Engaging Your Church

Engaging Your Church—What Songs To Sing (And How Often)

In the Worship Workshop Podcast, host John Nicol and special co-host Peter Newman discuss the importance of managing song lists and rotating songs in order to engage a church congregation. They explain that churches need to repeat songs multiple times in a short period for them to become familiar and heartfelt. This way, congregations can sing from their hearts rather than relying on screens.

The podcast introduces a system called “Song Cycle,” which divides songs into three phases: Learn, Churn, and Burn. In the Learn phase, new songs are introduced and repeated frequently to help the congregation catch on. Once people begin singing from their hearts, the song moves into the Churn phase, where it is performed less often but still maintains momentum. Finally, when a song becomes well-known enough that it might lose its impact if played too often, it enters the Burn phase.

According to Nicol and Newman’s guidelines, tier one (Learn) songs should be played five to six times in two months; tier two (Churn) songs should be played about once a month; and tier three (Burn) songs should be played about once per quarter. The hosts emphasize that different churches will have different preferences for how long each phase lasts.

In addition to these tiers, they also mention other categories of music like hymns or classics—songs that can be pulled out occasionally but still resonate with congregations because they have stood the test of time.

Overall, managing song lists effectively can make a significant difference in engaging churchgoers during worship services by providing them with familiar music sung from their hearts instead of just reading off screens.

To help congregations learn new songs, John suggests having team members practice the song first for several weeks before introducing it to the congregation during pre-service or communion time. This allows the team to gain confidence in performing the song and also exposes it to early attendees. Additionally, playing recordings of upcoming songs during service transitions can help introduce them subconsciously.

When deciding when to retire a song, John recommends evaluating whether the song has been planned or missed within a few quarters (three-month periods). If it hasn’t been scheduled in that time frame and nobody seems to miss it, then it may be time to let go of the song. However, preferences play a role in this decision-making process; talking with others about their opinions on certain songs can provide valuable insight.

John emphasizes that serving the church community should take precedence over personal preferences when choosing which songs to include or retire from their repertoire. The goal is always for people attending services to connect with music and participate more actively in worship through singing together.


Essential reading for worship leaders since 2002.


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