Choosing Songs for Your Setlist

Josh Pauley —  June 12, 2013

Choosing Songs for Your Setlist

This is the beginning. All of last week’s hard work culminated in Sunday’s worship service. Now, it’s time to choose the songs for the next service. If you’re like me, choosing songs either happens quickly and effortlessly, or it becomes a few grueling hours of going through possible songs and trying to narrow down options.

I tried to think about times in the past when the setlist came together really well. I recognized there were three key elements that had to happen. It almost never fails that when I am able to apply all three of these, the process is much easier.

1. Research the Topic.  It’s important to see the worship service and the message as one complete experience versus two separate sections. Knowing this, I will usually use the opening song as a way to gather everyone for the next 1-2 hours. Then I use the rest of the setlist to begin setting up the message. Sometimes every song will point towards the focus of the message, and sometimes I try to lead people into the message by using the topic of each song to build on the previous song. By the time you get to your last song, you want to have everyone focused on the topic of the pastor’s message.

2. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to take the chorus of one song and tag it at the end of another song when the chord progressions and tempo are similar. Sometimes you may want to introduce a new song by singing the chorus a few times and then transition into a song everyone is familiar with.  This allows you to come back the following week to do the whole song. The opportunities are endless when you start getting creative with your song choices and how you incorporate them into the setlist.

3. Practice. Once I have chosen the 3-5 songs I plan to lead, I play through them to make sure I know them well. I also like to make sure I am comfortable enough singing them before I try to lead them. If I still need to drop a song or two from the setlist, I use this time to see which songs just aren’t resonating with me that week and remove them.

Usually, I get hung up on the first step because there are so many great songs that can relate to a variety of topics. If you’re like that too, don’t feel like you have to put together the perfect set of songs or else you’ve failed for the week. Also worth noting, when I end up with a song in my set that doesn’t resonate with me a few days leading up to the service, I find it is the very song that God seems to use and people latch on to and carry during the time of worship. Ultimately, it isn’t up to you to convince people to worship by choosing the right songs. Just be a good steward of what God has called you to by preparing and putting your best foot forward. He can take care of the rest.

Josh Pauley

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Josh joined the team at the beginning of 2013 and now manages all things digital for Worship Together, which includes running the website, overseeing all online content, and handling visual design. Prior to Worship Together he worked for a record label that includes artists such as Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, David Crowder, and Kristian Stanfill. Josh leads worship in Nashville, enjoys trying out specialty coffee brewing methods, and heads outdoors on the weekends to hike, mountain bike, or camp with his wife Kaylee and their dog, Tucker.

5 responses to Choosing Songs for Your Setlist

  1. Sorry, don’t see a “contact us” link – can you mention to the web designers that the diagonal crosshatching on these pages makes the text hard to read, at least for 50-something-year-olds like me? Thanks, Dan

  2. All very true. I lik to choose too many songs at the start, then as time gets closer to rehearsal, and Sunday various factors start to whittle them down, to a list that makes sense musically and spiritually.
    I have lost count how many times a song that you least expect to ‘work’ makes the most meaningful impact.
    Gods words never fail

  3. Cameron Watford June 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks for putting these thoughts into words. I just met with an intern today to discuss my process of selecting songs from week to week. This will be a great follow up article for him to read.

  4. I am similar to you in that the song list either is simple or an all day affair. For instance this coming Sunday I would really love to start out with In The Sanctuary (Kurt Carr) and then With All Of My Heart (Morris Chapman), but differentiating from what I want to sing and what our congregation wants to sing is the key. I try not to let my personal tastes become a factor, but sometimes I know they do. We have a tiny church comprised of mostly 50 and older, with only a pianist(me) and drummer and no singers, so pulling off songs like these two would be challenging anyway.