Imagine yourself standing in an ornate church building as beautiful music washes over you from the platform. As gorgeous as the songs are, you notice that no one is singing along. It's not because the song is too high or the rhythms are too complex.
The people's hearts are not distracted by the beauty of the architecture, or the lights streaming in through the large gothic windows. No, the reason no one sings is because the worship leader is singing in Latin, and no one knows the songs. Even if they could catch the melody, they would be hard pressed to jump in, sing along, and understand what they were singing.
This is what corporate worship was before the Reformation; a spectator event we participated in vicariously.
Fast forward a few hundred years and much of our ornate architecture has been replaced with graphic arts projected onto a screen, while gothic windows have been swapped out for environmental lighting.
We may not sing in Latin, but we certainly teach a lot of new songs. It seems like every other week a new corporate worship album comes out that has one or two new songs on it that we "need" to do in our services.
While new songs are not a bad thing at all, and are in fact commanded in Scripture, if corporate worship is about corporate engagement, then we need to think through how we teach new songs intentionally in ways that help the family of God come together for the common goal of making much of Jesus, encouraging one another to repent and believe, and shaping our hearts for eternity.
Here are 4 helpful rules for teaching new songs in corporate worship:
1. Be picky about new songs. New songs must be singable and memorable, while remaining clear and truthful. Once you've passed a new song through those filters, try and foresee "staying power" for your context. You don't want to teach a new song that will alienate a ton of people or that everyone will be tired of after a month. You're not being a jerk by being picky with the new songs you are teaching. You are serving and leading your people well.
2. Sing it three weeks in a row. Once you have carefully chosen a new song, be intentional about singing it over and over. A good chunk of our congregations miss at least one out of every three weekends, and by teaching a song three weeks in a row, you are building familiarity and making it easier for people to engage with. That said, don't incorporate more than one new song every three weeks. If you do, be prepared for people to give up and check out.
3. Teach it. Shepherd your people with new songs. Don't preach a sermon, but be clear and concise about the biblical meaning behind the song and why you as a church are doing it. Then sing the chorus a few times by itself. Let people know this is the first time you've done it and so they should jump in as they feel comfortable, rather than check out because it's new. Be patient with your people. Don't expect them to be as excited about it as you are.It may not "blow up" that first week, so don't be discouraged if people don't automatically get into it. Trust God that if you have done the hard work of being picky in your choice and teaching it well, he will do with it as he sees fit for the glory of his name and the good of his church.
4. Make sure the lyrics on the screens are correct. This last point is super practical, yet very spiritual. If people are playing a guessing game trying to sing what's on the screen while you sing something completely different, they will bail out before you know what happened. One of the best ways you can pastor your people through new songs is by equipping them with the necessary tools to engage with the truth you are leading them to sing. Input your lyrics in the proper order. Check it for spelling, capitalization, and grammar errors. Then doublecheck it again. This is one of the unseen ways that you lead. No one will notice unless it's wrong, but you honor God by doing this well.
What are ways you choose and teach new songs in your congregations?
Stephen Miller is the worship leader at The Journey church in St. Louis, Missouri, and travels with his band to lead worship around the world. For the original article, visit worshipideas.com.