Planning Songs for the Long Haul

I’m in the middle of finishing a book on worship for Crossway. The first draft is due the editor May 14. I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard. Which either says I’ve had a very easy life, or writing a book is really hard. Maybe both are true.

In any case, blogging is low on the priority list right now. But I thought I’d post a section of a chapter on "Planning Songs." This is a first draft, so any thoughts are welcome. This is the last of seven points I make about planning songs for a Sunday…

Most of us breathe a sigh of contented relief when Sunday is over. The band played well, people seemed to be engaged with God, and the new song went over  great. What we normally don’t realize at that moment is that the  clock immediately starts ticking for next Sunday. If you’re the only worship leader in your church you might try to put off that realization for as long as possible. But eventually it hits. Sunday’s coming.

How do we break out of the rut of always feeling behind in our preparation? Well, the first thing we can do is trust God rather than ourselves. He’s the faithful one, and is more concerned about people worshiping him next Sunday than we are.

But it also helps to realize that a meal isn’t the same thing as a diet. God doesn’t want us only to be concerned about this Sunday. He wants us to keep the big picture in view. Although songs are only a part of that, they’re an important part. We need keep the long term effect of the songs we sing in mind. Here are some of the ways we’ve tried to do that.

Keep a record of the songs you sing and review it. For years I’ve kept a list of the songs we sing in a Word document. I can do a quick search to see when we last sang a song and how many times we’ve sung it. Software programs are available now that provide that information and more. But if you can’t afford them, a Word document works fine. Reviewing your songs can answer some important questions.

  • Are any themes missing or lacking?
  • Are we falling into a rut musically or thematically?
  • Are God’s Word, worthiness, and works being proclaimed in our songs?
  • Are we worshiping a triune God in song?
  • Are we conscious of the Gospel each time we sing?
  • Do we need more songs of celebration or reverence?
  • Are we doing any songs too frequently or not often enough?
  • Do we have a healthy blend of deep and simpler songs?
  • Are there any songs we don’t do any more that we should start doing again?

Plan for two or more Sundays in advance rather than just the coming one. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but in the end it doesn’t require that much more time and there are numerous benefits. We’ve planned from the next two to six Sundays at a time. Are there songs we want to sing multiple times? Are there any songs we want to sing once for a unique Sunday? Any creative elements we want to add? Are there any songs we should learn now to teach later? Once a Sunday is sketched out, we can always change the specifics. And we’ll often plan more than we actually end up doing. But starting with a plan makes the final planning easier and helps us keep the song diet of the church more healthy.

Sing great songs often, weak songs less or not at all. When we only plan from Sunday to Sunday we can lose perspective. Some songs are worth singing more than others. If we’re intentional we can repeat the best songs so that they become a part of our collective memory. Since one of the purposes of music in worship is to help us remember God’s Word, it makes sense to do songs often enough so that children and adults are able to commit them to memory.

A good measure of how we’re doing in this area is what I call the “twenty year rule.” If someone was born in our church and grew up singing these songs, how well would they know God? Would they see that he is holy, wise, omnipotent, and sovereign? Would they know him as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer? Would these songs give them a comprehensive and broad view of God, or would they only be exposed to certain aspects of his nature and works? May God give us grace to choose our songs in a way that reflects God’s care, wisdom, and faithfulness.

9 Responses to Planning Songs for the Long Haul

  1. Kyle May 1, 2007 at 2:24 AM #

    I can’t express how excited I am to get my hands on this book.
    Grace with you as you work for God’s glory, brother.


  2. Tim Challies May 1, 2007 at 6:26 AM #

    Good stuff, Bob. I’m looking forward to reading this when all is said and done.

    One thing sprang to mind as I read that. How about introducing new songs (and this is something you’ve probably covered elsewhere)? I find it useful when a worship leader introduces a new song to sing it a few times over the first few weeks so it really gets worked into my mind. This is especially true when the tune is a tad difficult…

  3. Miguel Medina May 1, 2007 at 10:04 AM #

    “…the first thing we can do is trust God rather than ourselves. He’s the faithful one, and is more concerned about people worshiping him next Sunday than we are.”
    How true and refreshing. Even though I’ve learned that God blesses our preparation, He also uses statements like this to give us faith for Sunday!

  4. Tyler May 1, 2007 at 10:05 AM #

    Really helpful Bob. Thanks for posting despite your hectic schedule. I look for your posts regularly, so I’ve been morose waiting for the posts. I’m anxious to buy your book. This is so practical and helpful. I’m encouraged to see that we’re thinking the way you’re thinking and already doing what your suggesting. But it can always be fine-tuned.
    Thanks again.

  5. JD Longmire May 4, 2007 at 3:06 PM #

    Bob – always edifying – thank you for your faithful witness and guidance to those of us in the Worship ministry.

    Speaking of your word doc – I actually have a google docs spreadsheet with multiple tabs that I use to plan my services – it has an order of worship and some additional resources I frequently use – here is a link to the most current



  6. loriannhouse May 5, 2007 at 2:38 AM #

    I have been a Worship Leader for 15 years. I am visiting different Worship Leader’s to get some new ideas.

  7. Won May 5, 2007 at 3:50 AM #

    bob… thank you so much for Wednesday mornings at the PC. thank you for your brutal honesty which always somehow sounds so gracious–that is truly a gift you possess! i was thoroughly encouraged by what you shared with me after i led the class a couple Wednesdays ago. it was very timely encouragement for me so thank you God for using bob as your instrument.

  8. Joe Haverlock May 10, 2007 at 2:15 PM #

    One thing that has been helpful for me as a worship leader has been to work closely with my Pastor. I have the opportunity to meet with him weekly in planning our music. This relationship can be extremely beneficial to planning music. This can be a great help with themes that may have been overlooked or simply introducing new songs for the purpose of an upcoming sermon series of emphasis.

  9. Bob Kauflin March 26, 2008 at 5:13 PM #


    We do what you describe when we teach new songs, that is, repeat them over the next few weeks. It does help the songs get “traction” in people’s hearts and minds.

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