I often lead worship in events that have participants from many churches. These churches represent very differing worship styles and worship music repertoire. Some sing only from an open hymnal and do not utilize many if any, modern worship songs. Some sing only the most current music. Some churches worship with only an organ or piano while others utilize a worship band. Some have choir, others use vocal teams. We also have churches that are anywhere in between on this spectrum.
Planning worship for these events can be challenging. For people to be participative in worship, we need to use songs they know, yet if you list every song each person knows that is attending the event, you will find that there are not many commonly-held songs. In addition, I find it important to utilize a wide variety of songs to connect with each person in their heart language. So how do we best create a worship environment that our people can really participate and worship?
1 I pray for God’s guidance in selecting the music and planning the worship times.
2 I select a variety of songs (when written, style, etc.) to incorporate in the times of worship.
3 I draw from the most widely known songs of those periods. Looking at CCLI lists helps determine songs that are most widely known by congregations across North America.
4 I make sure we sing all the songs in keys that are accessible by the vast majority of the people. I have written extensively on this topic, but the bottom line is that the melody should ideally fall between C and C with wider range songs being in the A to D with an occasional Eb. More here. This range works for the vast majority of high, medium and low voice people–women and men. Singing outside of this range leads to lack of participation.
5 When possible, I try to incorporate a variety in worship leadership. Perhaps utilize a choir, an orchestra, a vocal team, a rhythm section/band, a horn section, etc.
6 I prepare a worship aid that has every song we will sing with a YouTube video embedded including lyrics to help people learn the music. I have this sent out to each participant ahead of time and ask them to begin learning songs they do not know in their personal times of worship so that they have more meaningful times of corporate worship when we gather for the event. This has been a huge help for events in the past and has brought so much affirmation from participants.
7 I pray that God will engage the congregation in worship, laying aside any personal preferences and biases related to the songs we are using and just lift up Jesus.