It is the contradiction for worship planners:
Pick songs your congregation knows YET pick new songs for your congregation to learn.
Yep, we gotta sing songs people know, otherwise, they won’t sing. How can they? Yet, if we keep singing the same songs again and again, we go nowhere in the ongoing story of God’s salvation.
Here are some thoughts that I would toss out to a worship leader who might be in the throes of picking songs for Sunday. These principles are tested and proven mostly right in my short experience in congregational worship leading.
1) Don’t start with a new song. Think of the worship service as a balloon. High energy calls to worship, hopeful scripture readings, and genuinely joyful worship leaders are all elements that inflate with the wind of the Spirit. Included in that inflation is the familiarity of the right song. No, not always fast, but always familiar. A new song says “you’re not invited to this — this is for us”, which doesn’t do much for getting people engaged in worship. It’s like an inside joke that you’re not part of. People are laughing, but you’re just waiting for the moment to pass. Worst of all, new songs deflate, which is okay, as long as you replace the air. Use the air carefully.
Instead — teach a new song nestled between a couple of well-known songs. Bridge unfamiliarity between two sturdy piers. Give people permission to learn it, run it through, and then move on to familiar territory. Bring it back next week. Keep the balloon inflated.
2) Piecemeal and marry the better known songs with the really well known songs. There’s something about going from a classic like How Great Is Our God into a grand classic like How Great Thou Art. That’s a good marriage. Can you fit Mighty to Save with All The Way My Savior Leads Me? of course. Don’t force it, but do play matchmaker.
3) Pay Attention. Worship Leaders get into ruts. I think it has to do with how we rehearse a line, a lick, a riff — again, again, again. We have to pay attention to where the congregation locks in. They’re not musicians (most of them) and so a song/melody/version that resonates deserves special attention. This may only be for a season. For example, for about 18 months, Revelation Song was an incredibly moving song for a congregation I served. Today, it would be a nice remembrance. But we’ve moved on. Pay attention to that, too. And don’t overuse the good ones, lest you prematurely kill them.
The Holy Spirit will be an amazing help in all of this. Listen.
Epilogue: I am still amazed by the staying power of hymns. I mentioned How Great Thou Art as a song that even marginally churched people could probably recall by v2. Try that with Shine, Jesus, Shine, and it just won’t be the same. Could the hymns have some kind of Spiritual power that runs in tandem with revival?
If you’ve read this far, I sure would appreciate it if you could add to the conversation, even pointing out the places where you think I’m off (or grumpy). Comment if you dare, either here or on fb.