By David Shead
The song choosing process
It’s time to actually choose the songs! How do we go about doing it? It involves planning, preparation and order.
Let’s look at preparation.
Now that you’re sitting down to choose, then, what do you do? The first thing is to prepare yourself well.
First, pray! Ask God to guide you as you serve his people in such an important way. Ask for insight into his word and the gathering context.
The next thing, then is to know what the focus of each week’s gathering will be. Ideally, the preacher or preachers should be able to provide you with a list of the Bible readings and sermon topics for the next little block. Even better is if they can give you a summary and overview statements of where they think the Bible text may take them. Either way, read the passages and try to identify the major theme or themes for each week. While not every song you choose will necessarily connect to the sermon (since corporate worship is not just “a Bible talk with extras”), the themes of the Bible readings will “flavour” the entire gathering, so that may affect at least the mood of the other song choices.
Try to make a little summary of each week (if the preacher hasn’t already given you one), so that you can have the whole block you’re choosing for in your head. I often find it helpful to identify what I think are the key words or concepts undergirding each week (e.g., “faith”, “adoption”, “assurance”, “Christ our king”, “boasting in Christ”). This helps in both getting a clear picture of each week, as well as seeing what is different from one week to the next.
At this point you will need a practical way to be able to work through your repertoire and to note down your tentative choices. I find it easiest to use a spreadsheet that looks like the following:
Most of what you see will be pretty self-explanatory:
- Song titles and authors in columns A & B
- Dates across the top in row 1 (working in reverse chronological order, so that the weeks you are currently choosing for are closest to you)
- Sermon passage or topics in row 2
The special features of this spreadsheet include:
- Columns C to F provide a way to fast track finding a song for a specific “slot” in the service. We normally have 4 songs per service, and our most common pattern is to have the song following the sermon as the third one. Therefore:
- Song 1 = “Call to worship”
- Song 2 = “Free choice” (I usually look for a song that will help with corporate confession of sins or declaration of what we believe, or anything else we might be doing in the service, apart from the sermon)
- Song 3 = “Response to sermon”
- Song 4 = “Going out to serve”
I have simply indicated next to each song with a “Y” what role in the service that song is most naturally suited to. Of course, this is not a straitjacket. On any given week, any song might be suitable in any slot. However, if I’m looking for a “slot 1” song, for example, I can just look down column C to more easily find a suitable option.
- Column G helps with forward planning. I note in here upcoming sermon passages or topics that a particular song might suit. If I know the preaching programme for the next several months, I might even make a note here 2 or 3 months in advance. Again, however, this isn’t a straitjacket. If a song I’ve earmarked for use in 6 weeks turns out to be perfect for next week, then I’ll feel free to use it up now and to find something different for 6 weeks’ time. However, if there’s an equally good alternative for next week, then I won’t have “burned” that perfect song for 6 weeks’ time.
- Column H is my running tally. This gives me a very quick indication of which songs we’re singing a lot, and which we’ve been neglecting. That can help me to ensure our “diet” is good, by deliberately looking to choose songs that might have otherwise been overlooked. Alternatively, it can help me to see which songs are perhaps already naturally moving out of our repertoire, and which need to be officially “retired” (in the list above, “Amazing Grace – my chains are gone” is one such example). Some time in about April-June I restart the tally from the beginning of that calendar year, so that the numbers are reflective of our recent history and not skewed by what we were singing 3 years ago.
Once I have my spreadsheet, since I’m a bit old school, I tend to print it out (up to the column for about 10 weeks ago) so that I can more easily make notes and tentative choices by hand. However, it’s probably just as easy to develop your own system of indicating tentative choices on the spreadsheet itself.
With that in place, you can start choosing songs!
For more in this Series:
What is corporate worship? (Part 1 of 9)
Why Sing? (Part 2 of 9)
What is the ‘shape’ of the corporate worship gathering? (Part 3 of 9)
What makes for good and effective singing? (Part 4 of 9)
Five principles for choosing songs (Part 5 of 9)
Choosing Songs – planning (Part 6 of 9)
Choosing Songs – preparation (this one)
Choosing Songs – order (Part 8 of 9)
Choosing New Songs (Part 9 of 9)