Today’s post is my third installment discussing things we do to create a culture of spectators in our churches rather than creating an environment that helps people worship with heart, soul, mind, and strength in participatory worship. Be sure to read the last two week’s posts if you have not done so already. Week One. Week Two.
Today, I will address another major hindrance to participatory worship–new songs. 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 place a new song in our times of corporate worship, we can interrupt the flow of worship. When new songs are first introduced, the people have to take their eyes off the Lord and concentrate on the task of learning the new tune. With this in mind, I believe new songs can kill our worship or they can greatly enhance our worship. Let’s look at this in more depth.
First of all, should we sing new songs in worship? The Bible clearly says, YES!
Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise. Psalm 33:3
He put a new song in my mouth… Psalm 40:3
Sing to the LORD a new song… Psalm 96:1
I will sing a new song to you, O God… 144:9
Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song… Psalm 149:1
Singing new songs is not simply for the sake of novelty. New songs are beneficial because they keep us out of a rut, bring us a new sense of freshness and enthusiasm, force us to think about what we are singing, expand our worship vocabulary, and help us capture what God is saying to the body at the time. Newer, contemporary songs generally will connect to today’s culture in a language they understand better than songs several decades or centuries old.
On one extreme, I have observed time after time in contemporary worship services worship leaders introducing many new songs in a single service; for this reason, the congregation ceases its participatory worship in order to (1) learn the new song or (2) turn totally to spectator mode and treat the song as a “special music” portion of the service. In churches that have more than one worship leader/planner, this problem gets even worse if there is not adequate coordination of songs used in worship.
On the other extreme, I have observed in traditional worship services a reluctance to use any contemporary worship songs in the services. I feel this ignores the biblical mandate, the blessings of connecting with what God is doing TODAY in worship music, and the ability to use expressions that better connect with much of today’s culture.
So how do we balance the problem of creating spectators with all the great reasons to include new songs in our worship? The key is how we introduce the songs and the frequency of new song introduction.
First, never introduce more than one new song into your worship set. Otherwise, you greatly risk interrupting the flow and momentum of worship. Second, the number of new songs you should introduce in a given month will depend upon your congregation’s level of new song “tolerance.” Each congregation is different as to the number of new songs they can process in a given amount of time, so be sensitive and watch for signs of new song “burn-out” (e.g. significant drop in the level of participation). For some churches, one song a month may be enough, for others, 2-4 a month is reasonable.
The second most important concept to grasp is how we introduce new songs and the follow up to help them become part of the congregation’s vocabulary of worship. I will save this discussion for next week since there is much to say.
Take some time to evaluate your church’s worship. Are you including too many new songs in a service, causing the people to retreat from participatory worship?
Stay tuned next week for the next chapter on the successful way to utilize the blessing of new songs in your worship service. Take a look.
I have lead worship for 30-plus years and I absolutely appreciate this site… and the worship discussions.
One thing that is being over looked is… “the MELODY”
I am a firm believer that if a melody is awesome… people will sing effortlessly, even after hearing the song for the first time. So, the bigger struggle for worship leaders is to find music that has a melody that sails. So, now the question is… What makes a great melody?
I think of Beethoven, after he was deaf… wrote his 9th symphony and as a result… the main theme (often entitled “Ode to Joy”) is very linear. Meaning the notes follow easily in step after each other in the major scale… starting on the third scale step. This is why this little melody is in every beginning instrumental method book. It’s easy.. to play… easy to learn. and as a result was easy, even for a deaf person to write. So in better understanding what makes a melody great (or singable) for the average person in our congregations… we must seek out the melodies that are theoretically and rhythmically written so that they stick in our minds…Even after we leave the worship center. Some write songs (melodies) that are so easily singable… like Paul Baloche, Chris Tomlin, Keith Green and the like. and there are some that have songs that are wonderful, albeit very hard to remember the melody… and/or the rhythms.
An example of a great song would be… “Sanctuary” put out years ago by Vineyard… the first time our congregation sang it they owned it. Sang it as though they had written it. It was song from the heart… immediately. I’ll always remember that moment… it was wonderful… giving God the glory with no learning curve. That’s the ultimate goal. All 4 Him!
So, the question is NOT with singing a “new” song… But rather with singing a new song with an amazing melody that sticks in our hearts. Put it this way, my Dad used to say… if the song (melody) is good… he will be whistling it as he leaves the place. So true.
I love that the radio is starting to play worship songs so people are introduced outside of the church as well. Vineyard also has a great idea where you have a cd of the songs you sing to hand out to guests at your church so they can be familiar with the songs. It used to be@$1/cd.
I thought the ‘new song’ was the new me; a song created in my changed heart. My changed self the metaphor of a new song. Does it translate strictly to a new song as in “a song we’ve never sung in worship before”?
Today I have been catching up a bit on blog reading. Your writing is important, not just to North Carolina Baptists, but to the evangelical church. I am totally convinced that “sing a new song” is not at all about singing new material, but rather about singing the newness of present spiritual reality. We see it voiced not only in the psalmist instruction to “sing to the Lord a new song” but also in the hymnic “morning by morning new mercies I see.” Keep up the good work and help us refresh in spirit and truth more than the latest and greatest music material.
You are so right. In recent years, we have seen a real rebirth of hymnody in “contemporary” worship settings. Breathing new life into the great, old, songs (rich in theology) can bring a wonderful new dimension to our worship and help our people connect with Christians throughout the ages. In our multi-generational churches, there is an extra element of helping to connect the generations in worship as we see how the older song may have ministered to someone of an older generation in their early Christian life. Thanks for bringing this to our attention in such an awesome way.
I learned that when you “unpack” that word for “new” when used in scripture, especially related to a “new song.” The word for “new” can be interpreted as “fresh.” “Fresh” can be applied to something that is no necessarily chronologically new.
Staying current and relevant is important don’t be afraid of revisiting something old and or just stale, and reworking into something fresh. (Something as simple as a tempo change, or done in a different musical style)
Great stuff, Vic. Thanks for the ideas.BTW, love your website’s worship emphasis! Keep up the great work.
I really like Esther’s suggestion too!
We generally introduce the “new” song as an offertory. People can have a moment to internalize the song first. Once the plate gets to the back I have them stand and they have an opportunity to help us finish. This also keeps the “energy” up before the message, which usually follows.
I also do something a little subliminal, we play the “new song” demo CD I pass out to the praise band as pre-worship music background music. It is also played during our fellowship time between services.
Excellent suggestion, Esther. Be sure to check back next week for more ideas of introducing new songs. Thanks for the comment!
as worshipper, new song may be introduced before the actual worship starts, at least 10mins. Though of course, there are late comers..So those who are are there earlier could learn it first..
I totally agree, Brent–you said it well concerning repetition–it is hard to really worship with a song until we get more familiar with it. I will be talking much more about this and other considerations for introducing new songs in next week’s post. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Good points here… the key is balance. I’ve heard that it normally takes singing a song three times before we actually get over the newness of it and are able to worship. I’ve found that general rule to be helpful as I plan when to introduce new songs.