Worship Essentials: 7 Steps for Selecting Worship Songs

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By Elmer Cañas Jr.
As worship leaders we all want to put together the most dynamic, intimate, powerful, God stirring, anointed, fresh and relevant song list possible. But how do you do all that at once? I’m not sure how easy or hard it is for you, but when you want to keep things fresh and relevant, and connect with a wide variety of cultures, it gets tough. I’ve been leading worship for the last 15 years of my life. And one of the challenges that hasn’t changed within this last 15 years is the “Song Selection Process.” Here are few pointers on what to consider when selecting songs for your church and services:

1. Be You! Know your Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Know your vocal range and limits.
  • If you want to venture into a new genre of music, PRACTICE HARD. Confidence is the greatest key in communicating & connecting effectively.
  • Follow trends but don’t become a prisoner to the idea that you have to look and sound like the “Modern Day Worship Leader”. (Not everyone can rock a deep V t-shirt and skinny jeans without hindering the presence of God.)

 

2. Know the Culture of your Church

  • The culture of your church isn’t determined by the style of music that you sing the most. It’s influenced by the people that attend and make up your local body, but shaped by the leadership of the church.
  • Talk to people in the hallways, in the seats, etc. Leave your green room and engage. Be a culture shaper.
  • Lead from a position of influence instead of leading from a “position” or title. Be relational.

3. Embrace the New

  • It is our responsibility to sing new and fresh songs unto God (Isa. 42:10). As you become a “Culture Shaper” in your church, your axis of musical variety will expand and your song selection will be accepted by others.
  • It’s awesome to sing some throwbacks but we must keep the songs shifting. People will always have their favorites, but if you keep giving it to them, worship no longer is about God, but about singing the most requested songs by the people.
  • One of the best ways to teach true worship in church, is by strategically introducing new songs and putting the favs under wraps for a bit. This causes the people not to rely on what they know or like, but on what their act of worship is truly about. Lead them!

 

4. Be Strategic with Song Keys

  • You might have an incredible 1st Tenor vocal range but about 99% of the people in the seats can’t get passed a high C. Transpose the higher keyed songs to comfortable yet still energetic keys.
  • Swap out worship leaders between songs; have a female vocalist lead songs that are to high for you. (& vice-versa)
  • Think about and plan what songs fit together based on key transitions. Try not to be all over the alphabet by singing in multiple keys that do not compliment one another.

5. Musicianship

  • Just as you know your strengths, you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your team(s). You might be able to sing a particular song real well, but please do not allow the song to be butchered. If you need to modify, SIMPLE will always be best. (Maybe just you on piano or guitar for one song; that’s pretty creative)
  • SIMPLE before EXPERIMENTAL

6. Repetition

  • You might be tired of singing a particular song for the 6th time, but at 6 weeks your church is barely grasping the words and the meaning of the song. Don’t stash the song away yet!

 

7. Try to Envision the Moment You’re Up Front

  • Leading worship is not all about dropping the one liners and using the stereotypical phrases like, “Glory to God, Hallelujah”, but theres a lot of vision casting one has to focus on prior to rehearsals and services.
  • We must never forget that every time we lead people in worship, we’re engaging in spiritual warfare. I’ve never known of an army that goes into battle without first strategically planning. Don’t let your weekly responsibilities become a mundane routine. Too many people rely on you; your decision making is critical to each worship experience.

 

You can follow these points in any order. There’s much more to touch on this topic, but for now this is all I got. Remember that it is your responsibility to create and plan an environment of worship that is dynamic, intimate, powerful, God stirring, anointed, fresh and relevant. Please don’t just slap a few songs together and expect God to be fully glorified in your planning process.

“The Worship Experience must first be birthed in the heart of the worship leader before it is fully embraced and manifested to others.” You’re important. Don’t grow weary, this is a calling, not a gig.

With over 15 years of experience, Elmer has become an innovator of today’s modern worship scene. He uses a diverse and authentic approach in both music and team development. He writes and produces some of today’s most powerful worship songs. He currently serves as worship pastor at Calvary Church in Irving, TX.

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    5 comments on “Worship Essentials: 7 Steps for Selecting Worship Songs

    1. A lot of good things shared here. One thing I would add is that singing a song and repeating the choruses in that song over and over…to ad nauseum is one of the biggest faults of our music today. We just can’t seem to shut a song down, another solo riff, soft, loud, a cappella, then full band then….you get the picture. Singing a sentence 15 times over is well, moving from what was a beautiful song to “get over it already” emotions. As a worship leader for over 30 years, I see this so often–you open a song with verse, chorus perhaps in a simplistic style, then have to repeat that verse again and on and on, building the band and volume, sometimes tempo. After about the 3rd time they’ve sung the words you can hear the disconnect if you’re in the audience, and from the stage, believe me you can see it. It reminds me of singing some of great old hymns and instead of picking out 2 or 3 verses, we just have to sing all 8, 10 or 15…nuts. Nuff said. This, by the way, has always been the most negative comment I have received, even more than “loud”

      • I too felt this article was well stated and contained many great points. Like Cindy however, I have watched people leave our church because out leaders were not sensitive to the issue of repetition. While the passion movement likes to repeat verses to set a mood, there is a down side. Most folks understand the lyric within the first to third time them hear it. Beyond that… many folks feel like a brain-wash is in progress if the leaders continue to repeat lines, phrases, choruses, multiple times. It becomes too irritating to continue. Instead I find myself backing away also. All the repeating suggests we are too dumb to get the message. I have prayed about this, but it continues and I find myself avoiding some worship times.

    2. Excellent stuff on selecting songs for worship, but missing two of most important things (which I’m sure you do, but didn’t write about): Pray first! And then be lead by the Holy Spirit. I often don’t know what the pastor will be bring for a message, or a theme, but it is absolutely amazing how the Holy Spirit puts it together. While I’m selecting the music I often have definite impressions about what songs to include or not include – sometimes to my surprise – but it almost always ends up being the perfect set. Thank you, Lord!

    3. Way to go, Elmer! What a terrific article. You summed up most of what worship leading is for me, too! Such, good points, especially about leading your congregation. Even with a bigger and younger congregation at my current church, I find them wanting to sing more contemporary versions of hymns and more “old” favorites (from the 90′s & early 2000′s) than the congregation at my previous church…which really wanted to rock out to the newest contemporary tunes. SO…I find myself incorporating more of those into our set on a regular basis, along with stretching both the band and the congregation by adding a new song every week or two. I usually teach it to them as an Offering, and then as an Opener, before incorporating it into the service as a regular congregational song…The band calls my number on using it too long though. I usually pull up most songs about 1X/mo. Then, by the 6th month, they’ll start letting me know if it’s time to shelve it for a while ;-)

      Blessings from Austin!

    4. Good stuff all around. #4 is one of my pet peeves. As I visit other churches from time to time, it dissapoints me that so many leaders insist on retaining the original artist’s keys, for example in a high pitched Tomlin song. It may show off the leader’s high tenor pipes, but often times the congregation is left completely behind. I also don’t think simply having a female lead the high parts that a male leader can’t handle is really a viable solution for your male congregation members. The offering of worship through song should be a minimal to non struggle for everyone. Still, lots of good advice on these!

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