Lindele wrote in to ask, “How do you go about teaching a new song to a congregation?”
To set the context, we’re a church that uses a central screen for lyric projection. The thoughts I’m going to share may not apply directly to your situation, but I trust you’ll find something helpful here.
We’ve taught new songs in a variety of ways over the years. We sometimes look for a place in the meeting, such as communion, to present the song as a meditation that the congregation first listens to, then joins in on. Some churches use the offering or time before the meeting as an opportunity to present a new song they sing congregationally the following week.
If the song is more uptempo, I’ll typically say something beforehand that helps people understand some aspect of the song. For example, I may reference the importance of expressing gratefulness to God for our salvation, and then say, “So we’d like to introduce a new song this morning that helps us celebrate God’s lavish mercy displayed at the cross.” Or, “We’re going to sing a new song this morning that helps us remember the ways God has been faithful to us.” Teaching a new song is a unique opportunity to explain why we choose some songs and not others. It enables a leader to draw attention to the truth the song contains, rather than allowing people’s focus and emotions to center on the music. So it’s NOT a good idea to introduce a new song with, “And now we’re going to sing a really KICKIN’ song!”
I’ll usually tell the congregation to listen as we sing the verse and chorus, and then invite them to join in after that. I may have them start singing on the chorus (if the song has one) rather than the verse, because it’s often easier to pick up.
For different reasons, there are a few practices I try to avoid:
• Starting the meeting with a song no one knows
• Introducing two new songs in a row
• Doing more than one new song in a meeting
• Drawing attention to the composer, especially if they’re a member of the band. It can be an unnecessary temptation to pride, or a distraction for the people.
There have been also times when we just introduce a new song without saying anything, because the song is simpler to learn.
How and when we introduce new songs is important, even if we use only hymnals. Among other things, God gave us singing to enable us to remember what we sing and to be impacted more deeply by His Word. If we teach a new song one week, singing it a couple more times over the following weeks can help people benefit more from it. Of course, if a new song flops (isn’t congregation friendly), then we shouldn’t feel an obligation to do it again. However, some songs that are difficult to sing initially are worth including in the repertoire simply because deeper (not confusing) lyrics and music often affect us more deeply over time.
One other thing we’ve done over the past few years is hold quarterly New Songs Nights. We invite music teams, small group worship leaders, and the church in general to learn between five or six new songs. We encourage folks to bring their guitars if they play one. That night, we hand out guitar charts, lead sheets, and Scripture references for each song. We teach each song one at a time, discussing what the song means, highlighting specific lyrics, and addressing any musical issues. After we’ve taught all the songs, we gather on the stage to sing and play the songs together in a time of corporate worship. The whole evening take about two hours and has been a means of education and ministry.
This past year we taught the church 15 new songs. We’ll probably continue doing ten of them. I used to try to teach an average of two new songs a month, but found that it was harder for the church to remember the songs we were learning.
There’s more to say, but I’ve probably said enough for now. Hope this is helpful.