By David Santistevan
I’m often asked how I choose songs. Let’s face it. There are thousands upon thousands of worship songs. Even with all of us combined, we could never sing them all.
There are many worship songs I like that I never lead. There are also a lot of worship songs others lead that I don’t like. I have specific criteria for how I choose them.
These eight questions give me a framework for choosing songs. I hope they’ll help you, too.
8 Song Choice Questions
Before we begin, it’s important to remember that song choice isn’t about you – your voice, your preferences, your creativity. It’s more about who you’re serving, who you’re leading, and what will engage them in worship.
Think about your church. Do you lead for:
- A group of wild and crazy middle schoolers?
- Children with a very short attention span?
- A multi-generational service?
- An edgy, young adult experience?
- Senior citizens?
Be sure to keep that in mind.
With that being said, here is the list of questions you can apply to your next song list:
1. Is Jesus at the center?
Now, every song I lead isn’t solely about Jesus. But I find this to be the most helpful question. If a song isn’t directly about Christ and His character, I need to know why. Because Christ-centered songs are the best songs, in my opinion. I desire the majority of my worship sets to be filled with these kinds of songs. This is what I want my church to be mindful of.
2. Is it engaging?
I want the songs I lead to be interesting, catchy, and fun to experience. There’s not enough time to lead poorly written songs. I’m looking for songs that capture a room.
3. Is it singable?
Just recently I had my two summer interns suggest some new songs we should do for July and August. I found myself saying “no” to most of them. The main reason? They’re weren’t singable for our congregation. They didn’t possess an “easily digestible” melody for our people.
Sure, they were popular songs. Sure, they would work in certain contexts. But I’m always thinking – “What will work for Allison Park Church?” You should ask the same. Remember, most of the people in your church are not musicians looking for something creative and challenging. They simply want Jesus.
4. Does it teach an important truth?
The best songs are songs that speak directly to what your congregation is experiencing. Of course, that’s different themes at different times. I remember back when “You Never Let Go” by Matt Redman was released. It was such an important song for our church at that time.
A well-chosen song can unite a church in a special way. Ask – “What is my church going through right now?”
5. Can my band play it?
Want to know why Chris Tomlin and Hillsong songs find their way into so many setlists? They create methodical, simple, easily-understood arrangements. When I’m listening for songs, I’m thinking – “Can my band pull this off? Is it challenging, yet accessible?”
6. Is it declarative?
The songs I like to do most are songs that declare truth. They call people to rise up. They inspire people to sing at the top of their lungs. So I’m looking for songs with powerful choruses. I envision my church singing them a capella. How would it sound? Every aspect of a song is important, but a soaring bridge and chorus really does the trick for me.
7. Is it popular?
Now, I never start with this question, but it is something I consider. If a song is making its way around the world, I want to know why. If other churches are using a song, oftentimes it can mean there’s something special about it and I’ll give it a try. But never lead songs simply because someone else does. Consider it, but be sure to factor in the other questions.
8. Does it flow?
I like songs I can “land” on and flow with. These are the kind of songs I can lead with a full band arrangement but also work in a simple, acoustic guitar context. A great song possesses a simplicity, sing-ability, and arrangement that make it hard to stop singing. The more you sing it, the more it stirs your heart.
How do you go about choosing songs? How do you decide which ones make it and which ones don’t?
David Santistevan is the creator of Beyond Sunday Worship, which exists to help worship leaders, songwriters, creatives, and church leaders get to the heart of the matter, www.davidsantistevan.com.