Introducing New Songs in Worship
Finding and Introducing New Worship Music
Why is it important to introduce new music to your church?
Simply put, it is biblical to sing new songs. Psalm 96:1-3 says this:
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
Before I lose some of you, I just want to note that I am NOT advocating that we throw out all of the songs from years past. I believe that songs have the ability to remind us of what the Lord has done in our lives and reflect on His glory.
The most important things to consider as a worship leader/pastor when you choose songs are: the congregation you serve, your motivation for choosing the songs, and the biblical principles in the songs.
Knowing the congregation
Music is a language. If we are speaking a different musical language than the people we are called to minster to, we will likely not be very effective. The point here is not that we need to play everyone’s favorite genre of music to entertain them. What I’m saying is, the songs we choose need to be appropriate for the people we are called to serve. Across regions; age demographics; and cultures, the style of music can and should look very different. Your music might look drastically different than the church down the street and that’s okay. You aren’t called to serve the same people. No musical style is inherently better or worse than another. However, there may be styles that are more appropriate or less appropriate based on your ministry context.
Knowing your motivation
Our motivation behind choosing new songs is just as important as the songs themselves. If you simply choose songs based on what you like the most, you may be missing out on what will best serve your congregation. It is important that you believe the songs you are singing and are able to sing them passionately. However, your personal preferences should not be your biggest motivating factor in introducing new songs.
People interact with music throughout the week in a completely different way than they do with what is preached or taught on stage in service. These songs will hopefully become the prayers, celebrations, and declarations of your local church community. That’s why song choice is important.
Here are a few filters that I put songs through before I consider introducing them on a Sunday morning.
Is this song true?
Do the lyrics of this song convey truth about God? I’ll cover this more under the section on Biblical principles.
Is this song appropriate for the congregation I serve?
This goes back to the first section about knowing your congregation. Some of the best songs may not fit your church’s culture and that’s okay.
Is it singable by the congregation and playable by the band?
The newest song from Hillsong Young & Free may sound awesome and have great words. However, if your band is an organist and pianist, it may not be the best for your church. Also, some songs are really difficult to sing along with if you aren’t very familiar with them. If your church learns new songs quickly this may not be as big of an issue in your context. The heart of this point is to remove unnecessary barriers to participation in worship.
Do I have too many/not enough songs on this topic?
A big part of pastoring your congregation as a worship leader is giving your congregation a healthy diet of different types of songs. Big songs of celebration and thanksgiving can be appropriate and up-lifting, but your church also needs space to sing about being in the valley and dealing with hard things (see the book of Psalms). If all of your songs lean toward one topic or mood, try to diversify your song rotation.
These are just a guideline that I think through when considering a new song. Some songs may pass the test and still not resonate with your church, and that’s okay.
The most important consideration when introducing a new song is its lyrical content. A song can fit stylistically with your church’s culture but unless it aligns with the truth of the Word, it will be a poor decision to include it in your rotation. Hopefully that’s not something I have to try too hard to convince you of.
I’m not advocating that every song needs to be verbatim from the Bible. However, a solid song can be easily backed up with scripture. I find the best songs for my congregation to be the ones that are very obviously tied to a passage of scripture. When I introduce a new song, I will often share a few verses that apply to the lyrics. Check out Josh’s Article over Speaking during worship to get a better idea of how to speak into songs for worship.
One of the points of feedback I often receive: people love hearing why we’re singing the songs we sing. Bringing it back to the Bible gives the song more weight and value than assuming everyone knows what it’s talking about. One great example is “Another in The Fire” from Hillsong United’s new album, People. One chorus says this:
There was another in the fire
Standing next to me
There was another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
Of how I've been set free
There is a cross that bears the burden
Where another died for me
There is another in the fire
The words are very powerful—if you’ve grown up in church and know the stories it’s based on. When I introduced this song for the first time I read Daniel 3:24-25 before we sang it:
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
I’m sure most people would have been able to figure out what the song was talking about had I not read those verses. What it did was put the song in perspective. It gave people context for what we were singing.
We sang “Another in The Fire” for the first time on a Wednesday night, the week after it was released. I am fairly confident very few, if anyone, in the service had heard the song before. They sang it like they had known it for years. I attribute this to the power of the Word inspiring them to worship.
Practical Tips on Introducing New Songs
When introducing new songs, every church will be slightly different. There is no one right way to introduce new music to your church. There are definitely many wrong ways. What follows is how I approach it, what I’ve seen work, and what I’ve seen fail.
One thing to consider is how many songs you currently have in your rotation. My church generally does a four song worship set before the message. I try to keep our normal rotation to about 40-45 songs for the year (not including Christmas music). There are also songs I don’t consider in our normal rotation, but I know everyone will be familiar with. For example, How Great Is Our God, 10,000 Reasons, Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone), etc. So for the year we normally will hit about 50-55 songs.
My general rule is that if I add a song to the rotation, I try to take one out. Think about it. If over the next five years, I added 15 songs every year, my church (and band) would have to know 125+ songs at any given time. We wouldn’t even play through all of the songs twice in a year.
Your numbers may look different depending the size of your weekly set list and how often you add new songs. The principle here is that it’s probably not a good idea to continue adding songs to an ever growing rotation without evaluating your current songs and removing some periodically.
METHOD FOR INTRODUCING NEW SONGS
When I’ve decided on a song to introduce, I try to be methodical about teaching it to the congregation without burning them out. I find that one, or sometimes two, new songs in a month is about the limit for my congregation. Yours may be different. If I introduce a new song I try to repeat it the next week or I’ll skip a week before I play it again. Then I will wait two to three weeks before playing it a third time. By the third time I have a pretty good idea if the song resonates with our church or not. I would encourage you to be mature enough to retire a song that doesn’t work well even if it passes all the tests of being a “good song.”
After playing a song three times, I generally will add it into the normal rotation. For us, that looks like playing a song about every six to eight weeks. I keep track of this on Planning Center using the Matrix view to see the past eight weeks or so, and the Reports view to look at the previous 12 months of songs.
The Reports view will show you how many times you’ve played a song within a specific range of dates and when you played it. It also helps you keep track of how many total songs you have used to evaluate your song rotation. It will even give you an average number of songs you use each week to help you figure out how many songs you should have in your rotation. All of this may be too in depth for you, but I’m a numbers person.
What is at the center of this conversation is making sure we don’t oversaturate our congregation with too many new songs to the point that they can’t keep up. For many people “regular” church attendance has become one or two times a month. While I don’t think we should focus our entire ministry around this reality, we should be aware of it. If you do a new song every week, those on the fringes may miss five or six of them over a couple of months. It puts up another barrier for them to participate in the worship service.
EQUIPPING YOUR CHURCH
It’s one thing to hope that your congregation will learn the songs on their own. It’s another thing to be intentional about helping them do it. I try to equip my congregation to come prepared to participate in worship every week. I use social media and our website to help facilitate this. I have a page on our website dedicate to worship music. On it I have a YouTube playlist embedded on the page where people can listen to the set list for the upcoming week. I also have a Spotify playlist of all of the songs on our current rotation as well as songs I hope to introduce in the future.
When I know we are introducing a new song, I will normally feature that song on social media to give people an opportunity to listen and learn it prior to Sunday morning. What this does is remove people’s ability to complain about not knowing the songs and cuts down on the amount of blank stares from the congregation.
What I’ve come to realize is that it’s a lot easier to blame the congregation for not participating in worship than to take responsibility to shepherd them and equip them to worship well. It’s extremely rewarding to see your church grow in being passionate about worshipping. What helps us get there is to lose the victim mentality that people don’t like us or don’t care about our ministry. It’s easy for people to not care about something they don’t know how or why they should do it. Instead, be intentional about educating and equipping your church to worshippers.
Practical Tips on Finding New Music
I had the opportunity to pick up a very popular worship artist from the airport once. On the way to our destination I asked him about what music he was currently listening to. He said “Ehh, I don’t really listen to that much music.” I was floored. I listen to a ton of music, worship or otherwise, and just assumed that everyone who plays music loves to listen as much as I do. With that being said, I realize now that that’s not necessarily true. So my first tip is to love music, and listen to as much as you can.
One of the tools I use to discover new music is Spotify. Here’s how I go about it: take all of the worship music you know and love and start making playlists. Follow your favorite worship bands and check out their profile. When you follow them, Spotify will email you when they add any new songs. You can also view similar artists under the area that says “Fans Also Like” to discover groups you may have not heard of before.
The best part about Spotify is its playlists. There are a lot of different organizations and individuals that have Spotify playlists of different kinds of worship music. A few notable ones are WorshipNow by Spotify, 24/7 Worship Music by Bethel Music, and Worship at Work by SOZO Playlists.
Spotify will also generate playlists based off your listening history. If you go to the “Made For You” tab, you can follow “Discover Weekly” and “Release Radar.” Both playlists are updated every week and unique to you and your listening habits. Discover Weekly will be music that is new to you but not necessarily a new release, while Release Radar is focused on new music that is released every week. Both are great for helping you find music outside of what you normally gravitate toward.
I’ve created a playlist of new worship music that I add to weekly that you can access here. I’ll be keeping it updated with any new releases and discoveries I find.
Another tool I use to stay up to date with new music is social media. I find Instagram to be the most useful platform for me to discover music, but you may find that you prefer another site. I would start by following your favorite bands or artists. Most well-known groups do a great job promoting and advertising but some rely more on self-promotion. Keeping up with them on social media ensures that you won’t miss a new release.
I also enjoy following the personal accounts of some of the worship leaders from different collectives. A few I follow are Cory Asbury, Jeremy Riddle, Cody Carnes, and Pat Barrett. Apart from hearing about their new releases, I like being able to see into what their day to day lives look like. I have often seen them post personal stories or explanations of songs they’ve written that can help others communicate what the songs are about to their church, or at the very least, inspire them to look at their songs in a new way.
If you’re a worship leader, hopefully you’ve heard of most of these websites before. You may use them for chord charts or sheet music. You might not have thought about the different ways they can help you discover new music. Here are a few ways I’ve found to be helpful:
praisecharts.com - Click “Songs” then “What’s New” or “What’s Hot”
songselect.com - “Popular Songs” or “CCLI Top 100” will give you a solid list of songs that other churches are playing. They may be new to you, but not always new releases.
worshiptogether.com Click “Songs” then “New.” They also have a great resource called New Song Cafe where artists will play their new songs, tell the story behind it, and show you how to play it.
newreleasetoday.com This site spans many genres that fit under the “Christian” umbrella, but it is a good resource to check out what music is released. Just go to “New Releases for Friday, (the date)” and look for the titles listed as “Praise & Worship.”
I’m thankful that Tyler and Josh have given me the opportunity to share what I’ve learned from being a Worship Pastor. What I want you to come away from this conversation with, are new tools and perspectives on why and how to introduce new music. I hope that you take what we’ve discussed and make it applicable to your ministry context.
Comment and let us know some of your favorite new worship songs!