Not every church has the same top 20 songs. Not even close! Every church is so unique.
I mean, there are probably the few songs that every church has done multiple times in the past year...like This is Amazing Grace and 10,000 Reasons (but watch me be wrong!)
Why am I telling you this? Well, I recently guest led at a church and chose to lead four (out of five) songs that I’ve never led before.
And when you magnify something, you notice new details.
Like, you know how your team’s energy is different when you lead a new song versus one that you know like the back of your hand?
So why did I do it? Maybe my motivation was:
- Ooh, I’ve never been at a church that knows this song...I’ve been wanting to lead it! (Future/Past)
- This song fits perfectly and the church knows it well (Because He Lives (Amen))
- I don’t want to get stagnant in learning new songs, so I’ll push myself
- I really feel like we should sing this one (God My Rock)
- I wanted to do a hymn, but this Tomlin repackaging seems fitting (Crown Him (Majesty))
- There’s a killer loop that goes with this one...we’ve gotta do it
- It seems like everybody’s been doing this song for years and I’ve just never led it (so I should) (Only King Forever)
- I want something fresh, so let me pick only songs that haven’t been done yet this year (click to sort by "last scheduled" in PCO and only look at 2017)
That may be a revealing look into my head, but let’s look at the effect of leading so many songs that aren’t fully owned by my mind and soul.
Glued to the Lyrics
If you know me, you know that what I’m playing is happening pretty well without much thought from me. BUT...the lyrics? Hello Nemisis. Needless to say, I was way more stuck to bouncing between my Music Stand and the tiny confidence monitor in the back. Honestly, with this many new-to-me songs, I was even watching some of the chords. Shoot fire.
"Using" the Songs
I like knowing the song well enough that I can twist, shape, rearrange, retool, etc. it as the need presents itself. But when you’re not familiar enough with it, you just can’t. You’re stuck with the stock.
Spirit of Worship
We are limited. We each only have 100% (unless you’re part of the "keeping it three hunerd" club, but I digress.) 10% watching the time, 20% listening to the click, 10% leading the congregation, 50% delivering the lyrics, 30% playing the music, shoot...I’m already out. What happened to 51% worshiping Jesus? Point? If I’m too focused on the music, I miss the main thing. (Caveat: not all churches are the same - duh - but I mean, the church I was leading at is more of a "concert-style worship" meaning that the focus is more on providing engaging songs, compelling music, and intelligent segues than "meandering after the impulses of God." I know it’s not that black and white, but in this style, it works to perform the songs well versus perusing an encounter with God - not that those are mutually exclusive.)
Now, you’d be CRAZY to do 4 out of 5 songs that neither the team nor the congregation knows, but every song that is new adds stress. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you need to account for it. New songs can bring energy to the team, but they also cost something. And don’t get lulled into thinking that just because you’ve done it three times in the last three years, it’s not a new song. Songs lose their "new song" label after what, five plays in three months? That’s not a hard and fast rule, but take into account what the new songs are costing you and your team. (And of course, your congregation)
Lastly, I’m reminded of something Dan Wilt shared in his book How To Lead Worship Without Being a Rock Star: "When planning a worship set, the lion’s share of the songs should be tunes the congregation loves and knows. " And I’d include you in that! So maybe the "perfect ratio" would’ve been four out of five songs that I know well. ;)
ps. Sometimes when I'm choosing songs, I get inspiration from the TOP SONGS button on the left side of the Songs tab in PCO. Because it's in real time, you get to see what churches across the US are actually doing this (or any of the next six) Sunday(s). The graphic below is what it looks like.