How to Pick Songs for Your Service

Jimi Williams —  September 9, 2010

I had a conversation after our service at church last Sunday about picking worship songs. It was a good talk and it made me think a bit about how we as worship leaders choose songs to sing.

I came up with the following 4 things that I think will help:

1. Lyrics must be Scripturally accurate.We can’t assume that just because we trust the writer or the publisher that the song is true. We are all prone to error or miscommunication. Also, words sometimes mean different things to different people. You as the worship leader must make sure that what you are asking your church to sing is clear and in-line with the Gospel.

2. Music must be culturally and periodically relevant. Songs can be true lyrically, but out of date or context culturally. If I’m asked to lead worship in an older congregation that loves hymns, I’ll lead them with hymns. If I’m leading a youth service, I’ll choose songs that are a bit more edgy. I also like to make the majority of my worship set songs that were written in the last few years. There’s nothing wrong with pulling out an old favorite, but I like to use songs that are fresh to the church.

3. Songs must be musically accessible. This goes for your band and your congregation. If your band is pretty inexperienced, you probably shouldn’t choose to play the latest Israel Houghton song. Also, try and choose songs that are within the sing-ability of your congregation. This is very subjective since some churches can sing almost anything and some struggle with simple melodies.

4. Don’t ignore the special music. I never thought I would be encouraging churches to have special music. My thought about this early on in my music ministry was “it’s not special if you do it every week!”. However, I think there is a place for those songs that are not congregational, but that have a strong message for the church. Whether it’s during an offering, communion or at the end of the teaching, there are some fantastic powerful songs that will minister to your congregation in ways corporate singing cannot.

Hope this helps!

Jimi Williams

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Jimi is VP of Worship Resources for Capitol CMG Publishing, overseeing all Worship Together initiatives and resources. He also leads worship at his home church and at various events and conferences.

5 responses to How to Pick Songs for Your Service

  1. i’m wondering what Biblical guidelines to use in picking worship music in my Church???
    this list tells me that lyrics should be Scripturally accurate – but then gives no Scriptural backbone for any of the other suggestions…
    where in the Bible does it say our worship MUST BE culturally and periodically relevant?
    where does it say it MUST BE musically accessible?
    these are helpful things – but you have not sent us to the Word for any help in picking songs.
    any thoughts???

  2. Very good list. I like the special music item as well. We don’t get to sing a long of the latest songs in service because they are often too complicated or just not “doable” for our congregation. Special music is an opportunity to share these songs.
    It’s also nice if the same person or group isn’t always doing the special music. That way more people have the opportunity to use their talents to glorify God.

  3. Special music is any song or musical piece that a soloist or small group does, usually in a more professional manner. It is especially fitting for those with a musical talent to share with the rest of the congregation for the glory of God.

  4. Really interesting list. Very helpful. But I’m with Rob–what counts as a special song? I’m a little unclear there…

  5. Great list, but I need clarification on the last one… what’s an example of “special music?”