As a worship leader, one of my greatest joys is to watch a set-list come alive in worship. A well selected set of worship songs encourages participation, places appropriate prayers in the hearts of the people, moves them to intimacy with God and invokes a love response to Him.
Having said that, one of the easiest worship leading mistakes is to choose the wrong set of songs for a session. So here are eight tips to put together an effective worship set-list:
1. Pay attention to the theme of the day
Start with the theme and list down possible songs around it. A useful rule-of-thumb to follow is to have at least one song in the set-list that highlights the theme.
2. Keep the focus on God
Psalm 100:4 teaches us that when we worship God, we are entering His gates, His courts and into His Presence. So the ideal thing to do is give thanks to Him and praise His Name. Worship must be about God – so less songs about ‘us’ is better.
3. Prioritize familiar songs above new songs
Worship leaders/musicians get tired of songs faster than others. While I get that, 99% of the times, known songs lead to better participation than new songs. So less new songs and more known songs.
4. Don’t ignore new songs
It’s one thing to take known songs to keep the congregation comfortable; but it doesn’t stop there! While putting together a set-list, have a ear open to discover those fresh prayers in song that’d enhance the vocabulary of praise and worship of the congregation, breathe freshness into the worship and challenge people out of their comfort zones. It helps to introduce one or two new songs in a month.
5. Look at the song, not the songwriter
No matter how great a songwriter is, not every song written by him/her can be a winner in congregational worship. It’s important to assess a song on the strength of its lyrics, melody, singability etc. and not just by the name/reputation of its songwriter.
6. While songs need to be congregation-friendly, they should also be our congregation-friendly
Songs that work in the United States need not work in India and vice versa. While evaluating congregational accessibility of a song, it’s good practice to also consider local cultural accessibility. Consider who is our congregation (teens? young adults? elders?) and pick songs accordingly. Remember to keep it simple - a typical congregation consists more of regular folks than highly skilled musicians/singers.
7. Consider musical elements
Is the song singable at a comfortable key? Tempo and rhythm fitting into the overall set-list? Is the style/complexity within range of our musicians and congregation? If the answer is not ‘yes’ to these questions, the song should most likely not make it to the set-list.
8. Listen to the Holy Spirit
This is a no-brainer, but the temptation to finalize a set-list based on our experience and skill always lurks around! Praying to the Holy Spirit, waiting upon Him and obeying His inspiration is probably the most important responsibility of a worship leader while constructing set-lists. Another good practice is to run the entire set-list in a time of personal worship, understand what works and what doesn't and edit the set accordingly.
How do you plan your set-lists? Can you share what works for you?