New Songs on a Setlist

If you’ve been playing the same songs over and over again, sometimes there comes a point when even the songs that your congregation loves, are starting to feel over-played. The words have come out of your mouth so many times that they’ve started to lose their meaning – for both the worship leaders and those in the congregation. You know when it’s happening. You look out at the congregation and their lips are moving but their eyes are glazed over. You’re strumming chords and singing, but it’s all just muscle memory.

Think about the first time you listened to any song – that’s the time you’re most aware of the lyrics. You’re intently listening to see what the song is about (and to see if you like it). Then you start to hear it more and more and soon enough you’re singing along to every word when it comes on the radio. Flash forward and those words have lost their meaning again. So, you listen to a new song.  This is what it’s like with worship music as well. If you’re a worship leader you should try and recognize this is what is happening with the congregation. They need to hear the song a couple times before they can fully sing along and mean the words that are coming out of their mouths.

But how do you make that jump?

  1. Know your audience: You need to know what (or who) you’re working with. If it’s a younger crowd, they may already be hip enough to know those new songs you’re adding to the set list. But the more diverse and/or older an audience, the more you may need to spoon feed them the new material. If you’re introducing a hymn, however, the opposite may be true.
  2. Don’t overload: Generally, don’t add more than one new song in a sermon. It’s just going to be more than everyone can chew. On the same note, don’t do a new song every week or even every other week. You want to keep things fresh, but you don’t want to over-work their minds with new material – remember they still have a sermon they need to be meditating on as well.
  3. Pick a technique: There are a couple schools of thought on how to add in those new songs. Some say to add in only the chorus one week and then do the whole song in its entirety the next. (This can easily be done when there’s one song that uses the same chord progression as the new one). Others say to do the whole song so that the crowd can get a sense of what the song is about and be able to apply the words to their lives better. Some worship leaders teach the congregation the new material by using a “repeat after me” type technique. Use one technique or use all of them. Do whatever works for you, your team, and your church.

So, while introducing new material may feel a bit awkward when the congregation is just staring back at you not even pretending to be mouthing the words, it’s still an important aspect of worship. It looks like they aren’t participating, but many times they’re actually worshiping God in the purist way – by letting the words resonate in their hearts and meditating on it in their minds.

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