A good friend of mine was struggling. She was an incredible and talented songwriter with deep faith in Jesus, but she was writing pop songs and feeling like it wasn’t right. She switched to writing worship music to “keep following God.” After trying very hard for a few agonizing months she realized that her audience wasn’t in the church during worship services, but in the world during the rest of the week. She had come to an important realization and found the calling that Jesus Himself had given her. She has since become very successful and her songs have touched many people in a way that only God can.
Knowing your audience is everything to an artist and songwriter. Without it, it’s like getting into your car and driving out of town without a destination. So much talent is lost because of reasons that keep gifted people imprisoned in a world of discouragement and loss of direction. Learning to know your audience will give you focus and help you set goals to reach them, which will act as a road map that will take you to your destination.
Songwriting for your audience can be a challenge. Who is your audience? What are you trying to convey? There are simple but profound guidelines that will help you define who you are writing for. As you keep working on your craft, you need to define whether your style is worship, Christian contemporary or (gasp!) secular, be it pop, metal or Sinatra. Spend plenty of time in prayer, because you need to know who you are as a writer and where God wants to place you to serve others through your gift. The following definitions are for worship songwriting, but they also work as a great foundation for Christian writers regardless of style and venue.
An Audience of One
Our writing must come from our secret place with God. The best worship songs are often written in a room with a single instrument and vocal and are a natural extension of our private act of worship before God. Writing for an Audience of One creates authenticity, which others can connect with as they sing your songs. Without it, you will risk copying other writers and never finding your own voice, which is a precious gift that God has set aside just for you. Go after Him with all you are, and He will show you incredible things He has in store only for you to share with others. Let Him be the object of your worship, and let the Holy Spirit be your guide and inspiration.
Writing for an Audience of One requires breathing in His Word on a daily and faithful basis so that we can breathe out praise and adoration as we get to know who He is. Fresh songs come straight out of the Bible when its wisdom is mixed with our experiences, not from copying other people’s lyrics or using our imagination wildly to try to create something original. Theology may never be compromised in order to create a touching lyric, but our words must be personal and come honestly out of our thoughts and desires towards God. We live in a world where people are craving for intimacy and something real, and we must create music that opens the gate for people to connect with Him on a personal level. A great example is Phil Wickham’s “Carry My Soul,” which mixes Biblical truth with his desire to rush through the gates of heaven in a brilliant way:
I want to hear You say well done
I want to be welcomed in
I want to feel Your love like sunshine
On my resurrected skin
You can just feel the emotion dripping through the song and imagine yourself in that situation, meeting our Savior for the first time face to face, and it’s all based on the Bible. It doesn’t get more vulnerable and intimate than this.
An Audience of Worshippers
A worship songwriter needs to be connected to a local church for many personal reasons, and God has called you to write for your church first and foremost. Your songs need a purpose, and this is the first place where they can reach those God has intended them for. People in our churches are going through pain, joy, challenges and flat out devastation in different times of their lives, and worship birthed in the local church is a great expression of their emotions to God in an honest and timely way. As a songwriter, I have been incredibly blessed to see people’s lives changed as God has strategically given our pastor vision, fitting some of the songs I’ve written to coincide with what our church has been going through. Sometimes the songs have come just weeks before they’ve “hit their mark,” leaving no doubts about who they originated from. It has deepened my faith and given me a deep sense of purpose. So stay connected to your home church, keep your finger on the pulse of the people by being in relationships and praying for them, be aware of the teaching series, write to fill a need, and see God use your music in a profound way to change lives for His glory. Trust Him to give you exactly what is needed to keep leading the worshippers in your church closer to Him in each season.
The Church at Large
If it is God’s will, He will open doors for your songs to reach His church at large. But we are called to write for the local church, and songs should be birthed there and serve it. Paul Baloche, Elevation Worship, Hillsong, Chris Tomlin and Jesus Culture among others still serve their pastors and churches and show us an excellent model for our songwriting. They are also great models of the importance of humility, should God open bigger doors for you to walk through. My friend gave me a great piece of advice, telling me to follow my calling as a songwriter and leave the results up to God. It has allowed me to embrace the joy of a job well done with each song and contentment as I know He works all things for my good, whatever the results might be.
When God calls us to write songs to honor Him, the very purpose of the songs is to bless others, not to build up our own egos. We are called to serve others, not ourselves. Getting the focus on our audience will free us from the desire to succeed in worldly terms and redefines success as a desire to follow His calling. When our focus is on Him, we will be able to simply obey and leave the results up to Him, and we will be fulfilled like never before. The only correct motivation for worship songwriting is the desire to serve others and fill a need you feel God is showing you, using your talent to build the church up. Write for the Audience of One and your local church, be faithful in your craft and leave the results in God’s hands. Contentment and humility are incredibly important for songwriters, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for a serious fall. It’s a lifelong journey, enjoy yours! But don’t forget to share it with others!