A Worship Leader's Keys to Choosing the Best Songs

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Let's be honest. There are too many songs.

If we combined all the church services across the world and tried to evenly spread out all the worship songs in the known universe, we still wouldn't get through them all. I'm pretty sure that verse is in the Bible somewhere.

Matter of fact, once I get around to leading a popular song, it's old already. Remember when churches used to say, "Yea, we're still stuck with '90s Integrity songs." Today, it's "Bro, that's so 2018. It's time to modernize."

But I'm here to tell you that it's OK. In all honesty, the goal isn't the quantity of songs. The goal isn't songs at all. It's about choosing the best quality songs that connect hearts to the Savior. But in today's saturated song market, that's hard to do. And let me give you some hard truths.

  • Just because you wrote a song doesn't make it the best song for corporate worship. It might be.
  • Just because a song is popular doesn't make it the best song for your congregation. It might be.
  • Just because a popular church or worship team leads a song doesn't make it the best fit for yours. It might be.

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We need to look outside of ourselves to what is best for our people to be singing, week in and week out. We need to look deeper, understanding who we're leading. That makes all the difference.

The goal is having a rhythm of songs that work for your church. If that's a rotating list of 30, great. If that's a small bank of 10, wonderful.

So let me help you with a filter for choosing which songs are the best for your congregation to sing. Some of these may surprise you.

1.Is the song God-centered? – Some songs are about Jesus, the glory of God, the vastness of who He is. Other songs are about how passionate we are. We need to err on the side of having gospel-saturated, God-centered songs. We want to leave our people with a taste of heaven, a glimpse of wonder. We want to stir their imagination when it comes to the glory of God. That's not to say personal, "me" songs are wrong, they just need to be the minority and be positioned as a response to the songs that are about (or to) God.

2. Is the song honest and real? – Too many songs are sappy, lifeless and let's face it—cheesy. Who has time for that? We need songs that don't shy away from the difficulties of human experience and the difficult truths of the Bible. We need a worship theology that will sustain people when they receive a cancer diagnosis and are given a year to live. We need a worship theology that anchors people in the eternal glory of the cross, not just the momentary hype of a good vibe.

3. Is the song engaging? – There are songs that are nice, and there are songs that light a fire in your bones. The best songs move you to action. They stir and shake, disrupt and motivate. They convict you of your complacency and help you go deeper with Jesus. An engaging song is visible. People want to sing it. It connects with the heart of the church. It stirs deep affections for God. It helps us come alive.

4. Is the song challenging? – I don't always love to sing them, but I need the songs that challenge me to take up my cross and follow. To lose my life and find it in Christ. The walk of faith is a walk of death to yourself. That is the gospel we need to hear, the reality of walking with Jesus that we need to be confronted with. There's no time for safe songs. Jesus wasn't safe. His teaching isn't safe. And our songs need to reflect the radical nature of what it means to follow Jesus.

5. Does this song serve a purpose? – Most worship leaders think in terms of isolated songs. They scan the most popular worship songs and string them together. I know because I've done this. A lot. But a more helpful approach is to think of a broad category of themes that are helpful for the gathered church to sing. Not every song needs to be an epic, victorious, anthemic power ballad. It's tempting to do so because these songs have the most visible response. But we need songs that serve different purposes. Are we singing about the cross? Are we touching on lament? Are there any songs of confession? Do we have call-to-worship songs?

I'd love to hear your response to this. What questions are missing? What has been helpful to you in choosing the best songs for your church to sing?

What songs have really been working for you? What songs haven't been working? Let's talk it out!

David Santistevan is a worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This article originally appeared at davidsantistevan.com.

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