By Greg Johnson
If you are a worship leader or play in a worship band, you have likely played “How Great Is Our God” ad nauseam. In fact, I’m sure you cringe when it appears on a set list, along with “Revelation Song,” “Here I Am To Worship,” “Forever Reign” and many other standards from days gone by. It’s interesting how quickly we tire of songs than the congregations we lead. I call it “worship fatigue.” The problem with this is we abandon songs way before a congregation gets comfortable with them, either because we are tired of them, or we want to be on the leading edge of worship. If our goal as leaders is congregational engagement – not for engagement’s sake, but intimacy with God – then we need to suppress our desire to move on from great songs. If not, we are putting our personal agenda ahead of the needs of the body, and there is a word for that: CONCERT. So, here are some thoughts on the issue at hand.
- Your “fatigue” rate is much more rapid than the average church member. Think about it: you probably play/lead a song on average three to four times as much as the average person hears it. You may listen to it a few times before selecting it, you play through it in rehearsal once or twice, and if you do multiple services, you lead it more than once. You tire of the song WAY faster than the person who showed up on a Sunday for one service. So, abandoning a song people love and engage with because YOU are tired of it seems self-serving.
- Familiarity breeds engagement. If you wonder why your congregation stares at you on Sunday morning, they are likely waiting in anticipation for something familiar to latch onto. We want our congregation to be leaning forward, not back. There’s a reason certain songs are popular – because people connect with and love to sing them. The more familiar with a song a person is, the more likely he is to close his eyes and get lost is the experience versus reading lyrics off a screen and trying to track with an unfamiliar melody. In general, fill your set list with more familiar songs rather than less songs. Try it, and watch your congregation’s engagement increase.
- Choose leadership over artistry. This is a tough one, because, as musicians, we have a God-given artist’s itch longing to be scratched. While it is important to express artistry, leadership over the congregation should always trump your desire for artistry. If you are a worship leader committed to breaking in the newest Jesus Culture, Hillsong or Passion song the week it is released, or you introduce originals the week you write them, be sure you are surrounding it with very familiar songs. Remember, the goal is engagement; so lead well. I was talking to a pastor recently who had a guest worship leader in for the weekend; he let the worship leader choose his own set, and, to his surprise, the worship leader not only chose an unfamiliar song, to open the service. The pastor said, “it really set the pace for the morning, which was really flat. I felt like the worship leader was trying to take my congregation where HE wanted to go, not where we currently are.” Choosing your needs is, again, self-serving and does not exhibit leadership.
- A great song in May is still a great song in October. When you hear a song that you think will resonate with the church, catalog it. Set a standard of how many new songs you will introduce over a period of time (monthly, quarterly, annually). If you are introducing more than two to three new songs a month, you are likely in “fatigue” mode, wearing your congregation out with new songs and killing a culture of worship engagement. Great songs stand the test of time, so if it can’t wait, it’s probably not a great song to introduce anyway. Trial and error is certainly ok, but if you find yourself doing a lot of songs once and abandoning them, something is not working, and it’s likely you.
Our role in the church is to create an atmosphere that moves people toward engaging with God. While there are many factors in creating atmosphere, the songs we sing are at the top of the list. Don’t stop leading certain songs just because you feel the need to be on the cutting edge of worship. Honor your congregation by setting your personal needs aside and prayerfully selecting songs that will allow them to close their eyes and abandon themselves to their Creator.