Thinking Out Loud

June 29, 2017

Your Church’s Worship Playlist: How Many Songs is Too Many?

Worship Band 2This topic came up in conversation with a friend. His church wants to create a rather tight playlist of about 18 songs which would be rotated through. In other words, worship leaders would select from that list only. For me a whole lot of red flags surfaced. He dived into the web and found some articles on the topic:

A 2008 article at Practical Worship:

We currently have a list of about 50 songs (actually, it’s closer to 60, which means it’s time to cut a few), and every song has been chosen for a very specific purpose…To be honest, I don’t think I could find more than about 75 songs that we would even want to use in our church (either because of the lyrics or musical style)…having a small list means that we get to choose the cream of the crop. We don’t have any “fillers” (not that having a large list means you have fillers), nor do we keep any songs that have outlived their usefulness for us…

A reader commented:

You’re not taking into consideration the culture changes between churches. Some congregations are quick to learn and quick to remember, while others are much slower. Some can do a song 3 times a year without any troubles, while others may need to a song once a month for a year before people feel like they’re comfortable with a song.

A 2013 article at The Church Collective:

I feel strongly that the size of your song repertoire is not nearly as important as how frequently you sing any given song… While I would say we aren’t a super progressive church musically, we do have a good number of people that listen to K-Love/Air-1 and so, hear a lot of the songs during the week that we play on Sunday. The amount of time allotted for music is usually somewhere around 20-30 minutes given what we have going on during service that day. This translates to 6-7 songs per week depending on how I arrange them. I feel like repeating songs every 10 weeks or so has worked well for both congregational familiarity/participation and worship team excitement. Given all of this, I try and keep our repertoire somewhere around 70 songs.

A 2016 article at Worship Him 24/7:

At our church, we normally have 6 songs (24-30 min) each week. This would put us at 70-80 songs. That’s the ideal. We also have many older hymns and worship songs which the current congregation knows very well, so we’ve kept our range higher at the moment… 105-115 songs. This has been a big change for us. Prior to my arrival the repertoire was at 300 songs. Many people did not know the music and as a result worship engagement was low. Bottom line: a repertoire that is too big or too small can negatively impact your church’s corporate worship time. If they don’t know the music well, worship is difficult.

As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but think this left the potential syllabus uncomfortably small for the churches I’ve worked with over the years. So I quickly dashed this off to my friend:

A Diplomatic Solution and/or Fresh Way of Looking at This

©2017 Paul Wilkinson Worship Consulting, a division of Thinking Out Loud Enterprises

Here’s another way of seeing it: Let’s say you’re planning a worship set that allows you time for 7 elements of which 6 are sung. Here’s a possible configuration.

  1. Open with CCLI Top 25 song [potential pool of songs = 25]
  2. Next, move to the new song you’re introducing that month [potential pool of songs = 1]
  3. Hymn of the week [potential pool of songs = 200 – 400 that this congregation knows]
  4. Interactive / Scripture Reading / Antiphonal Reading [non-music element]
  5. Recurrent song from congregation’s past [Week “A” from ~5 years ago, potential pool = 70; week “B” from ~10 years ago, potential pool = 50]
  6. New emerging worship song that’s on theme from the bottom 75 of the CCLI Top 100 [potential pool = 75] OR Song written by local church congregation member [potential pool = 2 or 3 probably at any given time]
  7. Close with strong worship song from CCLI Top 25 [potential pool =25; same 25 as #1]

The advantage to this type of thinking is that you’re working with a much tighter base on 3 of your selections (total is 26) but on the other 3 modules (#3, 5, 6) you’ve got potential expansion involving hundreds of songs.

Of course, this isn’t the way to choose songs weekly or it gets sterile, but over the course of a month you’re generally conforming to this.

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