Tag Archives: baptist

Familiarity: The Key to Selecting Worship Songs

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a church member who wanted to know how and why I chose the songs for worship here at our church. To get a better idea of how to respond, I asked more specific questions such as: what are some of your favorite songs for congregational singing and why? Do you like newer songs and if so, why? What I usually get in response may be boiled down to one word: FAMILIARITY! In the course of the conversation, I learned that this man wants to be able to participate, but doesn’t always know every song we sing. Isn’t this true of all of us? I don’t think people are necessarily opposed to learning new songs, but what they really crave are songs that are familiar. People will tell you they know what they like, but the truth is, they like what they know.  I think this adage should guide the worship planner/leader in balancing choices made when selecting songs for the intergenerational church along with other salient criteria such a doctrinal truth and other musical and textual concerns.

Here are a few points to consider regarding choices in worship planning for congregational song for familiarity:

  1. Familiar songs may be new or old. Familiar songs do NOT necessarily mean time-tested hymns. Familiar songs are songs that are sung enough that most in your congregation knows them well enough to participate. Further, familiar songs for one congregation may not necessarily be familiar in another context. Some songs have special meaning to a congregation that might not be on the radar of another congregation. Songs used for special occasions or at special times in the life of the church can have powerful meaning not found in any other congregation. Just remember your context and be sure to include worship music that has special meaning to the congregation often.
  2. New songs should stand the test of time. There have been many new songs that I’ve taught our congregation over the course of many years as worship leader here at the church. In my conversation with the man who asked me about my choices for worship music, I explained that the newer songs chosen for worship here at the church have been very intentional and told him to stick around, he’d know it well enough in time.
    I try very hard to pick songs with memorable text, melodies, and harmonic interest. I told him while there are some very popular songs in our evangelical world, many of them will not become part of what I call “time-tested hymnody.” I always aim to use songs that I believe will be sung by our children and grandchildren for years to come. One more note about this: I try to stay current in what new worship music is out there. Most of the time I wait some time to see if a song is going to “fall off the radar.” By the time we sing the song, it’s usually something that will last.
  3. Familiarity may be taught.  When I introduce new songs, I try make sure we sing it often enough for it to catch on. Many others have offered wonderful ideas for introducing new songs. Have someone sing the song as a solo, have one of your choirs or praise teams sing the song, have the children sing it first, etc. Once the song has been heard, try to sing it with the congregation. The tune should be easy enough to catch on by the end of the song. Continue to use the song judiciously in worship so it becomes familiar enough. If your pastor does sermon-series, or if you have a revival or something where a new song can accentuate that series, try to introduce something then. I’ve found revivals are a wonderful time to introduce  new songs because if it’s used in all those services, the people will have many daily interactions with the songs. Some of our favorite songs here at Ivy Creek were “learned” during this intensive times of worship.
  4. Familiarity may be gauged by watching the congregation. One of the things I do every week is look at our people as I’m leading. Are the people singing? While I expect time-tested hymnody to have greater participation, I’m watching to see what’s going on with different generations.Here’s what I’ve noticed:*Unless your people are die-hard listeners of Christian radio, they are not likely to know the newest songs. PERIOD. There is no age stratification here. This is why I’m not convinced that specific generations like specific types of music.
    *The songs in which more people participate are the ones that have been around longer.

POINT: BE CAREFUL TO BALANCE VERY FAMILIAR SONGS WITH SONGS THAT ARE EMERGING IN FAMILIARITY! I recommend there be familiar song(s) to most people in your congregation every week. I hope no one in our congregation leaves without being about to participate if they wish.

I don’t think worship leaders, especially in intergenerational contexts, should strive to arbitrarily insert some hymns and new worship songs into worship services and call it a day. While there is much to be considered in terms of the sermon, the theme (if you have one for the day), the key is to consider YOUR church context when selecting songs each week. Because there are many songs from which to choose for worship, be choosy worship leader!

Intergenerational Worship: Unique but Unified

Intergenerational ministry and specifically intergenerational worship finds its roots throughout the Bible. The themes of unity and being a part of the Body of Christ saturate the whole of scripture, which is at the heart of what it means to be intergenerational. I believe an intergenerational model of worship is truly the only biblical approach. Scripture may not address musical style, specific clothes to wear for worship, or what your worship space should look like specifically, but it does address our need to be generationally diverse, unified, and value all ages and abilities as part of the Body of Christ.

Scripture is infused with words that are compatible with an intergenerational mindset. Words such as: unity, one, humility, Body of Christ, one generation to another, together, one mind, one heart and others saturate scripture and speak of the importance of all ages together, unified.

My favorite passage of scripture that guides my own mind-set related to intergenerational worship comes from 1 Corinthians 12. I’m particularly moved by the syntax of the CEV translation as Paul writes about the Body of Christ.

14 Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. 15 Suppose a foot says, “I’m not a hand, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the foot still belong to the body? 16 Or suppose an ear says, “I’m not an eye, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the ear still belong to the body? 17 If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing. 18 But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best. 19 A body isn’t really a body, unless there is more than one part. 20 It takes many parts to make a single body. 21 That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet. 22 In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest….

24 put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. 25 He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. 26 If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. 27 Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body. 1 Corinthians 12:14-22; 24-27 (CEV)

We were made to live in unity, but are uniquely made. Consider that for a moment. Each of us, with our God-given unique talents and gifts, were made to offer those gifts for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. No one is excluded! All have a place. One of the primary goals of intergenerational worship ministry is to find a place for each person who has felt the call of God to serve. This means all ages, all ability levels, together. The stronger helping the weak and the weak learning from the strong.

COMING LATE SUMMER 2022
MY NEW BOOK
CULTIVATING INTERGENERATIONAL WORSHIP

The Future is Now

In their book, Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, Powell and Clark found that students crave affirmation and relationships with adults in their community of faith.[i]  It makes them feel valued. They want to get connected to the church, to serve, to invest in others. Powell and Clark go on to say that students who invest in younger kids are more likely to be connected and committed to their local church.[ii] Students want to feel valued and appreciated for what they can bring to the community of faith.[iii]

            Church Leader: what are you doing to integrate these students into the leadership of your church? For the worship leader specifically: How will you not only train future worship leaders, but how will you allow them to serve the body of Christ? Yes, it’s great to have graded choirs and youth choirs, but some of the more talented students in your ministry should be playing piano, guitar, or other musical instruments for another group in your church. The student with the great voice could sing on one of your worship service praise teams. The student who has a heart for working with children’s worship or children’s choir may be just the ministry he or she needs to stay connected to the church, or the students who are interested in audio/visual ministry could serve in various ways all over the church. What opportunities are you creating for this to happen in your church, leader? How will you ensure this happens?

            You must seek creative ways to use your students every chance you can because if they don’t get connected during their youth, it’s likely they’ll never get plugged in as an adult. They crave relationships with adults who value what talents and ideas they bring to the table. They need validation and affirmation along the way. They are the future of the church and we must find ways for them to learn, grow, serve, and invest in others themselves.

            Here a just a few ways you as a leader can invest and allow students and children the opportunity to grow and serve in the intergenerational church:

  1. Develop student accompanists
  2. Allow them to sing in the Sunday morning choir
  3. Use students on praise teams or solos
  4. Allow students to play their instruments in an instrumental ensembles or praise band
  5. Allow students to serve in children’s worship, drama, or children’s choir ministry
  6. Train and equip students for audio/visual ministry
  7. Allow students and children to have a voice in the worship ministry

            Children and students must have the opportunity to develop their skills as they learn what it means to lead in worship. You never know who God is calling to not only vocational ministry, but who He’s calling to serve the church after you are gone. Truthfully, isn’t it worth it to invest in even a few students if someone gets plugged in for life? If not, the church of tomorrow will be severely lacking musicians.

            No matter what size church you have or what your style of musical worship is, find many outlets for your students to serve. It just makes sense to provide opportunities for the greatest number of students to participate. Certainly, extremely talented musicians should have greater responsibility as needed, but don’t forget the moderate level musician in your church. We need all kinds in the body of Christ, and that extends also to music ministry also. We must foster an environment that seeks to honor the giftedness of all and provides avenues for them to serve.

            I get it; the pressure, worship leader, is undoubtedly high in your church to produce a quality worship experience each week. Taking a “training” approach to music ministry takes guts and a solid plan. The beginning product might not be awesome, but keep plugging away, training, investing, and praying for God to move and the quality will continue to rise if you raise the bar high and encourage along the way.

            I tell people often I’ve had key people in my life that invested in me. They saw something in me that needed to be utilized for the building of the Kingdom. I think of them often and remind them of their specific encouragement and risk they took letting me accompany or sing when I didn’t even think I was ready. Because of their investment in me, I’m able to invest in our next generations.

Who are investing in?


[i] Powell and Clark, 98-99.

[ii] Ibid, 98

[iii] For further reading, I commend to you the great book, Growing Young, by Powell, Mulder, and Griffin (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2016). These authors highlight the fact that a warm community is essential for keeping young people connected to a local community of faith.