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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3 Comments »

  1. The problem, “Paul Wilkinson Worship Consulting, a division of Thinking Out Loud Enterprises,” is that the closer to perfect we try to get on this issue, the more burdensome rules we have to impose on our creative set design. The Worship247 solution is sensible, but much less formulaic & restricting.

    Comment by astrapto — May 30, 2018 @ 9:11 am

    • You’re absolutely right; it would be nuts to try to rigidly impose that structure; but I used it as an example of how you could intentionally break away from a tighter list of only 18 songs (as described in the introduction). It think a lot of worship leaders do something like this unconsciously but in trying to appeal to style and age preference, you’re getting further and further away from choosing the songs on the basis of theme and lyrical content. (The whole “copyright” and “consulting” thing was to show that this was partially tongue-in-cheek.)

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 30, 2018 @ 9:24 am

      • Yes! We all do have to juggle this. I usually put the text/topic of the week first, but maybe 1/3 of the time I can’t put together a cohesively-themed service with the songs we have. Those times are a great opportunity to try out other stuff, like the well-balanced order you give here. Or anything else that’s new, so it doesn’t feel like a “subpar Sunday” liturgically. Thanks!

        Comment by astrapto — June 6, 2018 @ 6:21 pm


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