Monday, May 27, 2013

A New Song: To Sing or Not To Sing?

How many is too many? How few is too few? How frequent or infrequent is too far in one direction? These are questions worship leaders ask themselves (hopefully) when planning the how-many-and-how-often of new song integration. These are the questions I want to tackle in this post, and I hope you, gracious reader, will offer your input as well, since apparently I don't have all of the answers (according to my wife).

I've heard advice on both ends of the spectrum and several points in between as to how often new songs should be introduced. My guess is that, as in most situations, the right answer is probably someplace between the two extremes. In fact, there are likely going to be as many right answers as there are different worship communities, but my goal is to strike a balance that will speak to the majority of our congregations.

To start the conversation, my personal experience has been pretty steady across the several denominations I have served within. Introducing 1 new song in a set of 5-6 songs every week, repeating it the following week, and then skipping a week and doing it a third time has worked pretty well in familiarizing the congregation with new songs.

This way, out of each week's set there is always a brand new song, a second time song and a third time song, plus 2-3 familiar songs. As an example, let's say I introduced One Thing Remains three weeks ago, and two weeks ago I introduced Oh Our Lord, then last week I introduced Revelation Song. This Sunday I am introducing Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), and it's a six-song set, so the set looks like this:

Revelation Song                           2nd time
Hosanna (Praise is Rising)            familiar
One Thing Remains                      3rd time
10,000 Reasons                           familiar
Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)      1st time
To the Ends of the Earth               familiar

The set opens with a simple song of adoration we've sung once already, and it's one churches seem to pick up pretty quick, then right into a known celebratory song. The third song is one we've sung twice already and rolls right into a familiar worship anthem. The brand new song comes out of the silence following 10,000 Reasons and flows naturally into a known song of responsive action. Most congregations, in my experience, would do very well with this setup.

Just looking at the above illustration it's easy to see that, when the set is arranged properly, a brand new song every week is not completely out of the question. To be sure, I don't religiously stick to this plan, and will often go a week or more without introducing a new song or without repeating a new song because, either the congregation wasn't particularly responsive to it, or else it just didn't fit with the theme. But I do try to follow this plan whenever I can.

Now, I really hope to get some feedback here, but just so everyone knows where I'm coming from, I have a few reasons for favoring the above outline for introducing new songs when many of my peers are doing it at half or a third of my rate.

1) The first reason is an obvious one, the Lord exhorts us to "sing a new song," and He does it more than once (see Psalm 33:3, 96:1. 149:1, and Isaiah 42:10).

2) Second, the example of godly people (and beings) in the Bible. David - Psalm 40:3. 144:9. The Elders and the Four Living Creatures in the throne room - Revelation 5:9. The 144,000 Witnesses before the Lamb - Revelation 14:3.

3) The third is that, with the ridiculous amount of amazing songs being crafted and supplied by the world's best worship songwriters, there's no reason not to obey God's exhortation to sing a new song on a weekly basis. I have seen more amazing songs never be used than I have seen actually get some play. This grieves my spirit! So, I have a desire to get as many of these great songs to my faith community as I can without overwhelming them.

4) Lastly, I just LOVE learning and leading new songs. As my worship leader friends can attest to, leading new songs can be incredibly refreshing, like a cool breeze on a hot Summer day. After playing Mighty to Save for the eleventy-millionth time it's great to bring in a similarly themed song that we've not used corporately, like say Jesus, Thank You, by Sovereign Grace Music. It tells the same story but does it with a fresh melody and different wording, and that feels darn good.

Now, as well as my system seems to work, and as many good reasons I have for using it, there remains opposition. This generally comes from well-meaning pastors who just want more than anything for their flock to sing! Let me tell you, I can sympathize. My ONE aim is to gather more worshipers around the throne. More worshipers equals more glory, honor, and praise being heaped at the feet of the One who deserves it all, and that's exactly my aim. It needs to be said also that it's always the right thing to submit to those in authority over you in ministry if there is unresolved conflict, so I happily use a different system whenever it is unsatisfactory to a pastor or supervisor. 

That said, I don't think we're giving our fellow humans enough credit. For instance, think about when you hear a new song on the radio. Generally, it doesn't take more than a listen or two before you're at least humming along, if not picking up the words pretty well. Now, in church we have words on the screen, we have worship leaders often leading out before a verse or chorus so that the body has a verbal queue as to where we're headed in the song, and we generally have plenty of repetition. If you are picking songs that speak to your people and/or are musically catchy then you should have no problem helping them to sing a new sing to the Lord on a weekly basis.

So that's my take on it. As confident as I am about my stance I am sure there are those of you who believe differently and have some good reasons, I would love to hear from you. What outline, if any, do you use, and why?

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