planning center

How to build a worship song library

In this article, you’ll learn how to build a quality worship song library in an efficient way that will save you hours of worship prep down the road.

As I begin my worship ministry at Mission Lakewood church, I have the opportunity to start from scratch with my worship song library. As you can see here, my Planning Center account library is completely empty.

An organized and accurate song library has two primary benefits.

  1. Weekly worship planning time is drastically reduced.

  2. My band will always have the best resources for practice and rehearsal.

Once the ministry and church is up and running, I do not want to spend hours every week creating new charts, tracks, lyric slides, etc. I much rather spend a few days batch processing these things ahead of time and creating an uber-organized workflow that will save me hours (even days) of prep down the road.

In the rest of this articler, I want to give you a broad overview of what I’m doing to build our worship song library from scratch.

In order for a song to be adequately prepared for the library, it needs the following 5 things.

  1. An accurate chord chart created in Planning Center’s lyrics and chord editor

  2. Attached MP3 of the songs original key and arrangement

  3. ProPresenter document containing lyric slides

  4. Ableton Live multitrack project

  5. Attached MP3 of the custom key and arrangement with click and cues

The grunt work in this process will consist of preparing those elements. But once it’s done the first time, I’ll never have to do it again. My weekly planning will consist of a few seconds of adding the song to my Planning Center Plan, ProPresenter playlist, and Ableton Live set list.

Is doing all this prep work fun? Of course not! But the reward of having amazing resources for my band and a bunch of saved time down the road is worth it.

Here are the tools I need to get the job done.

  • Laptop - I’ve got my overpriced 15” MacBook Pro.

  • External Hard Drive - I store all of my Ableton Live media on a dedicated hard drive, keeping it organized and independent of any one laptop.

  • Planning Center Services App - This software is the hub where I store all of my songs and music resources like charts and mp3 files.

  • ProPresenter - For a lone worship leader with no production staff, worship prep is not done until lyric slides are made for all songs. I’m going to include lyric creation in ProPresenter as part of this process.

  • Dropbox - While ProPresenter has cloud capability, I prefer using Dropbox to store and sync ProPresenter documents across multiple machines.

  • Ableton Live - This is the software I use to prep tracks and ProPresenter cues.

Now I want to take you through my process of adequately preparing a song for my worship library. Since this article is a broad overview of the process, I don’t have time to get into the nitty gritty of each of these steps. I’ve already made detailed tutorials on most of what I’m going to covered. Click the links for detailed instructions.

Step 1 - Add the song to Planning Center

Find the song you want and add it to the Planning Center library. Planning Center automatically links the song to CCLI, which keeps track of reporting for licensing purposes. Include any other details you would like about the song for categorization. I usually import lyrics from CCLI but not the chord charts. CCLI chord charts are garbage.

Step 2 - Buy the original song MP3

Purchase the original arrangement of the song in Apple Music or any other online music store. Once the song is downloaded, create an MP3 version of the song. This creates a smaller file size that is easier for sharing. Upload the file to Planning Center as a default arrangement attachment. Please note this is only legal if you church subscribes to the CCLI Rehearsal License.

Step 3 - Make a Chord Chart

Create the most amazing chord chart in the world using Planning Center’s lyrics and chord editor. I prefer creating my own charts. I will sometimes use CCLI’s chord chart as a starting point so I don’t have to do it all completely by ear. A quicker way to do it is purchase the chord chart from I recommend using the Chord Pro format. Copy the Chord Pro text from PraiseCharts and paste it into Planning Center. Then make sure the formatting is perfect.

Check out my detailed tutorial on creating worship charts in Planning Center.

Step 4 - Create lyrics

Create a ProPresenter document for the song lyrics. Import the song into ProPresenter directly from the CCLI search integration. Leverage templates to save you time creating new documents consistent with your style. I prefer two lines of text on each slide. I also label all the sections of the songs. My master arrangement of the song in ProPresenter is what I sync with Ableton Live. You’ll notice in ProPresenter, I do not repeat sections of the song like the chorus. Automating ProPresenter gives me the ability to skip around to the right slides. I also create an arrangement of the song if the need arises for manual operation.

Step 5 - Prepare multitracks

Create the Ableton Live project for the song. Using or, purchase and download tracks. Optimize the Ableton Live session file so that all you need to do is drag and drop it into future setlists. I also prefer creating my lyric cues for a song in this step. Once it is done once, I don’t ever have to worry about it again.

Check out my detailed tutorial on creating a Multitracks session for Ableton Live.

Step 6 - Create a custom MP3 file

Export and upload the MP3 file of the Ableton Live session containing the click and and cues and proper key. Upload the file to the proper key attachment in Planning Center.

I know that sounds like a lot of work, but once these six steps are complete, the song is adequately prepared for the library. As I already mentioned, the weekly prep will merely consist of dragging and dropping. I want most of my weekly prep time to be spent on picking the right songs from the library and working on other creative service elements, not creating charts, lyric documents, and tracks. I hope this overview of how I build my worship library gives you some ideas for building your own in an efficient and time-saving manner.

If you are building a new worship ministry or if you’re looking to improve an existing one, check out my free guide, The Ultimate Worship Ministry Toolkit. This ever-evolving and improving document is a spreadsheet that acts as your quick reference to all the worship leading tools I refer to in posts like this one and many others on It can be overwhelming trying to find the right software and gear for your ministry. This guide will quickly point you in the right direction.

My favorite worship songs

Finding the right songs for your worship ministry can be tough. In this article, I share my favorite worship songs as I build a song library from scratch.

In a few weeks, I’ll be helping launch Mission Lakewood Church as an interim worship pastor. Since I’m building a worship ministry from the ground up, I need to begin creating a library of songs for the church to sing.

I want your input in this process! What are your favorite worship songs right now? Make sure you tell me below in the comments.

Mission Lakewood is being planted from Cherry Hills Community Church, a mega-church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. While it’s easy for me to move forward on my own picking what I think are the best songs for our congregation, I want to acknowledge that these people already have a collection of songs they have been singing.

In fact, Cherry Hills has a strong worship ministry and they have just released an original worship album. My assistant worship leader, Sarah, is on the worship team at Cherry Hills, so I’ve asked her to compile a list of twenty songs which are standards at that church. I want to make sure we launch the worship ministry with a decent amount of music being familiar to the congregation.

At the same time, Mission Lakewood will have its own unique identity as a church. It is not a campus of Cherry Hills. It is completely autonomous. That means our worship ministry does not need to be a copycat of their church.

One of my favorite responsibilities as a worship leader is choosing songs for our church to sing. I’ll admit, sometimes I’m a bit selfish in my song selection. I like choosing songs that are my personal favorites. At the same time, I want to make sure the church has a healthy diet of diverse worship songs.

In the rest of this video, I’m going to outline some of the worship songs I’ll be including in our library. I think the easiest way to do this is categorize the songs by the following themes. That will ensure I have diverse pool of songs both in the sense of energy and the different aspects of the gospel narrative they emphasize. Here are the categories.

  • Adoration

  • Confession

  • Assurance

  • Sending

When I plan worship, every Sunday I try to tell the gospel story through my song selection. That story being, God is great, we are not, but he forgives us, and we are sent out on mission to serve him. I learned this approach to worship planning for the book, Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell.

Generally speaking, Adoration songs are higher energy and toward the opening of worship. Confession songs are more reflective on our sinful condition and the need for grace. Assurance songs have a triumphal and thankful feel to them. Sending songs get the congregation fired up about living for Jesus.

Using this categories helps me plan worship with a more meaningful mindset than just playing with emotions. I want the gospel story to inform how I plan.

So here are the songs I chose to get this worship ministry off the ground. I think you’ll quickly be able to tell who my favorite worship bands and songwriters are. This list of songs will most likely evolve and change overtime, but I hope it gives you some ideas of great songs to add to your own song library.

Songs of Adoration

  • Nobody Like You - Red Rocks Worship

  • There’s No Other Name - Bethel Music

  • Lion and the Lamb - Bethel Music

  • Ever Be - Bethel Music

  • Great Are You Lord - All Sons and Daughters

  • Holy Spirit - Brian and Katie Torwalt

  • So Will I (100 Billion X) - Hillsong United

  • Behold(Then Sings My Soul) - Hillsong Worship

  • What a Beautiful Name - Hillsong Worship

  • O Praise the Name - Hillsong Worship

  • Only King Forever - Elevation worship

  • Right Here Right Now - Red Rocks Worship

Songs of Confession

  • Path of Sorrow - All Sons and Daughters

  • Come Thou Fount - Traditional

  • O Come to the Altar - Elevation Worship

  • Prince of Peace - Hillsong United

  • Crowns - Hillsong Worship

  • Tremble - Mosaic MSC

  • Lord I Need You - Matt Maher

Songs of Assurance

  • How Beautiful Your Grace - Red Rocks Worship

  • King of My Heart - Bethel Music

  • Reckless Love - Cory Asbury

  • Mercy - Bethel Music

  • I Will Boast in Christ - Hillsong Worship

  • How Beautiful - Mosaic MSC

  • Good Good Father - Christ Tomlin

  • In Christ Alone - Getty

  • This I Believe (The Creed) - Hillsong Worship

Songs of Sending

  • Not Afraid - Red Rocks Worship

  • Old for New - Bethel Music

  • Glory to Glory - Bethel Music

  • Faithful to the End - Bethel Music

  • I Surrender - All Sons and Daughters

  • Christ Be All Around Me - All Sons and Daughters

  • Shadow Step - Hillsong United

    Wow, sorry that was such a long list. But it feels great to have that all documented before I start adding songs to my Planning Center Account. I’m still waiting for Sarah to add her recommendations.

As I mentioned, this song will evolve over time, and I know there are great songs I don’t have on the list. I will probably add some hymn arrangements as well.

Once we’ve completed our list of approximately 50 songs, we will begin creating library assets for each song. Those assets include:

  • Chord charts

  • ProPresenter lyrics

  • Backing track sessions

  • MP3 files

If you want my complete song list with links to resources like charts and multitracks, you can download my free guide.

What songs should I add to this list? What are your favorite worship songs right now? Let me know in the comments.

How to prepare chord charts and MP3 files in Planning Center

One of the best ways to improve the musical quality of your worship band is by providing your team with the best possible resources to practice on their own. The most important resources for your band are accurate chord charts and mp3 files. If you use Planning Center to plan your worship services, I want to show you how the best way to prepare these resources is by creating chord charts within Planning Center’s lyrics and chord editor rather than attaching pdf’s or other chord chart files you found somewhere else on the internet. I’ll also show you how to host mp3 files of songs and make sure they are transposed to the same key as what your band will be playing.

In this walkthrough, I am going to show you how I created the chord charts and mp3 files for the song “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong Worship. If you’re church is not singing this song yet, then you can use this opportunity to add the charts of this song to your Planning Center library.

How to prepare chord charts in Planning Center

Let’s begin with preparing the chord chart. The first step is to acquire the ChordPro version of the chord charts or write your ChordPro version if you have the time and musical capability to do so. I have another article and video here. Websites like are great because have done the work for you and have created a ChordPro version of all of Hillsong’s music. Navigate to the song “What a Beautiful Name” on their website, click on “free ChordPro download”  button, open the txt file, and copy the chord pro text provided for you. Worship Together also can automatically import the song into Planning Center.

Next, go to your songs library in Planning Center, and add a new song, making sure the CCLI information matches with the correct song. In this example, we are going to edit the default arrangement of “What a Beautiful Name”.

Click on the lyrics and chord editor. This is one of my favorite tools in Planning Center. By using their native app to create chord charts, managing the songs in your library will be much easier. You will be able to produce charts in different keys and different arrangements in minutes, which saves you and your team a lot of time.

Paste the text, you copied from the ChordPro chart into the lyrics and chord editor. Make sure you indicate in Planning Center the original key of the song. Next, make a few changes to the format of the chord charts. Create two columns and change the font to Arial/Helvetica. I prefer these settings because it allows me to fit everything on one page.

Next, edit the ChordPro chords, so they are 100% accurate to your arrangement. In this case, we are going to play it just like the recording. For instrumentals, I like to use lines and dots. You can create these dots by pressing option + 8 on a Mac. I also do not repeat the lyrics and chords for a section of the song that repeats. Instead, I write how many times that section repeat and if it shows up again later in the song, the band member will see which part they are supposed to play and how many times. My goal is to make it so all they need to do is follow the roadmap down the two columns. Finally, I will also create the song sequence, which gives the band a quick reference for the song order.

Once the charts are ready, I will exit the editor and then make sure it is the proper key. In this case, I want a version of the song in D for a female lead and another version in the key of E for a male lead. Since it is so easy to do and takes less than a second, I will also add a capo version for my acoustic guitarist who doesn’t know how to play anything other than the key of G or C.

That completes the process of preparing chord charts for the song.

How to prepare mp3 files

Next, we are going to upload mp3 files to the song so our band can play along with Hillsong Worship as they practice. I have purchased this song on iTunes, but first I want to make a mp3 version of the song, so it is in a smaller file format that is easier to stream. Make sure your CD import settings in iTunes have mp3 selected. Then select the song in your library, and then select File/Convert/Mp3. In a few seconds, iTunes will create the mp3 version of the song. Drag that mp3 file onto your desktop, and now it’s ready to upload to Planning Center.

In the song editor on Planning Center, upload the mp3 to the proper key version of the song. In this case, I am going to drag the song onto the key of D, and within a few seconds, it will be uploaded and ready for your musicians to stream. Make sure you are setup with the proper CCLI licensing for them to do so legally.

What if your band needs to practice the song in the key of E? Planning Center has a solution for that. Hover your cursor over the original song file and click the musical note which is the transpose button. In this window, input the correct information to transpose the song to the key you would like. I am going to make sure the “from” key is D, and the “to” key is E since we want to transpose from the original female lead key of D to the male lead key of E. When it’s ready, click the transpose button and in a few minutes the transposed file will appear in the proper key.

Since I like to run a click and backing tracks with my band using Ableton Live, I will export a master from the song’s Ableton session that includes the click, cues, and the original mp3 at a low volume. I find this is the best way for the band members to prepare because they will be able to hear the click and cues we will use on the weekend.

Once the charts are created, and mp3 files are uploaded and transposed, the song is ready to be used in a plan. In the plan I’m going to add a song, select the one I just created, making sure it’s in the proper arrangement and key, and then I’ll check to make sure all of the attachments are displaying properly.

To practice with the right chord charts and mp3 files, my musicians simply download the chord chart book for the week and open up Planning Center’s media player, and they are ready to rock.

I hope you found this article helpful for your ministry and it gives you a few ideas to make your worship planning workflow more efficient. Share your love and opinions in the comments below and share this with other worship leaders if you think it can help their ministry as well.