Podcast: Listen Here
How Do You Choose Songs For Worship?
In this episode, I talk about 10 things to look at when choosing worship songs for your church or anywhere you lead worship. But if you’d rather read, here you go!
As a new worship leader or even as an experienced one, you tend to just sing songs that you like. While that’s important, that’s just the beginning.
You should be reviewing songs and looking at some other things to make sure they are good songs for your church, youth group, or small group.
As a worship leader, you have the second most influence over what your group experiences, only behind the pastor or speaker.
This is a big responsibility.
You control what people will be singing that week and what songs will be stuck in their heads. Knowing that, you want to be choosing songs that are accurate and appropriate for your congregation.
Another resource on this site about this topic is 25 things to consider when choosing worship songs. For this podcast, I chose 10 that I feel are the most important to consider.
10 Things To Consider When Choosing Worship Songs
1. Choose songs that are theologically accurate
Just do your best here. This might take a lot of biblical knowledge that you might not have yet.
Don’t be afraid to ask for counsel if you’re unsure about a song.
Read through the lyrics, don’t just sing them. Would you sit down and describe God in this way to a new believer if it weren’t a song?
2. Choose songs that are appropriate for your group
Your church might be super traditional and only has an organ. You might not want to do a heavy fast song by Hillsong Young & Free. You can certainly move the congregation in a more contemporary direction with your song choice, but don’t try to do it all in one Sunday. Choose songs that are a nice stepping stone to where you want to be.
Likewise, don’t choose songs from the 80s and 90s if you’re leading worship in youth group. They expect and deserve modern music.
3. Choose songs that are participatory
This is a mistake a lot of worship leaders make.
They choose songs that feature their own skill but don’t think about whether the congregation can sing the song.
It ends up being a performance piece. That’s fine if that’s what it’s meant to be.
But primarily, you should be picking songs that are easily learned and sung by non-musical people.
Remember that most people in the congregation aren’t thinking about worship or music throughout the week. So they need songs that have words and melodies that are easy to learn.
4. Choose songs that pass the whistle test
Speaking of simple melodies, I heard a great piece of advice from worship leader Bob Kilpatrick, writer of the 70s classic “In My Life.”
He said a song should pass the whistle test.
That means you can hear the song once and be able to whistle the melody. That’s how simple it is.
And, I think it’s also a good confirmation that the song is memorable if people actually are whistling it after church.
If you are considering a song, but it’s taking you a long time to learn the melody, it will most assuredly take the congregation even longer, if they learn it at all.
5. Choose songs that are non-cliche
Without naming names, I’ll say that a lot of artists are publishing songs that are essentially a string of Christian cliches.
The songs don’t actually say anything. They have multiple themes. And they are not that interesting.
For instance, I could write a song right now that says “Great is the Lord, He is holy, he keeps his promises, and his love is amazing.”
While those things are true, all those ideas are really overused in worship songs and have lost their meaning. Plus, there’s no single idea that the song can wrap its lyrics around. It’s about everything, so it’s about nothing.
Elevation worship actually does a great job avoiding cliches. Songs like Do It Again, There Is A Cloud, and O Come to the Altar build a storyline that comes together to support a greater theme. These are the kinds of songs we should choose.
If you want to learn everything you need to know about starting to lead worship, check out my book, “How to Lead Worship in 14 Days.” It will guide you through the process of working up to your first worship session even if you’ve never led worship before. And the best part is that it’s going to take you 14 days to do it.
Or, if you lead a worship ministry and you’re looking for a how-to guide to hand every new worship leader, this book is for you.
6. Choose songs that align with the direction of your church
Maybe your church wants to become more missions minded. Choose songs about reaching the lost and spreading the gospel.
Maybe your church wants to explore healing. Choose songs that support that theme.
7. Choose songs that are “you”
What does this mean? There are songs that suit you as a person. Don’t try to be someone else even if they are the coolest thing around right now.
If you are a guitarist folk singer, maybe don’t try to incorporate heavy metal or techno. You’re just not going to pull it off.
Find the styles that suit you. Deliver those styles first.
As you grow, you can push yourself outside your comfort zone a bit. But don’t choose songs that make you seem inauthentic.
But by no means should you attempt a song because you saw this cool new worship leader and you want to be just like him or her.
8. Choose songs in a variety of time signatures, keys, and tempos
Imagine how boring a worship set would be if every song were 80 BPM, in 4/4 time, and all in G.
A worship set should vary in dynamics. For instance, it could start with a song at 120 BPM, go to a song at 100, then 72. The keys might change every time. One or two songs might be in the 6/8 time signature.
All those changes keep worshipers engaged.
Otherwise, it feels like you’re playing the same song for 20 minutes.
9. Choose songs that are not lyrical overload. Well, a few are ok.
I love a good Elevation song with 3 verses, a chorus, a bridge, and so on.
But be careful with these songs. Some congregations just can’t learn them.
I am tempted to choose songs that are way too complex. I think it’s because they stay interesting to me for longer. As a worship leader, you probably hear a song 10-20 times more than the average person in the congregation. You can get bored of simple songs easily.
But I’m pretty sure a lot of people in the congregation never actually learn complex songs, especially if these people are sporadic attendees.
At the very least, craft your song sets to be a mix of simple songs and lyrically heavy songs.
10. Choose songs that you can sing well
This might sound like a rule to protect your ego. But really, it’s not. The congregation worships better when they sense a confident leader.
It makes them uneasy if they think the leader can’t quite hit the notes.
So this rule is by no means for your ego but for the worshipers.
There are a ton of songs out there now that do this crazy octave jump thing. That’s great for these professional singers but for mere mortals those are dangerous. Either the song starts out too low or it ends up too high. And they are almost certain to use too wide a range for the average worshiper.
Feel free to not do these songs even if they are popular.
If you want to do them, check out my blog post on how to deal with double-octave songs.
In all, you want to be super confident you can sing the song. That frees the congregation to worship.
The Bottom Line
We looked at 10 ways to choose worship songs
- Choose songs that are theologically accurate
- Pick songs that are appropriate for your group
- Choose participatory songs
- Choose songs that pass the whistle test, meaning you can whistle them after hearing them just once
- Choose songs that don’t use cliches
- Choose songs the reinforce the spiritual direction of your church
- Pick songs that are you, not you trying to be someone else
- Choose songs in a wide variety of keys, tempos, and time signatures
- Mix songs with a lot of lyrics in with songs with few lyrics
- Choose songs that you can sing well
Learn To Lead Worship Better
Are you looking for a resource that will help you get started leading worship or improving your skills?
Check out the book “Learn To Lead Worship In 14 Days.” It’s a step-by-step, day-by-day handbook that can launch your worship leading journey in as little as two weeks.