even before you’ve sung it than to open your service with it. I know people may disagree with that idea. But try new songs in the second or third spot in your list. They have a far better chance of staying in your rotation.
I pray these tips and ideas are helpful and can assist you when thinking through introducing new songs. Please know I didn’t pull these from some top-secret handbook on worship leader. Rather, these have come from things I’ve learned in my unique role and in my unique experiences. I am constantly thinking through these ideas and refining them as the Spirit leads and our church goes through different seasons.