Pruning the Master Song List
Worship Leaders, we have to have a serious talk. This one is going to hurt, but I have to say it… it is probably way beyond time for you to prune the Master Song List.
Whether it is in official form or not, each church has what I call a “Master Song List”. This is the list of songs that the church pulls from for worship each week. When I first stepped in to the role of “Music Director” at a church, they currently had a Master Song List of 352 songs. Yowsa! It didn’t take too long to realize that the list needed to go through some hard pruning.
I know, you love the songs on your Master Song List. I get it. The songs are on “the list” for a good reason. But I have to tell you that most of the songs are on “the list” for a reason that simply isn’t good enough.
Let’s do some simple math. Let’s say that your church sings 5 songs together each service. In one full year (52 weeks of 5 songs per week), you will have led 260 total songs. If you have 100 songs on your Master Song List, and you evenly distributed them throughout the year, that would mean that you played each song 2.6 times. I don’t know if that means anything to you, but to me it means that you played it in January, June, and (if we round up to 3) December. Since we rounded up to 3, it also means that another song (which we have to round down to 2) was played in March and October. That’s not good.
Using an easier number, what if you had 52 songs in your Master Song List? Evenly distributed, that would mean that you will lead each of those songs 5 times throughout a full year. That number sounds a whole lot better to me!
There are so many good songs out there, but as Worship Leaders, we really need to say “no” to good songs, and only allow great songs to make their way onto our Master Song List. Why is it important to only lead great songs? I will offer 2 reasons, though more could be said.
1. It takes a lot of collective work to play a song well! On a stewardship level, it is really not loving or wise to ask your Worship Team to invest their precious time and energy into learning a good song that will only be used 2-3 times per year. It would be a much better investment, and will yield greater fruit, if their time and energy were spent learning a great song that will be used 5-6 times each year.
2. The congregation is full of non-musicians. To musicians, it can seem like we are over-playing the songs if they show up on the set list every other month. This is not true for the typical person in the congregation. They are not listening to the songs, practicing the songs, and rehearsing the songs several times leading up to Sunday morning. They hear them once, and then not again for several months. This 2-3 times per year approach makes it incredibly difficult for the typical congregant to know the song, internalize the song, own the song, and then sing / pray the song from the depths of their soul! If we are frustrated that our people are not singing passionately to the LORD, it could be because they are still learning the song.
Personally, I like to use a Seasonal Song List approach. I like to get the Worship Team involved in selecting 15-20 great slow songs, and 15-20 great upbeat songs to be used for the upcoming season. Then I encourage the Worship Team to invest their time into those 30-40 songs, knowing that for the next 3 months we will be pulling exclusively from that agreed upon Seasonal Song List. Some songs may get used 5 times and some songs may get used 1 time. If it only gets used once, it is probably not a great song. It doesn’t deserve to be on the next Seasonal Song List. I also make sure that each song is on the Seasonal Song List no more than two seasons in a row before being taken off the list for at least one season. This helps to keep the list fresh.
I also try to be intentional about introducing 1 new song each month. That song gets introduced one week, played again for the next two weeks, gets the fourth week off, and then gets played again on the fifth week. On 3, off 1, on 1. That is the formula. If the congregation isn’t singing it with fervor on that fifth week, then it was not actually a great song.
Worship Leaders, please do yourself, your Worship Team, and your congregation a big favor… prune that Master Song List.
Artwork provided by my good friend, Brooke Gehman, an authentic and wonderful man of God, devoted follower of Christ, and an amazing husband and father. Brooke is a gifted Worship Leader, an incredible artist, and a Potter by trade (check out his website).