How Many is Too Much?

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How many is too much?  How many new songs can you have in a worship service? 

I’ve had several conversations over this past month with worship leaders/planners that approach this question very differently.  Some churches’ worship identities are set in part by the answer to this question.  We are the church that sings the golden oldies… we are the church of innovation. 

I know of churches where including a new song in worship is something that is done with some fear and trepidation on the part of the worship planners who also know that a new song can neither be the first nor last song in the service.  I’ve talked with a musician from a church where new music is being written for their services on a weekly basis. 

There are good reasons not to have too expansive of a repertoire and repeat the same songs; the congregation knows many of the words by heart and often the Holy Spirit will bring those words to mind when most needed.  We have all heard stories of individuals who cannot remember their own child’s name but will be able to sing and find great comfort in the well-known words of hymns. 

Alternately, there are good reasons to introduce and write new songs.  The broader and even tailored repertoire can allow for the perfect pairing of message and music.  The music retains a freshness and there can be an enthusiasm not found with the well-known no matter how loved.  New songs often reflect new concerns or new ways of voicing concerns which is helpful when connecting to a younger or non-church crowd. 

What about your church?  Do you have you a policy or an unofficial maybe even unspoken guideline for how many new songs you sing?  Why?

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We try to keep a balance but there is no rule. We think long and hard about the sermon topic and we select music that matches the theme of the service, whether it is new, old or original.

Our music selections also depend on the theme for the service.  My personal rule is to have no more than one new song in a service.  We want to have people internalize songs, memorize them, sing them in their car on the way home, and all week.  Repetition is the best way children and all of us make songs our "heart songs."   What do you want sung at your funeral?  What do you want to sing at a dear departed relative's funeral? --  a song that comes from deep within.  With so many choices out there, we have to be intentional about what we feed our congregations.  It's a big responsibility for sure!  

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I have some follow up questions for anyone out there...

How do you decide when to include a new song?  From where do you select them?  Is there a method/process you use for introducing new songs?  Do you make sure a new song is repeated over a series of Sundays so that people really learn it or do you sometimes use a new song just for a particular service? 

We try to include new songs on a somewhat regular basis, one per month, two maximum. Finding new worship songs can be difficult. I usually find new things from going to pandora.com and typing in a worship artist that I enjoy, my favorite is "Caedmon's Call", the music it spits out that is similar to CC really fits our congregation well. I also listen to the Song DISCovery CD from worship leader magazine, that something will give us something new. We'll usually try to fit the new song topically based on the sermon, then play it at least once after that within the next 3 weeks. On occassion we'll play a new song once for an offertory, the congregation isn't expected to sing along to the offertory so it gives us room to try new songs and expand the definition of acceptable music in our congregation... for instance, we did Caedmon's Call's "Sing His Love", a play on the hymn "Father Long Before Creation" as an offertory with banjo and in a bluegrass styling, "One" by U2 (which fit thematically to the service around the topic of brokenness), and "Aint No Grave" in the style of Johnny Cash. Generally our offertory leads right into the sermon.