song selection

How to pick the right songs for Sunday worship

As a worship leader, I love having the responsibility of picking the songs my church is going sing every week. Think about how cool of an opportunity that is. Whether your church is 50 people of 5,000 people, as worship leaders, we have the privilege of curating a musical and spiritual experience that deeply impacts the lives of those in your church. Song selection plays a huge role in your congregation’s spiritual health. The songs you pick will be stuck in their head throughout the week. They won’t remember your pastor’s sermon, but they will remember that catchy new song by Elevation Worship. A lot is at stake as we select songs on a weekly basis. How do we make sure we are picking the right songs?

While there is no clear-cut process for choosing the right songs, I do believe there are a handful of things worship leadership should consider on a weekly basis as they open up Planning Center and start plugging in their song choices. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I want to show you the six things I consider most often while choosing worship songs.

Consideration #1: God

Worship leaders should make it part of their weekly routine to sit down and consider God. This seems obvious, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easy to skip over spiritual preparation for practical preparation. Do not underestimate how God can speak into your planning process when you make time and space for it to happen. Go for a long walk, or find a quiet place in your church. This does not need to be a half-day prayer retreat. Maybe for some, just five minutes of dedicated time to prayer over your planning process is all you need. The important thing is to reflect on who God is and ask Him to guide you in your worship planning and song selection process 

Consideration #2: Gospel

My approach to planning worship is to tell the story of the Gospel every Sunday through song choice, readings, and prayers. That means I want to have songs that express God’s greatness, our need for salvation, His forgiveness, our thankfulness, and our call to mission. Each week I try to select songs that touch on most or all of these aspect of our encounter with God. A book that helped me think this way about picking worship songs is “Christ-Centered Worship” by Bryan Chappell. After learning this paradigm, my song-selection is informed by the narrative of the gospel instead of haphazardly picking songs that seem to fit well together.

Consideration #3: The message or theme of the day

The message of the sermon or theme of the day also plays a role into my song selection process. I do not try to force this. While the sermon is a crucial part of worship, it should not determine the choice of every song. As I explained already, the whole gospel narrative should be told throughout the worship experience, so while it is good to have a song, maybe two that reinforce the sermon message, I feel like the purpose of the music and other aspects of worship should be to take the congregation places where the sermon does not. In my current worship leading context, most of the worship music is before the sermon, and we have one response song after the sermon. That is where I will place a song that reinforces the message.

 Consideration #4: Song Frequency

Before scheduling a song, I will look at the song use history. Planning center makes this really easy when viewing services in matrix view, or by looking up the song’s history in the library. I want to be sensitive to whether or not a song has been played too much or too little. If I’m introducing a new song, then I will play that song multiple weeks in a row. If it’s a song that is a standard in our library, I will play it every 4-6 weeks.

Consideration #5: The Band

Often, the makeup of my band on a given week will determine what songs I choose. On weeks when my best drummer is playing, I will schedule more challenging songs because I know he will nail them. Or maybe my best piano player is on the schedule so I choose more songs that are piano driven. I enjoy picking songs that play to individual band members strengths.

Consideration #5: The Worship Leader

Hopefully you are not the only worship leader in your band. Maybe you are the only one paid to be the worship leader, but there may be skilled volunteers who can lead songs. I know this plays a significant role in my song choice for a particular Sunday. What songs fit that person’s voice? Which ones are they most confident leading?

What other considerations do you have when picking songs? Let the Churchfront Community know below in the comments.