Leading worship for the first time can be a daunting task. On the surface, worship leading looks simple. Just pick a few songs, practice a little with the band, and you’re set to go. But like any leadership position, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make sure your worship gatherings go smoothly. In this article, I’m going to share ten tips to help you feel prepared and confident to lead your church in worship, even if you are a complete beginner.
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.
Weekly worship planning time is drastically reduced.
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.
An accurate chord chart created in Planning Center’s lyrics and chord editor
Attached MP3 of the songs original key and arrangement
ProPresenter document containing lyric slides
Ableton Live multitrack project
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 PraiseCharts.com. 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 LoopCommunity.com or Multitracks.com, 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 Churchfront.com. 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.
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.
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:
Backing track sessions
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.
In this guide, you will learn a simple worship planning strategy for Advent and Christmas.
First, I will unpack the meaning of Advent and Christmas from a theological standpoint. A lot of worship leaders miss the critical step of identifying the role these seasons play in the Gospel narrative. Understanding their theological meaning will make it way easier to plan services and pick songs during December.
The second portion of the guide contains my list of recommended worship albums and songs to aid you in the song selection process. New Christmas albums are released every year. This guide will help you stay up to date with the latest Christmas worship songs that are non-cheesy and easy for your congregation to sing.
It’s not Christmas time. It’s Advent.
Once Thanksgiving is over, western culture kicks into Christmas mode. Even in my own family, it’s a tradition to watch It’s A Wonderful Life after our Thanksgiving feast, and it becomes acceptable to listen to Christmas music.
All throughout December, businesses bombard us with advertisements for Christmas sales, Christmas movies, Christmas cookies, and Christmas parties.
The problem is it’s not Christmas yet.
Christmas does not start until December 25, and it lasts 12 days until Epiphany. That’s why we have the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Instead, the actual beginning of Christmas feels like the end of Christmas. December 26 comes, and the decorations go.
The major downside of going straight from Thanksgiving to Christmas in the context of worship is we miss out on the season of Advent.
Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and is more than just a pre-game to Christmas. It’s tone and nature is significantly different. The word Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which translates coming or arrival. It’s a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. It anticipates both his coming as a baby as well as his second coming in the final days when God fully establishes his kingdom on earth.
A season of preparation, repentance, and hope.
When someone or something important is about to enter into your life, there is a lot of preparation work you need to be done. My wife and I are expecting twin babies in January. We are in the midst of the crazy amount of preparation work that needs to be done before the babies arrive. There’s a lot of practical prep work like getting the baby room ready. There’s also a lot of work we need to do on preparing our hearts and mindset. We are trying to figure out how we will care for two fragile little lives as well as maintain a healthy marriage. We will never be completely prepared for the arrival of our twins, but there are a lot of smart things we are trying to accomplish now to start the parenting thing off on the right foot.
Advent reminds us of the prep work needed in our hearts so God can truly be king of our lives. It does not take long examining ourselves to realize how much we have fallen short.
If Jesus were coming back on Christmas Day, how would your life look different between now and then? What type of prep work would you want to do?
I would probably be a lot more intentional at loving my neighbor and loving God, knowing that those two things are of highest priority in the kingdom of God. I would probably spend less time watching Stranger Things and Youtube and go knocking on doors in my neighborhood to tell people about Jesus.
Basically, I would do things I already know I should be doing but don’t because I feel no urgency or conviction about my current condition.
Advent is a season of repentance.
It’s an invitation to turn from our sinful desires and refocus our hearts on the kingdom of God. Advent is also a season of anticipation and hope. We are soon going to celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas.
The King is born. The reign of God has commenced. But when we look around at the world, we know that God’s reign is far from being fully consummated in this broken place.
Our world is full of tragedy, evil, and pain. Every time we hear about natural disasters, mass shootings, wars, disease, and genocide, alongside our grief, we have hope that someday Jesus’ second coming will put an end to it all. That’s what Advent is all about: preparation, repentance, and hope.
The tone of Advent is significantly different from the happy, cheerful, celebratory mood of Christmas. It makes little sense to sing our traditional Christmas carols or even the spiced up ones by Tomlin and Baloche during the season of Advent. The message of most of those carols is too early. They skip the part of the story, our story, when we have to examine ourselves, prepare our hearts, and hope for the coming of Christ.
You do not need to eliminate all Christmas songs from your repertoire before December 25. You most likely are not in a church that observes the church calendar.
Advent in your context is pre-game for Christmas. That’s okay. What you can and should do is tailor your song selection during Advent to hit on themes of preparation, repentance, and hope in Christ’s coming. You will find this will give your worship planning in December a lot more intentionality and purpose. Not every song you play needs to be a Christmas carol. There are plenty of non-Christmas worship songs that touch on these themes and would be appropriate for Advent.
Identify opportunities in worship to explain the meaning of Advent to your congregation. For example, you can say,
“In a few weeks, we will be celebrating Christ’s coming. There’s a lot to celebrate and be joyful about His first coming as a baby in a manger. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have hope for a future beyond death. We have hope that God will renew this broken world. Christ will come again and completely eradicate evil, sorrow, and tragedy. But as we look forward to Christ’s birth and his second coming, we need to do some prep work to our hearts. We often desire things that are not compatible with God’s kingdom. We need his Spirit to reshape and aim our hearts back toward God. As we sing songs celebrating Christ’s coming, we will also sing songs in which we cry out to God in repentance and acknowledge our need for Him.”
Then you could sing a song like Lord I Need You by Matt Maher or Kyrie Eleison by Chris Tomlin.
Okay, now it’s Christmas time.
You probably do not need much explanation around the meaning of Christmas. If you take anything away from this guide, I hope it is a better understanding of Advent. But Christmas is still a big deal.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we celebrate the incarnation. God became man. The Word became flesh (John 1). The incarnation is the starting point for understanding the identity of Jesus. It sets the stage for comprehending the significance of his life, death, and resurrection. Christmas historically has always been a joyful celebration, so do not be afraid to pull out all the stops and have a high energy service.
There will be a whole lot of visitors at your church. Make sure there is a clear invitation to salvation in Jesus. Our culture cannot quite get past the instinct to go to church on Christmas Eve. Don’t squander this evangelistic opportunity. As a worship leader, pick songs that tell the Christmas story and connect that story to the cross and the empty tomb.
As for Christmas song ideas, I would recommend sticking to mostly traditional carols that your church and visitors will know. Use fresh arrangements of these traditional carols found in my song selection guide. Make sure the arrangements do not stray too far from the original tune, or else that could just confuse people trying to sing along.
If you introduce a new Christmas song that isn't based on a traditional carol, I recommend introducing that song in Advent, so your congregation is ready to sing it on Christmas Eve. Also, make sure songs are in a singable key for your congregation. Finally, make sure your songs are playable for your band.
By now you have a better understanding of the theological meaning and significance of Advent and Christmas and hopefully you have a more robust framework for picking worship songs for the month of December.
I’ve compiled my recommended songs and albums into a free PDF download. This will save you hours of research trying to find the right songs for Advent and Christmas. This guide also includes links to the songs’ chord charts and multitrack sessions. You can access the guide by clicking the button below, completing the form and it will be sent to your email inbox.
The worship leader's guide to advent and christmas songs
Whether your band rehearses on a weekday evening, or on a Sunday morning a few hours before the church service, rehearsal time must be stewarded well so that your band is confident with their music and prepared to lead worship. Here are ten tips for leading an effective band rehearsal.
1. Prepare yourself.
As the worship leader, you must be the most prepared member of the band. Memorize the chords and lyrics of the songs. Spend extra time practicing the parts of songs that are most difficult for you. Know what everyone else should be playing at any given time. You are the musical director of the band. Be prepared so you can hear mistakes and give them specific direction on song style and dynamics.
2. Prepare your band.
Before your band arrives at rehearsal, makes sure you have resourced them with everything they need to practice at home on their own. Use Planning Center to share with them the service order, chord charts, and MP3 files. Transpose chord charts and MP3 files to the proper key. Send them reminder emails throughout the week, so they know they are scheduled to play, and they should be practicing at home on their own. Rehearsal for them should happen long before Thursday night or Sunday morning.
3. Arrive at rehearsal early and set the stage.
Arrive at church 45 to 60 minutes to complete the following tasks. Turn on the sound, lighting, and video systems to ensure everything is running properly. If not, you’ll have some time to troubleshoot. Next, inspect each member of the band’s spot on the stage. Make sure they have all of the necessary gear like DI boxes and cables to plug into the system upon arrival. If your band uses music, make sure they have accurate copies of music arranged in order on their music stands. It also helps to include a copy of the service plan. Treat your band members like rock stars. Make sure their environment is 100% functional and reduce the amount of time it takes for them to get ready to play.
4. Begin rehearsal with a prayer.
At the beginning of rehearsal, I like to remind myself and the band why we are there by starting with a prayer. Sometimes the beginning of rehearsal can be stressful as you troubleshoot tech issues and other unforeseen problems. I like taking a moment to pray before we start the rehearsing the first song. I’ll pray something like this. “God we thank you for the opportunity to lead your people in worship this morning. We pray that your hand will be upon this rehearsal time. We pray that we recall all we have practiced, and we are unified musically and spiritually as a band and tech team. We pray against any glitches in technology or service flow so there are no distractions and people can focus on you. We pray for transformed lives this morning. Amen.” Simple prayers like this can help your team focus on why they are there, and they invite God to be a part of the rehearsal process as well as the service.
5. Give your band a quick game plan.
After I pray, I like to give the band a game plan for the rehearsal time. I’ll tell them we will play all the songs once, allowing us to warm up and find trouble spots. If I hear a minor mistake, I’ll assume they hear it as well and will fix it. Then we will play through a second time, and I’ll be much pickier about spots that need attention. If there is a new song, we will play through it at least 3 or 4 times. Every rehearsal looks a bit different depending on the familiarity of the music. I like to give them a quick game plan, so they know what to expect.
6. Warm up and sound check with the first song.
The first song we rehearse I treat as a warm up and a sound check. Therefore I’m not expecting it to sound perfect. I want my band to dial in their monitors and warm up playing together. If there are any major tech issues, we address them immediately. After playing the first song once through, everyone should be set to go for the remainder of rehearsal, and they should start to cohere as a band.
7. Rehearse all songs at least two times.
Try to rehearse each song at least two times. If the song is familiar, one time may suffice. New songs may require three or four times. As I already mentioned, during the first run through I give my band members a chance to self-correct their mistakes, unless if it sounds like they are completely unaware of missed chord changes or sloppy tempo. In that case, I will correct them. The second run through allows them to nail their part with confidence.
8. Practice transitions at least two times.
Transitions between songs can make or break a smooth flow to a worship set. Practice your transitions between songs at least two times. Often I will have the band start at the last chorus of a song to practice transitioning into the next song. If I say a prayer in between songs or lead the congregation in a liturgical reading, I practice those prayers and readings and the keyboard player practices playing underneath me.
9. Be picky, but not too picky.
As the worship leader and music director, you want to help your team pursue excellence without being an overbearing dictator. Hopefully, you have set the expectation for your band members to show up prepared to rehearsal. Your guidance during rehearsal should consist of minor corrections and creative suggestions. Allow your band to have musical freedom within the appropriate style of the song. You want them to enjoy the rehearsal process.
10. Encourage your team.
When a band member nails his or her part, encourage them. Smile at them during rehearsal. If you look like you are having fun, they will have a good time as well. The last thing they want at band practice is to feel like their leader is a grumpy middle school music teacher. Always show gratitude for your team’s hard work and be their biggest cheerleader.
I hope these ten tips give you ideas and inspiration for how to increase the effectiveness of your worship band rehearsals and help you grow as a leader. Well-run rehearsals set your team up for leading powerful worship experiences. They worry less about nailing their parts and can focus more on worshipping God with their instrument or voice. What else would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments.
Regardless of the size of your worship ministry, I recommend having a process for auditioning new members of the team. You do not want people in your band who lack the competence, character, and chemistry you desire. Here is a 4 step process for vetting potential band members and making sure they will be the right fit.
Step one - Create a clear vision and expectations for your ministry
Document your vision for the worship band and expectations for its members. You may need to consult with other leaders at your church. Maybe you want to have strict standards about who can play on the team, but your senior pastor expects that Mary-Lou, the long time member with organ experience should be allowed to play piano or keys in the band despite the fact she has no clue how to play with a contemporary band. Write down your expectations for how much band members should devote to practicing every week, or if they are expected to memorize music. Document your expectations for yourself as the leader. Over the years I have learned that a lack of clear expectations leads to a lot of awkward conversations and conflict in the future. Have a crystal clear vision of who your band is and the priorities in your ministry. It will help you give clear judgment on who will be a good fit.
Step two - The online audition
Have a web page on your church website dedicated to receiving inquiries from people interested in joining the band. Ask for basic information such as their name, phone, email address, and their instrument. Ask them to send you a link to a Youtube video of them singing or playing their instrument to a worship song you select. This video recording is “round one” of your audition process. It should give you an idea if they are a good fit. If they are not skilled enough, send them an email or give them a phone call and thank them for their interest but tell them their skill level does not reach what is necessary for joining the band. It is not easy to do, but learn from my mistakes. I hate telling people no. Instead of biting the bullet and enduring temporary short term awkwardness, I said yes and eventually regretted it. In one case, I let someone sing on Sunday once but then had to tell them they no longer could be in the band because they were not able to perform up to par. I wish I would have been honest with them earlier.
Step three - The in-person audition and interview
Once someone has completed the online form and has made it through the online audition, it is time to schedule an in-person audition and interview. Provide a list of three or four songs to prepare to play and let them know what gear they will need to bring to the audition. Have them play a song or two and analyze their musicianship. If you want, record them so you can refer to it later when you make your final decision. Hopefully, if they made it this far they at least have an 80% chance of making in the band. During this meeting make time to ask them questions to ensure they will align with your expectations of character and chemistry. This is different for everyone, so you will need to come up with your unique questions. Explain to them the expectations you have for worship band members and tell them you want them to take a few days to consider whether or not they can meet those expectations. During those few days, you will also think and pray about their audition. Delaying the decision and notifying them by email will allow you time to make sure they are a good fit and say no if necessary. Do not feel like you need to give them an answer on the spot.
Step four - Assimilate them into the team
When someone makes it onto the team, do your best to make them feel a part of the family. It starts with making time to meet with them one-on-one so that they feel like they know you as their leader. When he or she arrives at rehearsal, introduce them to the rest of the band. Invite them to any social events you host for your team. Consistently develop relationships with all of your band members and remind them of the expectations for being in the band.
This audition process might sound a bit overboard to some. You might think it is unreasonable at your small church. I disagree. Putting a system like this in place will allow you to properly vet potential band members and save you a lot of headache down the road. At first, it might be a slow road building your team. You might say no to more people than you like. Over time you will gain momentum and attract the right volunteers to your ministry. Those who make it on the team will be committed to excellence, and they will be your most valuable asset as a worship leader.
What does your worship team audition process look like? How do you feel about the one I described? Share your thoughts, love, and opinions in the comments below.
I grew up in a small Pentecostal church in Northern Vermont. It was the church where I discovered my passion for worship ministry. I love the vitality and energy of the charismatic tradition. When I was young, the charismatic church and its style of worship were all I knew. I did not know that not all churches value extended worship sets, raising hands, clapping, and altar calls. Elevation Church is one of a handful of charismatic mega-churches that has been producing solid worship songs for any church to use on Sunday. In early 2016 they released the album, Here as in Heaven. One of the most popular songs on that album is O Come to the Altar written by Chris Brown, Mack Brock, Steven Furtick, and Wade Joye. Since the album’s release, O Come to the Altar has made it to the top 10 most popular songs on CCLI Song Select. Many churches across the globe are singing it right now. This song is both singable and powerful for any congregation.
The following is a review of the song from both a musical and theological standpoint. You’ll learn some practical tips for arranging the song for congregational singing and understanding the song meaning.
O Come to the Altar is a ballad in 6/8. I don’t know what it is about 6/8 ballads. For some reason, they have a high emotional impact. Another popular but older song that is a 6/8 ballad is How He Loves by John Mark MacMillan or Come as You Are by David Crowder. The range of the melody is small and stays under an octave. That makes it singable for just about anyone. The motifs in the song are also memorable and repetitive. There is nothing particularly challenging about the instrumentation in this song. It sounds great played acoustically or with a full band. If you’re new to leading worship, I would recommend having this song in your library. One of my favorite things about this song is the chord progression in the chorus. I love how it moves from the one chord to the two chord, then to the six chord. The two chord feels a bit surprising but it fits well and gives the song a distinct sound.
As I mentioned above, I grew up in a charismatic church where altar calls were the norm. Personally, I can connect with the idea of coming forward to the altar as a sign of surrender and worship. In the Old Testament, the altar was the place where God’s people made sacrifices for their sin. It was a unique place where God interacted with humans. It’s where people would go to consecrate themselves to God. In other words, it’s where people would go to find forgiveness for their sin and devote their life to God. In the New Testament, Christ’s death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice on the ultimate altar. As Christians, we do not need to make animal sacrifices anymore. Instead, we are to offer our lives as “living sacrifices” to God, as Paul says in Romans 12. We are “living” sacrifices because Christ has brought us from spiritual death to life. We are in right relationship with God. We are consecrated. We are set apart for his purpose. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were a prediction of what was to come in complete fulfillment in Christ.
So when you sing the lyrics of this song, know that the imagery of the “altar” has a lot of Biblical meaning behind it. The chorus is simple but packed with truth. When we sing, “O Come to the Altar,” we are not asking people to find a lamb to kill at the front of the church. It’s referring to the type of sacrifice Paul mentions in Romans 12:1. We want to make it a habit of laying down the ways of our old self at the altar so that we can embrace a new life in Christ.
Worship Leading Tips
I would recommend leading this song in the key of F or G if you are a male vocalist and D or E if you are a female vocalist. On the album, they play it in B. In my opinion, it is an awkward key for your average small to mid-sized congregation. If I were leading, I would play it in the key of F and capo the 5th fret and play in the key of C.
This song works great as an invitation for response to a sermon or call to salvation. Depending on your church’s style and traditions, you could even invite people to come to the front of the stage as a tangible expression of coming to the altar. You could have church leaders available to pray over them. Using the brief theological explanation above saying something like, “In the bible, the altar was a place where people came before God and sought to be made holy for His purposes. Back then they sacrificed animals to experience communion with God. Since Jesus’ death was the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of the cross, we can come before God without needing to make animal sacrifices. Instead, we surrender our own lives to God so that we can be living sacrifices. That’s what this song is about. I want to invite you to embrace God’s transformative love for you through Christ. You are made holy and accepted by God because of Jesus' blood.”
If you found this review and these tips helpful hit that like button and share it with your worship leading friends! I’d love to hear your feedback on this song. Are you singing it in your church? How has your congregation received it? What do you like or do not like about the song?
Congregational engagement and participation are high priorities in my worship ministry. The quality of music and production also matter a lot to me, but if the congregation’s mouths are not moving and they are just staring at the band, then I am not succeeding as a worship leader. I have always tried to arrange songs so that they are singable, and that has been one effective way to help them engage in worship. Recently, I have discovered the power of making a relational connection with my church during the worship service. By regularly implementing a few simple practices into my worship leading, I have seen people’s willingness to participate in worship increase, and I have received a lot of positive feedback regarding their ability to engage.
I know a lot of worship leaders struggle with connecting with their congregation, so here are three simple practices you can implement in your worship leading context to develop a deeper connection with your church community.
1. Introduce and share a little bit about yourself.
First, make sure you are regularly introducing yourself at the beginning of worship and share something about yourself. Relationship is critical to all forms of leadership, and I think many worship leaders forget to apply that to their role. Think about it. You are trying to lead people to sing and engage in a spiritual experience. That is a lot to ask of complete strangers. Singing is a physically demanding activity, and spirituality is deeply personal. As a worship leader, you must gain the congregation’s trust. The most basic way to do this is to get to know them. You cannot expect to lead people to raise their hands in worship, which is a very vulnerable posture if they have no basis to trust or follow your requests.
When I first met my wife and was interested in pursuing her, did I immediately go up to her and ask, “will you marry me and spend the rest of your life with me?” Of course not. It took three years of us getting to know each other before she was able to commit to being with me for life. That is an extreme example of the work and intentionality it takes to develop a relationship and trust, but the same underlying principles apply to worship leading.
Your congregation wants to know you before they follow you. Do not expect them to sing, raise their hands, or engage in worship if they have zero personal connection with you. Try to dedicate a little bit of time every service to allow the congregation to have a glimpse of who you are. You do not need to be everyone’s best friend or share your deepest sins. I’m talking about making sure they know a little bit about your passions and your family. Here’s an example of what I said at the beginning of a worship service that was my first Sunday as an interim worship leader.
“Good morning, Deer Creek Church. My name is Jake, and I’m excited to worship with you this morning. I have been friends with your staff for a while now, and I love how vibrant and life-giving your church is. To tell you a little bit about myself, I am married to my wife Kaylee, and we do not have any kids, but we have four chickens…”
After everyone had laughed I invited them to join me in the Call to Worship and began the worship set. It took less than 20 seconds but it helped them connect with me, and I gained at least a little bit of trust. Each week I try to say or do something in the service so that they can know and trust me more.
2. Use humor when appropriate
The second tip I have for connecting with your congregation is use humor when appropriate. There is a reason why the personalities with the biggest following in our culture are comedians. I love watching the Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I disagree with a lot of their worldview, but they can gain my attention because they are funny. Humor is the most powerful tool for removing barriers between personal connection. Embrace the moments when you have an opportunity to be funny. Do not go overboard and try to be a stand-up comedian. Here is an example of something I’ve said to be humorous.
“Good morning, Deer Creek Church. My name is Jake, and I’m the choir director. By nature of being in this room at 9:00 or 11 AM, you just joined the choir.”
Everyone laughed because this church does not have a choir. I said it to be funny and to make a point that they were expected to sing.
3. Explain the "why" behind your worship.
The final tip I have for connecting with your congregation is to regularly explain the meaning and purpose of the various activities in worship. People will follow you when they are compelled by the “why.” Never assume that your congregation is full of worship theologians. They have no clue why you picked the songs you did or why they are reading an old school prayer. If you take just a few moment to explain and guide your congregation through the worship experience, they will connect. Guiding the congregation through worship is something I am passionate about because I love thinking critically about theology and liturgy, and every time I share explanatory thoughts in worship, I have congregants tell me how helpful it is for them. Instructing them in this way is what it means to be a worship pastor. Help your congregation connect the dots between Sunday morning and their everyday lives. Here’s an example of what I’ve said to explain a portion of worship.
Before singing the song "This I Believe" by Hillsong Worship, I tell them, “We are gonna sing a song based on an ancient text called the Apostle’s Creed. Christians have been proclaiming these words for centuries to affirm their faith, and we are going to join them by singing this song."
Before we pray a prayer of confession, I would say something like, “At this time I want to invite you to join me in this prayer of confession. It’s an opportunity to come before God and say, “Hey, God, I have fallen short in loving you and loving others in my life. I have sinned against you in so many ways, I have disrespected authority figures in my life, mistreated my spouse, or cursed at the guy who cut me off on the highway. I’m a sinner and need your grace every day.” Then we go on to pray the prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer.
Brief explanations like this will help connect the dots for your congregants. Look for these opportunities during the planning process. Write them out and practice saying them.
Developing a meaningful relationship with your congregation takes time, but I think you’ll soon see the benefits of implementing these tips. People will be more willing to follow you as a worship leader if they know you and they know the “why” behind worship.
I hope you found this article helpful for your ministry and it gives you a few actionable tips for connecting with your congregation. What other ways have you found to connect with your congregation? What do you find difficult about connecting with them? Let me know in the comments below.
My number one leadership book recommendation is The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell. Reading this book has given me the clearest paradigm for understanding what it means to grow as a leader in whatever context or role I find myself. The book is straightforward. Maxwell explains there are five levels of leadership.
- People Development
- Leader Development
Leadership growth happens when you advance from level one up to level five. You cannot skip a level, and you must maintain prior levels as you grow. It did not take long reading this book for me to discover how this applies to my role as a worship leader. Maxwell defines leadership as influence. I agree with this definition. As worship leaders, we are trying to influence our volunteers to be committed and the church body as a whole to know and love God more. But how does this influence happen? As I unpack the five levels of leadership, I think you’ll discover where you are at as a leader and how you can grow in influence in your worship ministry.
Level 1 - Position
Maybe you’re a volunteer and your lead pastor saw potential in you, or you were hired as a full-time worship leader. Either way, you began your journey by being granted a position. This level of leadership has the least influence. It is merely having the title, “worship leader.” Do not expect people to follow you just because you were granted a position. Sure, your band members may show up to rehearsal and maybe put in a little practice time at home, but do not expect them to be committed or exceed your expectations. A lot of worship leaders complain their band just does not care or they are not reliable. Guess whose fault that is. Yours. It’s probably because you are stuck at level one leadership. Influencing others takes a lot of work and requires stepping up to the next levels of leadership.
Level 2 - Permission
To reach the next level of leadership, you must develop relationships with your worship band so that they give you permission to lead them. Developing relationships is absolutely critical for influence. The old sayings are true. “People go along with leaders they get along with.” Or “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” As a worship leader, I have always struggled with this area of leadership. I poured all of my time and energy into the excellence of music and production, but I failed to connect with my worship team and congregation. You can attain this level of worship leading by making time in your calendar to meet with your band and members of your church. Set a goal is to meet with one or two people a week. Ask them a lot of questions about their story, their family, and their passions. Ask how you can pray for them. Host a band hangout at your house so they can meet your family. You do not need to be their best friend. They just need to know you. I think you’ll be amazed at how much more committed they will become. They will even buy into your crazy ideas. Invest the time to earn their permission as a leader and your influence will increase.
Level 3 - Production
The next level of leadership is production. This is not “production” in the sense of audio and visual elements in worship. This production refers to your competency and ability to get work done. In the church world, a lot of leaders become complacent and remain on level two. It makes sense because the permission level seems the most “pastoral” and a lot of churches believe it is okay to have less than stellar production in ministry. There are also ministry leaders like me who want to skip permission and work on production. Both staying on level two and skipping level two are wrong. If you want to grow your ministry and grow your church, you need to continually grow in your skills and be a productive leader. For worship leaders, that means becoming a better musician, theologian, and growing in one's understanding of how to use technology in worship. Take music lessons, read books, and attend conferences. Advancing one’s education and skill set has never been easier thanks to the internet. It also means being disciplined and working hard. Avoid being a last minute planner. Your band and your congregation will want to follow you more as you contribute to the advancement of the church’s mission.
Level 4 - People Development
Once you have established meaningful relationships and the discipline to be a productive leader, the next level is people development. At this level, people will follow you because of what you do for them. If you remain on level three, it will not be long until your team stagnates. Your ability to be productive can only go so far in advancing your ministry. That’s why it is necessary to begin developing other team members into worship leaders. This will set you apart from 99% of worship leaders. Advancing to this level is tough. It’s hard enough to ascend to the third level of leadership yourself, let alone influence others to do the same. Good leaders are not afraid to work themselves out of a job. If your church has a healthy leadership culture, this will be encouraged. Replacing yourself will give you the opportunity to lead larger and work on bigger projects you would not have time for if you were the sole worship leader.
Level 5 - Leader Development
The pinnacle of leadership is developing others to level four leadership. In other words, you develop leaders who develop leaders. Very few make it to this level of leadership. While I have never seen this in a worship ministry, here’s what I would envision for a level five worship leader. This person would mentor and develop a team of worship leaders who are developing other worship leaders. They would be behind the scenes and rarely would they be on the platform on a Sunday morning. It does not sound glamorous, but this type of leadership is how you leave a legacy because now your influence impacts exponentially more people. Realistically, I only see this happening at large and growing mega-churches who have the resources for growing and developing a large staff. There are possibly some other avenues through which this level of leadership can be exercised, but they would be rare.
Leading and influencing others is tough no matter how you slice it. If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell. As you can see from this brief overview, it is highly applicable to any leadership context, especially worship leading.
How is your church’s worship diet?
Recently, I’ve been reading the book The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks. If you are involved in worship music ministry, I highly recommend reading it yourself. I think it is one of the most thoughtful but accessible books I have ever read on worship ministry.
One of the chapters in his book is called “The Worship Pastor as Theological Dietician.” Have you ever thought of having the responsibility as a theological dietician for your church? In a nutshell, Zac talks about how the way we plan our worship services determines the type of theology our congregation is consuming on a weekly basis.
Does your church’s worship gatherings consist of primarily joyful, happy, praise music? Obviously, that is an essential part of how Christians should be worshipping. There is a lot to be joyful about because of the Gospel. The problem occurs when this type of worship makes up 100% of our worship gatherings.
When worship becomes out of touch with reality.
Zac Hicks gives the illustration of your average guy who attends church with his wife and kids. It’s a healthy, vibrant mega-church, and the worship music is always celebratory, God-is-good-and-life-is-so-great type of music. Then one day the guy's wife is diagnosed with cancer and life takes a turn for the worse. All that his church sings on Sunday is happy and celebratory songs. It causes the man to become bitter and even leave the church because he feels it is so out of touch with reality.
This is an extreme example, but it reminded me of the importance of planning a healthy diet of songs for my church. Each week I try to pick some songs that are celebratory and others that maybe are more somber and reflective. Some songs are for praising God, but others are for lament and crying out to God for his healing presence in our lives.
There are theologically rich songs being written today (even by the mega-churches!)
Here is what’s exciting. The modern contemporary worship music is still relatively young, but within the past decade, I have seen how the songwriting of even the popular worship leaders is beginning to mature. Of the new music being written these days, fewer songs are peppy and happy-go-lucky, and more songs and songwriters are focusing more on the realities of life and how the gospel comes into play no matter what the situation.
I’m a HUGE Hillsong United fan. Maybe it is because when I first started leading worship in high school, that’s when Joel Houston and the gang started to have an international platform and I learned how to lead worship using their songs. Remember songs like “Break Free?” Sure it was a great song, but it’s the epitome of happy-go-lucky worship music. But I don’t blame Hillsong United for writing it because they were writing songs for their youth ministry. Fast forward ten years and now Joel is arguably the most thoughtful and theologically informed worship songwriter out there. Watch the Hillsong United documentary, "Let Hope Rise," and you will see what I mean. Now Joel and his friends are writing songs like “Even When It Hurts” and “Prince of Peace.” I am nearly moved to tears every time I listen to or sing these songs, not merely because of the emotion of the songs but also because of the theologically-rich lyrics.
It excites me to see songs like this being written because finally, the contemporary worship scene is starting to have a healthy diet of songs. Just a couple of days ago Hillsong United released their new songs, "Wonder" and "Splinters and Stones." Together these songs display a balanced diet of worship songs. "Wonder" is more celebratory and joy-filled, while "Splinters and Stones" is more somber, reflective, and contains elements of lament and confession.
Do not let people tell you that you need to incorporate old hymns into worship to have theologically-rich music. I love hymns, but people who think hymns are holier to sing and more substantive than modern worship music need to pull their head out of the sand and just research more of what is being written today
Sorry, my rant is over.
How is your church's worship diet?
Reading this chapter about the worship pastor as dietician reminded me how important it is to have a healthy variety of song selection in worship. I also like to throw in some other liturgical elements, but that’s a topic for another article. Don’t just feed your congregation theological comfort food. Make sure they eat their fruits and veggies as well. It may not taste good, but they will be much healthier down the road.
Achieving a smooth and non-distracting flow of worship can be tough, especially when it comes to transitions in between songs.
As a worship leader, I know how awkward it feels when there is dead silence or a sloppy intro to a song.
Whether we like it or not, our culture expects experiences like worship gatherings to have a smooth flow to them, and it can be distracting for people when there is a disruption in the emotional atmosphere.
While emotion isn't everything in worship, it does play an integral role in communicating truths of the Gospel and changing hearts.
That's why I care so much about transitions.
Here are six techniques I regularly implement to ensure smooth transitions in worship.
Tip #1: Use a click and guide cues.
The first way to create a smooth transition is by using a click and guide cues in worship. It is my absolute favorite way to execute a smooth transition. There are a couple of reasons why this works so well.
First, there is no need for you drummer to give an audible count-off to start the song because everyone can hear the click and cues count-off in their in-ear monitors.
Second, using software like Ableton Live, Playback, or Prime gives you the ability to transition between songs seamlessly.
Tip #2: Use a filler instrument like a pad to play softly in between songs.
The next way to create a smooth transition between songs is to utilize a filler instrument like a pad, piano, or guitar swells in between songs. Ask whoever is playing one of these instruments to play softly. It’s easiest to do this on a pad.
Rather than leaving silent space in between songs, the pad player can be the last one to fade out from a song and then slowly fade in the key of the next song.
If the songs are in the same key or related keys, this instrumentalist can keep playing and transition to the root chord of the next song. From there the drummer or click track and count the band off.
If you do not have a keyboardist to play these ambient pad sounds, I would recommend trying out pre-recorded pads like Churchfront Pads.
Tip #3: Choose song keys that transition well into one another.
Another consideration for creating smooth transitions is song key selection. If two songs are in the same key and you place them back-to-back, that will automatically lend itself to a smooth transition.
Songs in related keys also transition well. Keys are related when they share common tones and chords. Sometimes a song can be a relative minor of another song, which means they have the same key signature.
For example, although the song Oceans is in B minor, it’s relative major key is D. It would flow well into a song like “What a Beautiful Name.” That is because B minor and D have the same key signature.
Keys can be related even with different key signatures, so long as those differences are less than one sharp or flat. For example, the key of C is related to the key of G and F because they differ by only one sharp or flat.
Another example is the Key of G, which is related to the keys of C and D.
Let’s pretend I’m finishing up the song, Bless the Lord in the Key of G. I’m going to transition it to What a Beautiful Name in the Key of D. To do this, I will end Bless the Lord on a G chord, give it some space, and then transition to D. If you try this on a keyboard or guitar, you’ll notice it does not sound jarring, since the D chord was a regular in the key of G.
Sometimes you can help your vocalists transition keys by playing the one chord to the four chord a couple times.
Tip #4: Plan readings or prayers in between songs and have someone play underneath.
The fourth way to create a smooth transition is by preparing something to say, read, or pray during this time.
There is still intentional musical preparation that needs to happen here. I prefer having the keyboardist play softly underneath me when I speak during a transition.
It helps keep everything in the right mood as complete silence can be jarring to the atmosphere of worship. Imagine a meaningful part of a movie without the subtle background music. You do not notice it, but if the music were not there, it would be awkward.
The same applies to the worship experience. Silence may be appropriate sometimes, but playing soft background music is the best way to maintain the emotional atmosphere in worship.
Tip #5: Practice your transitions.
Finally, the most crucial step to creating smooth transitions is by practicing them!
Transitions are critical for maintaining the momentum of the worship experience, and it only takes a minute or two to rehearse them with your band. I like to practice transitions, especially tricky ones, three to five times. I want my musicians to be 110% confident they can nail it.
I also practice any speaking, praying, or readings during rehearsal.
Transitions have the most potential for mess ups so invest the time to get them right.
Tip #6: Join Worship Leader School
If you’d like step-by-step training on how to implement the tools and strategies I listed in the previous five steps, then check out Worship Leader School.
It’s an online membership site for worship leaders containing online courses, community, and access to my real-time help during one of our weekly office hours sessions.
Some of the courses include:
Getting Started with a Click and Tracks
Lead Worship with Ableton
Speak Between Songs
How to Lead Worship Band Rehearsal
The exciting part is we are adding new courses every month!
You can learn more and apply to join the school here.
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 WorshipTogether.com 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.
Nothing is quite as discouraging for worship leaders than a congregation that does not sing. Sometimes you look up at them and think you just got thrown into a scene in The Walking Dead. Unfortunately, this occurrence is all too common in churches today. Here are three practical ways you can prepare and lead worship that will help increase congregational singing at your church and hopefully reduce the number of zombies.
1. Choose optimal keys for the "average Joe" to sing.
The first way to increase congregation singing is by choosing optimal song keys. When you are selecting songs and building your worship set, take time to research and find the optimal key for each song to encourage congregational singing. Choosing a key that is too high or too low for the average Joe to sing creates a huge barrier for engagement. When searching for the right key, I ask myself, “is the vocal range of the melody comfortable for someone with a baritone or mezzo-soprano voice type?” I use this criterion because these vocal ranges are most comfortable for men and women with little vocal training. Chances are your congregation is not full of Chris Tomlin tenors or Lauren Daigle altos. If you select keys optimal for tenors and altos, do not be surprised if they just stare at you either admiring your killer vocal range or frustrated they cannot sing comfortably. A quick way to check whether or not the key is optimal for an average vocal range is by seeing whether the melody stays within the following ranges on the piano keyboard. A-2 to D-4 for men and A3-D-5 for women. In some cases, it is okay if the melody goes a little higher or lower than these ranges, but only if it is for a note or two. The more a songs range sticks within the middle of these optimal ranges, the easier it is for your congregation to sing along.
2. Strategically introduce new songs.
The next way you can increase congregational singing is by strategically introducing new songs. I love introducing new worship songs and I think we live in an exciting time with so many gifted songwriters crafting amazing music for our churches. While I would encourage you to continue introducing new music to your congregation, be strategic about it. Here are a few things to keep in mind. First, avoid introducing too many new songs too quickly. Force yourself to choose only the new songs you feel your church would connect with best. The exact frequency really depends on the culture of your church. I’ve been a church that requires singing a new song about five times before people finally start to feel familiar with it and engage. I’ve also been at churches where the first time a song is introduced everyone is singing it with gusto like they have heard it a billion times. I think for most churches, one or two new songs a month is doable, so long as you repeat those songs in following weeks to continue raising familiarity with them. Generally, by the time I am sick of singing a new song, that is when the congregation finally begins to connect with it. Strategically introducing new songs requires planning further ahead than only one week in advance to properly mix them in with older songs and determine the frequency of how often that new song is repeated. If you put in the time to strategize introducing and repeating a new song, people will increasingly engage and sing it over time.
3. Engage your congregation.
Finally, the third way to increase congregational singing is to engage your congregation. A lot of worship leaders struggle with the feeling that they are the lone worshipper in a room full of unengaged people. In my experience, I have found that engagement is a two-way street. In order to lead people to a place of engagement and singing, worship leaders must take initiative to engage the congregation. This can be done by implementing some simple practices and techniques in the way you lead. First, make eye-contact and smile at your congregation. This establishes a basic but important relationship with them as their worship leader. If your eyes are glued to your music stand or confidence monitor, why would anyone feel compelled to follow you in worship? Next, use simple call-outs like “sing it out” or “let’s lift up our voices” once in awhile to remind them that they should be singing with you. Finally, give your congregation brief pastoral moments that connect the sermon to the song you are about to sing or simply shed some light on the meaning of songs you sing. People will take action and sing when they are giving a compelling reason of why they should sing. Remember that your congregation did not spend all week thinking about why you chose those particular songs. Keep them in the know, but be brief. They do not need a second sermon.
What other worship planning and leading techniques have you found that encourage congregational singing? This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it gives your a few simple action items that you can begin implementing now in order to encourage and increase congregational singing at your church.
Last summer my wife and I attended Hillsong Conference in New York City. Along with hearing some amazing talks on church leadership, participating in the conference gave us a sneak peak at Hillsong Worship’s latest album. I remember the first time they led us with the song “What a Beautiful Name” and how it was an instant favorite. Since then the song was released as the single from their new album “Let There Be Light” and has rapidly grown in popularity. According to CCLI it is the number one song currently being sung by churches in early 2017. In this article, I want to dissect this song to better understand why so many churches love singing it. By analyzing this song and how it was written, you’ll discover three ingredients that make up a great worship song. This will further equip you as you search for other new worship songs and determine whether or not they will be a good fit for your congregation.
#1 - This song is singable
The first reason this song is so popular is that it is singable. If your church is not engaging with a song, it is probably because that song is too difficult to sing. Here are a few factors that determine whether or not a song is singable.
First, a song is singable if the vocal part has a small vocal range so that anyone can comfortably sing it in the right key. By vocal range, I mean the distance between the highest and lowest notes of the melody. For congregational singing, you want to have the smallest range possible, generally not much more than an octave. An example of a song with a large vocal range is “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.” The melody of that song spans nearly three octaves. A large vocal range does not mean it is a bad song. It’s just not a song you want to have hundreds or thousands of people sing at the same time.
An example of a song with a small vocal range is “Take me out to the ballgame.” It’s the song that everyone sings during the 7th inning stretch at baseball games. The reason it’s a great song for that context is that its vocal range stays almost within an octave. That makes it easy for everyone to sing.
Now let’s take a look at the vocal range of “What a Beautiful Name.” Just like “Take me out to the ballgame,” this song has a range only one note over an octave, making it easy for everyone to sing because they do not need to strain their voice reaching high or low notes. Let’s compare that to another Hillsong song on the same album. The song “Behold” has a much larger vocal range at almost two octaves. The verses are super low, and the chorus reaches up to a F#. While I love this song, I do not think it would work well for most congregations, because most people would give up on trying to sing the melody.
The second factor that determines whether a song is singable is the key. Unlike the range of a song, the key can be changed. “What a Beautiful Name” is one of those rare worship songs that was written and produced in a key that is comfortable for most people. Although it is female-led, even guys can sing it comfortably. It may be a little low for you Chris Tomlin tenors, or should I say altos, but I would recommend keeping this song in D as it is the optimal key for both men and women.
The final factor that impacts whether or not a song is singable is the memorability and predictability of the song’s motifs and sequences. In music, a motif is a short melody, usually consisting of two or three notes, that when linked together form a sequence. Let’s look at the chorus of “What a Beautiful Name.” The motifs and sequences are simple. This makes the melody easy to memorize and easy to sing for the congregation. You’ll find more simple motifs and sequences all throughout the song. If you’re looking for a new song to introduce to your congregation, they will have no trouble learning this one.
As you can see, “What a Beautiful Name” is an incredibly singable song. It has a small range, it’s in an optimal key, and it has an easy to learn and memorable melody.
#2 - This song has good theology
The second reason this is such a popular song is because of its great theology. Unfortunately, I cannot always say this about popular worship songs. So whether or not worship leaders have chosen this song due to its theology or how singable it is as we’ve discussed, I think this song is an excellent example of modern worship songwriting done right.
A quick side note, a lot of folks think for a song to be theologically sound it has to be in a hymn book or a modern hymn written by the Getty’s or Sovereign Grace music. I love old hymns, and I love what modern hymn writers are doing. But to bash the songwriting of churches like Hillsong, Elevation, and Bethel? That’s ridiculous. Some of Hillsong’s music has way more theological depth than the most sacred of old hymns. I would even argue that writers like Joel Houston and Jason Ingram are modern day Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley. That could be a topic for a whole other article.
All of that to say, modern worship songs with great theology do exist, and I think “What a Beautiful Name” is an excellent example of this. This song is rich in both theology and direct references to Scripture. The first verse, pulls themes from John 1 and Colossians 1, referring to the pre-existence of the Son, and his role in creation. Verse 2 touches on themes of our sinfulness and the resulting reconciliation in Christ. The bridge, which is my favorite part of the song, speaks to the victory of the resurrection. All of the choruses, pulling from Philippians 2:9-11, speak of how beautiful, wonderful, and powerful the name of Jesus is. I love how many different facets of the gospel this song covers in such a powerful way. This is the type of theology you want your congregation to be singing on Sunday.
#3 - This song is gender-balanced
Finally, the third reason why this song is so popular is that it’s a song both guys and girls love to sing. It’s what I call gender-balanced. I don’t know if that’s even the right phraseology, but I think it works. I never considered this to be criteria for a worship song until I read the book, “Why Men Hate Going to Church” by David Murrow. In it he unpacks various reasons why men do not like attending church. One of those reasons is that a lot of worship music being written today is extremely feminine, and uses romantic references to God. For example, “Real Love” by Hillsong Young and Free, is one of my favorite songs because of the bass drops, synths, and the way it makes me want to dance. When I look at the lyrics, sometimes I think the songwriter wrote this for his girlfriend, they broke up with her, and rather than throwing away the song, he just threw the line, “Jesus, I’m found in your freedom,” and said, “Hey look! It’s a worship song!” That’s probably not what happened, but I say all of that because songs like that feel weird to sing if you’re a dude. Men enjoy songs like “Lion and Lamb” and “What a Beautiful Name," because they are more triumphal and victorious. I cannot speak for all men, but I know that most of them like to sing about the fact that our God can beat up anybody and has the ultimate cosmic street cred. Songs with lyrics about “Jesus my lover and boyfriend” can often be weird for men to sing. Despite having a somewhat feminine title, “What a beautiful name” has a victorious, anthem-like feel, especially in the bridge and last chorus. That is why I think this song is gender balanced.
I hope this analysis of the song “What a beautiful name” helped you reflect upon the reasons we sing the type of songs we do in worship, and why songs like this one should be a part of your worship band’s song library. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Are there any other new songs right now that you feel are singable, have sound theology, and are gender balanced? Let me know in the comments.