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The Lifespan of a Worship Song

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RECOGNIZE THAT SEASONS EXIST

“To everything there is a season” the Bible tells us. This is also true for worship songs, although not everyone seems to have read Ecclesiastes 3:1.

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. If you don’t recognize that every song has a season, then you won’t be aware and watching for when that season has its end. This doesn’t mean that every song you played last Sunday is out of date. But out of the songs you did lead, some where at the start of their life cycle, some where in an undefined middle, and some were quite possibly past their prime.

RECOGNIZE THAT NOT EVERY SONG HAS THE SAME LIFE SPAN

Think of it like Dog years. A song may only be a few years old but in “dog years” it’s in its 90’s. Some songs like Be Thou My Vision have been with us in some form for over a 1,000 years and don’t show any signs of stopping. A song’s literal age does not necessarily determine it’s lifecycle. Some songs are for a moment and some songs are for lifetimes.

NOTE: A Song’s lifespan will vary from church to church. So just because a song is still going strong elsewhere doesn’t mean you should still lead it at your church, or visa versa as the case may be

RECOGNIZE THAT SOME PEOPLE LOVE DEAD THINGS

Just because a song’s season has passed, doesn’t mean that there won’t be someone out there who couldn’t care less. I feel bad for these folks. Not because of the songs they like, but because it is harder to serve them. At the risk of showing my Nerd Cred, in the case of song choices “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Meaning that in our churches there is a person who’d be very happy if we just sang the old standards the way we always have until glory or the grave takes us home. But those folks do not represent the whole of the church, nor are they thinking about the future health of the church. Some people love dead things. I commend churches that try to find ways to serve those people, but for the life, health and future of the whole church, we have to recognize the seasons, and not allow a minority who can’t or won’t take be the determining factor in our song choices.

Sometimes I, the worship leader, am the lover of dead things. There are songs that still speak and minster to me personally, but are past their sell by date in a corporate setting. Having the discipline to value the needs of the church over our own desires is possibly the hardest part of our job.

RECOGNIZE THAT WE HAVE A GOD WHO RAISES THE DEAD

Just because a song has run its course, does not mean that it won’t have another course to run. We serve a God who raises people from the dead. There are whole movements of men and women to whom the Holy Spirit has granted the creativity to revive songs who’s day has come and gone. It’s not just the modern hymns crowd. I’ve personally found a very fruitful avenue in reviving old 70’s and 80’s worship songs. I have a modernized, indie rock arrangement of “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” that has been well received in every church I’ve lead it in. For several years now I’ve been asking the Spirit to grant me wisdom in how to bring back “He Is Exalted” in a fresh way. It hasn’t happened yet, but I have faith.

RECOGNIZE THAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE A PLAN, IT WON’T HAPPEN

If you don’t have a plan, then you just have wishes. You’ll know best how to determine if a song has reached the end of its journey at your church, but here’s how I do it.

I have a Master List of songs that I call “The Hymnal” that I update periodically through the year. It’s part of how I’m intentional about introducing new songs, but also how I phase out old songs. When I’m redoing the Hymnal I will sometimes “give a song a rest”, because I feel like it’s been overdone, or become a crutch to myself or the church. That doesn’t mean that this song will never see the light of day again (I’ve pulled some pretty big name songs off the list) but that I’m giving these songs a pause. But it has the added function of letting songs end naturally. If they don’t make it back on the hymnal after one or two go arounds, then its probably a pretty good indicator that, for now anyway, the song has run its course.

 

Its not just overuse that will get a song pulled from the Hymnal. Almost all of us start our ministry with an inherited song list. Even if you are really aggressive in leading new songs, you probably won’t be able to introduce new songs (well) at a pace that will allow you to immediately drop all the songs you don’t like or are outdated. This means that for a period of months or years you’ll be leading songs out of necessity. Some songs stay around a little longer than they would have otherwise due to need. So when the time comes that you’ve introduced a few new upbeat, high energy songs then “Victory Chant” or “Trading My Sorrows” get retired.

No matter what songs we sing, we need to know the times and the season in which we are serving. Knowing where we are will shed a light on where we are going, as a worship community, and as a church.

Agree. Disagree. Mad that I retired Trading My Sorrows? Leave a comment and let’s talk.

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7 Responses to “The Lifespan of a Worship Song”

  1. I completely agree with this article. One thing that I have been trying to do lately is to approach everything in my life intentionally, and in this case, as a worship leader I have intentionally picked, pulled, and rested songs based on there course or life span. I know its very easy to get in the habit of playing songs over and over again just because the people responded well during one of the services, I call this our “Go To” songs, but are they really impacting lives and giving glory to God? Or is it just a cop out for not doing things intentionally?

    I really enjoyed reading this.

    Thanks!

  2. Adam I think you handled this about as well as you could! I’m a very intentional person with every aspect of my life, and with worship leading it is no different. I lead on a team with 1 paid worship staff member and 5 other volunteer worship leaders. We have an excellent dynamic at our church, and as hard as this could be with multiple worship leaders, it comes very naturally to our team. Needless to say new songs get introduced frequently. We’ve introduced 9 new songs since January, but are taking a break from new sings during the Summer to allow our congregation to really learn the newer songs we’ve been leading. I think this article can really help teams and worship leaders have a sense of structure and intentionality to how they introduce new material to their church body. Thanks so much for all you, Ben, and the other contributors do to help us with these questions, you guys really are impacting us with great knowledge!

  3. This may be the most right little thing that I have heard for some time. I decided a few years ago to introduce a new song each month including Christmas. I play the song each Sunday night for the month. I keep a spreadsheet of my hymnal and rank each song as to its importance or “liked” for our church. I also have list of new songs I want to which gets revised constantly as new music hits the market. I shy away from radio songs unless it very special. So many of the songs I choose that speak to me have ended on the radio anyway.

  4. certainly agree with this line of reasoning. One issue you didn’t address, however, when not “one”, but “many” are past a particular song, but “many” others are not. How do you deal with that situation?

  5. sometimes a song’s lifespan is influenced a lot by what else is out there in that genre. Our congregation is a mix of ages, backgrounds, and musical tastes. So I may be able to regularly retire praise and worship songs since there is such a stead stream of them coming out. But for my country gospel offerings, not so much. And I consider “hymnal classics” to be a genre by itself, and they are not making these any more. So those go more into a rotation rather than end-dating.

    For us, we find the current trend of “all the latest that’s on the radio” we see a lot just does not fit. So we’re much more multi-genre in our music.

  6. Love this reminder of the importance of knowing your congregation. Also, to not love dead things! I’m in my 2nd year of leading and I too, inherited the song list. Attending the church for a few months prior to getting the job helped me to get a grasp on what was going on already. Just this year, I began to phase out some “older” songs. Introducing a new song every month has helped us all worship well.

    Regarding “Trading My Sorrows,” I agree to retire it! 🙂

    Regarding “He is Exalted,” I got saved when that was popular. I’m finding it new again. I’m sure you’ve heard the Shane and Shane version? We’ve recently introduced it this year and it has been received very well! Though, we play it a bit faster in tempo. https://youtu.be/km2jPqoTtew
    Blessings!

  7. I wish more worship leaders thought like you do. I’m sick of the same two or three favourites every week

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