By JUSTIN GRAY This past weekend, I joined 1,000 college students for our Every Nation Campus student conference in Durham, North Carolina. It was an incredible time of worship, training, and community building for students. But the most impactful moment of the conference happened during worship on the last day. During the set, Jon Owens, who led worship over the weekend, motioned to the band, and they began playing a song written by one of our worship pastors in South Africa. The room exploded with excitement and praise.
Why did Jon choose to sing that song? Why did the people respond the way they did? I’m not completely sure, but there was something about the song that connected with the students in a way that some of the other songs didn’t.
As I tried to explain the power of this moment in a meeting today, someone chimed in that they probably wouldn’t have picked that song for that moment, or even that conference. And it’s true — it was a bit of an odd selection considering that parts of the song are in Zulu.Which brings me to the two critical points on song selection that I want to address in this blog.
1. Song Selection Affects the Worship Environment
Song selection is one of the most vital aspects to really engaging people in corporate worship. I’ve been a part of many worship services where the spiritual atmosphere was either completely disturbed or greatly enhanced by the songs being sung. Psalms contains many songs that speak to the feelings, thoughts, and circumstances of worshippers — songs about everything from praise and thanksgiving, to lament and pilgrimage. Just as those songs were written, taught, and sung with sensitivity to the place and the worshipper, we must also be aware that song selection in our local context matters.
One practical way to select songs for a particular worship moment is to find songs that connect lyrically or thematically with the message of the event. Let’s prayerfully consider the songs we choose.
2. A Song Doesn't Need to be Popular to be Powerful
Once in a blue moon, a song is written that is as popular as it is potent. These rare songs can be sung in just about any worship moment and can connect across a broad spectrum of people groups and ministry contexts. However, most songs don’t have this “secret sauce” — and that’s not bad. It just means they need to be done in the right context.
For example, some years back, I was in a prayer meeting during a time of fasting and consecration. It was my first time visiting the church that held the prayer meeting, and they didn’t have the best singers or musicians (to say the least). But at one point, the woman playing piano began to sing a song that I had never heard. It literally brought me and many others straight to our knees. As she sang, I had one of the most powerful encounters with God that I can remember. The song she sang wasn’t popular, but in that moment, it was powerful. I will forever be grateful that she chose the right song for the right moment.
Unfortunately, as worship leaders, we often default to popular songs because of their mass appeal. And I get it. We want to pick songs that we know will easily connect with the congregation. However, our ultimate goal is also to help people truly worship God, and that may require that we sing some unpopular songs — song popularity cannot be our only priority.
As songwriters and worship leaders, we have the unique privilege of facilitating a moment between the worshipper and God. As you select songs for your worship set, carefully consider the environment that you’re creating for that moment.