Originally published by Worship Leader on October 9, 2014
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
We love singing a new song to the Lord, because He has put it in our hearts to do so. However, that does not mean that every time we sing a new song as a congregation for the first time, that it’s going to go well! As lead worshipers, we need to exercise wisdom in planning how we introduce new songs to our church.
Proverbs impresses on us the importance of exercising careful planning as we consider those whom we’ve been given stewardship of leading, and I’ve heard prominent church leaders say, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” With that in mind, we do well to not just wing it when it comes to introducing a new song, but to be wise in how we go about it.
Here is a short checklist of practical steps to introducing a new song. It’s by no means a list of completely original ideas, nor is this the only way to do it, but many lead worshipers use variations of this plan and it works well to help them serve their churches.
1. Prepare the Ground
Be strategic: Have a plan to work the song into the church’s sense of familiarity, long before you actually introduce it as a worship song in the service. Intentionally have the song play in the background for a number of weeks, before services and after services, at events, etc. The church members may not register it consciously, but hearing the tune repeatedly over many weeks does help them to know the melody before you ever sing it live.
2. The Soft Introduction
Use the song as special music during communion, offering, or as a closing song. Give the church the chance to hear you play the song and acclimate to it, without necessarily putting the pressure on them to learn it or sing along yet. It’s much like when you introduce new fish to a tank – you keep them in their own bag of water, separate from the rest of the tank, until you allow enough time for the water to become the same temperature... it makes for less of a shock to the fish when you do release them into the open water of the tank. In the same way, give the church the chance to acclimate to the new song, so they transition into singing the song naturally and smoothly.
3. Soft Introduction, Part 2
Playing the song at full force during a special event, night of worship, or in one of the smaller group settings such as Mens/Womens Ministry, Youth, College age, etc., can be a strong way to introduce the song into the worship of the church. The fact is that those who are at these smaller gatherings are often more committed to their spiritual growth and maturation, and learning new songs will come easier to such folks. They’re more serious worshipers than the ones who only casually attend service. If you take the opportunity to teach the more committed ones the new song first, you’re going to have at least a small group of people who will lead from the pews and sing it passionately when you introduce the song for the first time in the larger assembly of believers.
4. Main Introduction
Be up front. Tell the church you’re going to teach them a new song. Teach the chorus to your church as if they’ve never heard it before.
Sing it over them once to teach them, then repeat and invite them to try it along with you once or twice. Then encourage them to listen to the words of the verses as you play the song for them, and then to join you on the chorus. Repeat the first verse instead of doing multiple verses the first time around. Make it easy for the church to join in together as you repeat the verse and chorus. Afterward, thank them for joining you in singing it and applaud their participation. Make it a positive experience for them. No one likes to repeat something they didn’t do well, so make it possible for them to do it well, and use positive reinforcement when they do! Make it a wonderful experience for them as they worship our wonderful God with a new song.
5. Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Keep the song in high rotation for several weeks in a row at least to give the church the chance to sink their teeth into this new song. Remember – as musicians preparing the song, we listen to it and play it dozens and dozens of times. While we already carry it in our hearts, our church will generally need longer to grab on to it. We need to give them the opportunity and be patient with them, while paying attention to their responses to the song.
Discuss the song with your pastors & ministry leaders, worship team members, and church members; see if they think the song is effective to its purpose: is it a community building horizontal song that teaches about God & His attributes and reinforces theology? Is it a vertical song that offers praise directly to Him from His people? Is the church connecting with the song as a vehicle to express their worship?
If it is working well, great! You have a new song in the repertoire of your church’s praise vocabulary. You’re living out God’s desire for his people expressed in the Psalms (33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, etc). If the song is not achieving its purpose, then be willing to set it aside for the sake of the church and perhaps revisit it later. Maybe now just isn’t the season for this song... or maybe this song in particular just isn’t one for your church in particular. Be willing to serve the church by using the best possible song choices, and be willing to walk away from the ones that fall short of the best possible response.
Blessings to you as you serve our Lord and His Bride!