How to Introduce New SongsPosted: May 3, 2018
In the last blog post I wrote a little about why we need new songs in the church. Today I’m typing a few thoughts about HOW to introduce new songs at church. Have you ever been at a conference or an event where there were just too many new songs? You are enjoying the moment and the corporate gathering, but also a little bit frustrated because you would like to be able to worship and sing out, but you just don’t know the song well-enough to do so yet. So while we don’t want our times of worship to grow stale with only worn-out songs, we also should be careful about timing, placement, and method of introducing new songs.
It’s my passion and desire that everyone in the congregation sing, and most people can’t sing very complicated melodies. So I’ve purposely made it a goal for a long time to write very simple songs for congregational use. (Some time later I’ll write about some of my insecurities about that when it comes to how talented musicians can sometimes view my music.) It’s up to you to figure out what works for your congregation but simple ones tend to get the best results as far as congregational engagement.
Here’s an important point —the music/songs that inspire me personally as a musician or even on my own spiritual journey are not necessarily the same songs that I’m going to choose to use for congregational singing. Those are three different things: My personal walk with God, my role as a worship leader, and my own musical development. Those of you who are more gifted musically might have to limit your scope a bit when it comes to meeting the needs of your congregation in corporate worship. But feel free to create and stretch yourself as far as your own musical exploration in other arenas. You might need a creative outlet. Sunday is not primarily a creative outlet; it’s about serving the church. (At least that’s my opinion.)
Churches can definitely learn to sing more complicated songs, or songs that are harder to sing the first time; just know that this will need to factor into your plan. If you have a one-time event and you want everyone to sing, you should choose familiar songs or pick something simple, if it’s a new song. If you are introducing some new songs to a congregation that you’re going to be singing for a while, you can take your time introducing them over a span of time. There are quite a few songs that we first introduced as more of a “performance,” but over time have become congregational favorites.
You might have had a church leader tell you “no new songs on a Sunday ever.” I totally get it. It’s that awkward thing of people not knowing the song —they are “supposed” to be singing on it, but they don’t know it yet. I think new songs can be introduced on a Sunday if done the right way (more on that below), but if not, there are many other ways to get new songs going in your group.
Midweek – This has been our top choice for introducing new songs. We usually do a more stripped-down version of the song (if it is to eventually be a full band song) at a midweek — just an acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment. We might take time to teach the church some of the harmonies if time allows.
Worship Night – A Friday or Saturday Night worship night is a great opportunity to introduce a batch of new songs. I would just recommend not more than 1/2 of what you’re singing be new. Think of when you go to see a favorite band —they play both the classics everyone loves and the new songs off their upcoming album.
Small Group / House Church – I think trying out a song with a small group of people is absolutely the best way to get an idea of how effective a song is going to be with the whole church. The ideal is about 20 people. You get a sense of if the key is going to work, if both men and women can sing it, if people are following the melody. You can really hear how it’s working, more than on a Sunday when your singers are mic’d up and you have a band playing and it’s harder to hear if the church is really getting it.
Placement in Service
If you do a new song on a Sunday, here are some best practices I’ve found. Probably obvious, but don’t do more than one new song on a given Sunday. Don’t use the new song for a key moment in the line up — for example as the first or closing song. It can work right before a lesson or right after a lesson if it is very topical to the lesson. (For example we had a worship series from the book of Daniel called “In the Eye of the Storm” and we introduced the song with the same name and general idea as the sermon series.) In general I like to “sandwich” new songs in between two familiar ones. It especially helps if you can make the new song lead naturally into a powerful song people know well already (like if it’s the same key, tempo/feel, or theme).
I think it’s important to mention to the congregation that it is a new song. When people visit our church one of the things they always comment on is that everyone is singing. On a new song that is not going to be as much the case though, so it’s helpful to explain why. You can say something like, “Betty is going to perform a new song for us that we’re going to be singing in the weeks ahead. Feel free to just listen, or to sing along as you catch on.” First time it’s introduced, don’t keep telling the church to “sing out” if they don’t know it yet! (Unless it’s a very simple song and they can get it the first time.)
Finally don’t be afraid of repeating new songs! That’s they way we learn them. Remember that typically for every one time a church has heard a song, the worship team has heard it about 5 times — including preparation, rehearsal time, sound check, etc. So repeating the songs is key to your congregation learning them. At youth camp every year we have four nights of 40min sets of worship. We always plan to introduce about 4 or 5 new songs over the week, and we sing them over and over. By the end of the week it’s always so awesome to hear all the campers belting out the new songs they learned that week!
Keep singing! Love to hear from you about any new songs you’ve been singing that work well. Feel free to leave a comment below.