How do we pick songs at Journey Church? The easy answer is that the worship leader picks the song for the set and runs them by the Director of Worship and/or the Pastor.
The reality is that there are several factors involved. First and foremost is prayer. This goes way beyond asking God, “What songs should I pick?” I ask this often, and I sometimes get a quick and easy answer – while reviewing our repertoire certain songs jump out at me, I write them down, and after a few minutes I see a set staring back at me. But usually, when I ask “What songs should I pick?” I feel the nudge to dig deeper.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray continuously. We are to remain in His presence, listening, even as we go about our days and interact with the world. While I am still working on mastering this state, on the weeks where I don’t get the quick and easy answer this is how I prayerfully approach the worship set.
Since I believe that Jesus is Lord, and that He will build His church and the gates of hell will not stand against it, I trust that if I am near Him in prayer He will point me in the right direction for my part. At the same time I also believe that He is pointing our other leaders in the right direction, so I prayerfully ruminate our elements that are already in place: the sermon topic; the leadership structure and what they believe the worship flow should be; the musicians that are scheduled for the week; the people who attend Journey; and the songs we already know.
The message topic weighs heavily into song selection. If given the text ahead of time I will read it while browsing the Journey song list and see what songs pop out. In a perfect world the closing song(s) will flow naturally out of the message. The songs in the first set don’t have to tie into the topic (though it’s always great when then do!), but they should flow into each other, and they should all be leading us to the throne of God.
Pastors often request songs to sing after the message or ask that certain songs be utilized heavily during a message series. Pastors can also request specific worship structures (number of songs in a set, when to use songs of certain tempos/subject matter, etc.). Whether I like or agree with their requests matters little. If we believe that Jesus is Lord and that he is building the church, we respect the chain of command.
At Journey we use a volunteer team. Church members who join the worship team grow together as musicians. Here are some of the questions I ask when using a volunteer team: Has the team performed this song before? Are they strong on it? Who might struggle? Do the members like the song? Can we find a key that works for both the singers and the instruments? If it’s new, can this team pull it off? The answers don’t have to be yes to all of the questions, but if most of the answers to those questions sway towards the negative I will generally shelve the song in question.
It all boils down to how much stress the team can take. A little stretching leads to growth. Too much stretching leads to all sorts of bad things.
The People Who Attend
The people who attend Journey Church have an impact on the songs we choose. If one person requests one song, I consider it. When I start hearing the same requests from multiple sources, it starts to feel more like a movement within the body to me and becomes more likely to find its way into the rotation.
The people who attend Journey also affect the song selection by participating. Ultimately the congregation is the worship team. We are only doing these songs so that we can sing them as a group. God uses these times to do “God stuff” among us while we participate in one of His ordained “one another” moments. We keep using songs until the congregation stops singing them.
The Songs We Already Know
Because our ultimate goal is to sing these songs together, it’s important that we don’t add too many new songs at once. Our rule of thumb is no more than one new song per week, and we usually won’t do that more than two or three times in a month. Once a new song is added we do it a few weeks in a row so that the congregation can learn it. There are exceptions (when we have a new worship leader or have formed a new team that has a different sound which needs different songs), but we try really to stick to the one per week rule. Over the years we’ve gone through seasons where we’ve added too many songs over a short period of weeks and we’ve needed to ease back on new material for a time. How do we know when we’ve reached this point? People stop singing.
Todd Koeppen, Director of Worship