set list

Leading Worship through Song List Curation

Adam Kurihara offers tips to navigate endless options and choose the right songs for our specific congregations.

Continuity: Cultivate, curate, and protect your song list.

Shorten it. Think restraint. Though you may sing these songs three times in rehearsal, a couple times in a sound check, and once in each Sunday service, remember that your congregation is singing them once. You will have an urge to do a new song that perfectly fits the sermon theme, but for the sake of your congregation’s confidence, favor the familiar over the new. Limit your primary song list to 100-150 songs.

Protect it. Resist the urge to add new songs.A shorter list means more repetition, and repetition writes words on our hearts. This might mean saying no to some song requests from congregants, band members, choir members, or visiting preachers.

Track it. If you don’t already, begin tracking your set lists and tally how often you sing which songs. Planning Center Online does this for you, but I find an excel spreadsheet more flexible and robust. A detailed catalogue that includes scripture references, themes, church seasons and dates can be a valuable go-to resource specifically tailored to your congregation. With detailed notes you can use this data to reflect on your congregation’s musical diet. Make sure your songs include a balance of objective (God you are…) and subjective (I feel/am…), glorification and edification, transcendent (worshipping God as holy other – Heb 12:28-29) and immanent (worshipping Jesus who dwells within us – Eph 3:17), and many more “healthy tensions”¹. Also, whoever leads worship after you will be grateful!

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