There are times when a song fits just so perfectly! It arrives during the gathering at just the right place and right time. Other times a song will stand out like a sore thumb. Despite our best laid plans, both of these instances can occur even within the one church service! If you are new to the service planning task, or even if you’ve been doing it for a while, here are a few tips to help create the best possible sequencing of songs. I hope these thoughts are helpful in some way. (Note: I am writing for churches that use a mix of contemporary songs and hymns.)
Songs work well early in the service if they have a positive feel and lively tempo. They should be uplifting and encourage as many people to sing as possible. This will create energy and anticipation for all they will do/hear together in the rest of the service. Avoid songs with super-complicated rhythms or minor keys. Songs should be quite well-known to the congregation and not be recently ‘new’ songs. Thematically, it is good to open with songs of adoration, which describe the general attributes and actions of God/Jesus and give praise for them. Songs that encourage personal response/reflection, or that describe details about salvation, are not very helpful as opening songs. Newcomers may be struggling with the concept of God existing at all. Let’s establish that first!
Come People of the Risen King (Getty), Creation sings the Father’s Song (Getty), Indescribable (Laura Story), Majesty of Heaven (Tomlin), Hallelujah to the King of Kings (EMU), Across the Lands (Getty), O God Our Redeemer (Everlasting) (Altrogge), God of Wonders (Byrd & Hindalong).
Songs through the middle of your service can branch out in terms of theme and feel and tempo. It is a good place to sing songs that teach the Gospel in detail, that speak of salvation and how it was won for us. Songs that speak to each other as God’s people (using terms like we/us/our) help draw people together into community. These songs provide the encouragement described in Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Songs that move from minor to major feel are great here. Certain songs can also be a calming influence, helping people prepare to hear God’s word preached (without putting them to sleep!).
By Our Love (Christy Nockels), We Belong to the Day (EMU), By Faith (Getty), How deep the Father’s Love for Us (Townend), Mighty to Save (Hillsong), Glorious Day (Casting Crowns), See the Man (Hodge/EMU), In Christ Alone (Getty), Count it all Joy (Sovereign Grace). How Great is Our God (Tomlin) is an interesting one – seems like it should fit in the opening songs category by theme, but the tempo and feel are not quite right (in my humble opinion). It works well in the middle.
This is probably the best place to put songs of personal response or commitment or resolve (“I” songs) – since by this point people will have heard the Gospel explained in the sermon, bible readings and earlier songs. Both slow songs and more upbeat songs can be effective for closing, depending on the type of mood you want to leave people in. It is good to remember the final song can be ringing in people’s ears long after they have forgotten the main points of the sermon, so choose something memorable that says something important!
You are My King (I’m Forgiven),.My Hope (Baloche), I give you my Heart (Hillsong), You Chose the Cross (Lost in Wonder) (Martyn Layzell), I will Glory in My Redeemer (Sovereign Grace), From the Inside Out (Hillsong), Stronger (Hillsong), Be Thou My Vision, This Life I live (EMU), Desert Song (Brooke Fraser Hillsong), 10000 Reasons (Matt Redman), May the Mind of Christ my Saviour, Here I am to Worship (Redman), Jesus Thankyou (Sovereign Grace).
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