I had lunch with a worship leader recently. He likes to visit other churches in the area when he has the rare Sunday off.
He attended the worship service of one ministry and was amazed to find he didn’t know a single song. Eight congregational songs and not one familiar tune, and he considers himself to be pretty much up on the latest and greatest.
I have a non-worship-leader friend who attends this church and he once chuckled about the oddball, unsingable songs they’re forced to sing.
Worship leader, please don’t go overboard and pick an entire set of obscure songs. You may loooooove these songs and they personally minister to you. Even a couple of them in your sets are fine. But here are two good reasons not to overindulge:
Variety: If you pick only songs you love (especially from little-known worship bands) your music will get stale pretty quickly. I’ve been to churches who sing entire sets of Chris Tomlin or Hillsong United tunes – both produce wonderful music but a Sunday morning of nothing but becomes a bit monotonous.
There’s a fine line between your church having a distinct musical style and overindulging. Try not to program more than a third of your song set by the same artist – that way you’ll retain your style but you’ll have diversity (and let’s face it, is there really that much difference between Popular Worship Band A and Popular Worship Band B? We worship leaders operate in a pretty narrow stylistic frequency.)
Visitors: Hopefully your church has a steady stream of visitors – wouldn’t it be nice if they knew at least one song with which they could participate? Hymns are a common musical denominator. Visitors from other churches and denominations will most likely know them, and even the unchurched might remember them from their youth (when grandma dragged them to church.) Try to include a well-known hymn whenever you can – and tailor it to your own style. See my related article that lists the top ten hymns for contemporary worship.
The next common denominator, at least for the churched crowd, are the top CCLI songs. Every churched visitor probably knows How Great Is Our God. And as much as I’m sick of Shout to the Lord, even the unchurched may have heard it in the media. Oddly enough, it was even sung by the American Idol finalists a few years ago (and it’s still currently at #45 on the CCLI chart!)
Even as recently as ten years ago most contemporary churches had similar musical vocabularies. After the worship explosion of the mid 2000’s there’s now a worship style (and repertoire) for every worship leader’s taste. Not only that but churches are producing their own material at record rates. All this creativity is wonderful, but don’t forget to include a few songs now and then that people know and love.