I am amazed by how many worship leader/planners put together the times of corporate worship without a comprehensive song list, which I consider a critical tool for planning. As I mentioned in an earlier post:
I often refer to songs as a vital part of our worship vocabulary–it helps us express our worship to God. As long as we are singing songs we know, we are able to worship without the hindrance of learning new melodies and rhythms.*
When we plan worship out of our head, we tend to focus only on the songs that are most familiar to us–perhaps missing out on some great gems that our congregation knows. In the days that we only used one collection of songs (a specific hymnal), this task was much easier. You could look through the one book as you planned the service. This method still left much to be desired, however.
A Better Way
Worship planning goes so much better if you have at your hand a list of all songs that the congregation knows well enough to be part of their vocabulary of worship. As you seek out specific songs for the worship experience, you will have in one place all possible songs that you can use (except the new song that you may introduce). This is especially helpful when you have songs from several sources and in several keys.
How to Put Together the Resource that Can Revolutionize Your Worship Planning
Here are some steps to getting your song list compiled into a tremendous resource:
- Collect all the books, charts, notebooks, etc. that contain the music your congregation uses in worship.
- Join with your senior pastor and key worship ministry personnel to prayerfully meet together especially for this task.
- Go through your resources and determine which songs are well known by our congregation. Just because you sing the song once or twice a year does not mean that your congregation knows the songs well. Which songs are TRULY a part of their worship vocabulary? This will be a time you may wish to lift up the great songs and let some mediocre ones “not make the cut.” You can always add songs later.
- Once you select a song, then write down the name of the song and all the keys that (1) you have music to support, AND (2) that are in a singable key for the congregation (the lowest note the congregation will sing is a Bb or occasional A. The highest note should be a D or Eb. More on this here). So, if you choose a song that you have charts with options of the key of G, A, and Bb, but the singable keys of these are only G and A, then you will list the song with only the keys of G and A as possibilities. In addition to the name of the song and the keys, I would also list the source of the song–what book it is in, or if it comes from LifeWayWorship.com or PraiseCharts.com, etc. This will make it easier for you when you try to get the music together for your musicians.
- When you have a song that can be done in more than one key, list the song separately for each key. Let’s say that the song referenced above is Mighty to Save. Then you should list Mighty to Save as the title and G (A) as the key in the first entry, and Mighty to Save as the title and A (G) as the key in the second entry. The G (A) lets you know the song can be done in either key, but listing it twice as shown will allow your spreadsheet to sort by key, which you will see can be very valuable in your planning. Here is an example (PC is shorthand for PraiseCharts):
- Put all of this information in a spreadsheet, such as Excel or Google Docs Spreadsheet. As I mentioned, this will allow you to sort by key.
- If a song has a written modulation, then list all the keys in the song’s progressions, such as C-Db-D. Here’s an example of a congregational arrangement of Holy, Holy, Holy from Word’s Hymns for Praise and Worship:
- Keep your list to a reasonable number of songs. If your list is really long, it will take newcomers to your church much longer to learn your songs, especially if you sing many songs that are not as common among churches today (see this post for more). Probably 100-150 songs is a good goal.
Take a look at this sample song list that we use in the Worship Leader Boot Camps to get a better feel for this. Song List Sample
In later posts, I will talk more about how to use this song list in some incredible worship planning uses. For now, it is important that you begin this process to prepare for better informed worship planning that will lead to better participation in worship and also prepare churches who wish to transition their worship (more next week on this). Having a song list is a great resource for visiting worship leaders so that they will know what songs they should select for the majority of the congregational music.
I welcome your comments.
*That post and its follow up deal with how to properly introduce new songs–if you have not read them, please take a look. Once a new song has been properly introduced (with the repetitions needed), you can add it to your song list of “known songs.”
I wish they would use more of the old familiar hymns in the worship service. I don’t mind the guitars, violins, etc, but the OLD SONGS are just best in my opinion.
People need the lyrics AS WELL AS the musical notes on the screen. Anyone who is remotely musical needs to see the music, at the very least, the lead sheet. My church members have asked to stop putting lyrics-only on the screen. When at a different church, I strongly dislike feeling like an outsider when I want to sing along, but cannot. Musical people need the notes. Always. Non-musical people, or those who are ingrained with the church’s music may disagree, but that doesn’t matter to me right now. I read music, and most of my friends do as well. I am a song leader and planner for our contemporary service. It is odd that in 2021 I have not found any software, websites, or even discussions about how to incorporate musical scores from CCLI on the screen. Is the answer printing an old-fashioned song book from our comprehensive song list?
Thanks for any help!
This is great for me. Small church. Volunteer music leader-interim. I’ve just found your website. How do I get to your blog? Would love to see how to use this song list in worship planning and what songs you put together. THANK YOU!!!
This sounds far too complicated. You can achieve the same effect by keeping a running list of songs you do with your congregation. If you slides or Propresenter (or the equivalent), you basically have your running list made for you. If you’re new to the church and they don’t have any music history to present to you, stick with the basics first and move on from their. You can tend to get a feel for what decade or century the church is at depending on what songs they know.
Wow, your blog goes back quite awhile but it appears it is still getting read. In addition to all of your suggestions, I would add that the theological content is also important to add to your categorization of songs. The hymnal I grew up with had categories so that over the course of a year you had an opportunity to sing songs about the full life of Christ and the full expression of the Trinity. There were songs about God our Creator, others about the life and teachings of Jesus, and still others about the power of the Holy Spirit. Too often CWM that is most popular focuses solely on the death and sacrifice of Jesus. Songs are how we carry the story of faith in our hearts throughout the week and they can instruct us in our life of discipleship without us even knowing. It would be good if those songs in our heart included refrains not only of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for us but also on how others will know we are Christians by our love for each other.
KENNY: Good day, sir. My name is Mark and have been involved in music all my life. I’ve truly been blessed and currently teach a Theology of Music in Worship: Church Music in Crisis and Transition for the Evangelical Methodist Church School of Ministry. I wanted to concur with your observation about the lack of unity when it comes to CWM and perhaps offer a few observations for you and your bloggers may want to consider. I hope everyone accepts this critique in the spirit it is given. One void I see in the development of CWM is it is limited to the standards of its genre, or to those songs the individual Praise Bands in a Local Church creates. Consequently, one feels lost in another Church, except if those are know and played. Your comment about the lack of a Hymnal for example, is right on target–and I believe the early CWM utilization of the Marantha! Praise Chorus books etc., was most helpful. Today, however, this has become highly problematic with which I wonder, at times, if CWM will ever recover and here’s the bottom line: With simply placing Lyrics on a screen, CWM is not teaching people how to read music. I think I know what Lowell Mason is thinking, the man who not only taught singing in our churches, but became the father of teaching singing in our public schools in Boston. Anyone can learn to sing using “Soffeggio”! This is a method to teach pith and sight-reading, especially using the Kodaly Method. And I mean everyone:
or But, I haven’t seen a CWM Praise Book for years and have never seen a standard CWM Hymnal–not to mention the beautiful harmonies, polyphony/counterpoint and descants, that would and should include these things. I’ve been working on my own Hymnal in honor and memory of my father and mother, a collection of 150 great Hymns of the Church, Gospel Music and Spirituals, but perhaps this might inspire you or someone else to begin to address this endemic problem in the CWM world.
Rev. Mark A. Rains, MDiv., Phd
Ordained: Evangelical Methodist Church
Licensed Song Evangelist.
As someone who has used Planning Center since it was in Beta a decade ago, I highly recommend it as a mature and relatively inexpensive resource for this exact purpose.
Planning Center is an excellent resource. I use WorshipPlanning.com for the same purposes. NC Baptists have a relationship with WP to offer great discounts to our churches. I’m not sure how I managed before having that as a tool!
Can you explain why you want to sort by keys? I think I might be learning something here, but I don’t know what yet.
SO sorry I missed your comment until now. Sorting by keys is helpful in creating worship song sets that flow seamlessly. I will be posting much more on this along with instructional videos in the near future on this blog or at http://www.WorshipTransitions.org. Stay tuned.
I instituted a song list when I became the assistant worship leader at my church several years ago and still use it now as the worship leader. I have it on a spread sheet as well and can sort it by song name, key signature and tempo. I find all three ways of sorting have come in very handy while putting together the worship package for the week. I also keep track of the music we do every Sunday and special occasions which helps me in my planning.
Darryl, our church is trying to use a “song list”. If it is OK with you, would you be able to share you spreadsheet to me?
Great idea! Have you posted the ways to use this in worship planning yet? Looking forward to learning!
Actually I have not posted on ways to utilize the song list in worship planning yet. I spend a great deal of time going through this in the Worship Leader Boot Camps offered around the state. I will plan to write more about this on the blog early next year. Thanks for the suggestion!
I also keep a list of all the new songs we teach in the order we teach them. That helps me tremendously!
Great post, thanks this really help!
http://www.PlanningCenterOnline.com is an excellent resource for worship planning, especially for developing and maintaining a comprehensive song list.