Hi everyone,

I'm fairly new to worship leading. I lead worship each week and we sing 3 songs before service starts. We started about 14 months ago and have come a long way!

We began with a lot of older songs that the church already knew to ease into things, and recently, we've been adding more contemporary ones. We've been hovering around ~10 active songs in our list but I'd like to add more now that we have our feet underneath ourselves as a team.

What are your thoughts on the total number of songs that you can have in your entire song list? There are a bunch of wonderful songs that I would like to introduce. I know we can't introduce songs too often, so it's fine to spread them out. But since we only sing 3 songs a week, I wonder what a reasonable limit is to the size of our active song set?

How frequently should we sing a particular song so that the congregation doesn't forget it?

Should I consider older songs (e.g. "Lord I Lift Your name on High") as unforgetable and assume that I could pull it out months later if we haven't done it in a while?

Thanks for reading this post and offering your thoughts!

 - Cyrus

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I know we have well over 100. TOO MANY!! We do have two teams (for every other week) and two services each Sunday morning. So, maybe it is not quite as bad as I think, but we could easily cut it down some.
We usually have 7-9 songs a Sunday depending if we have communion or not that service. We have close to 175 songs that we have done over that last 3 years or so. Some are seasonal (Christmas, Easter) so we don't do them all the time. There are some that you should be able to pull out at the last minute and everyone should be able to do like (Lord, I lift Your Name on High). I don't necessarily delete songs from our list I just don't use them as often (like once in the last 3 years when it REALLY fit the theme).
Honestly, when we introduce "new" songs we generally play them 3 Sundays in a row then bookshelf'em for a spell. The congregation is well aware of this tactic and the repetition helps hammer home the lyrics and gives everyone a chance to digest them and get all the 'nutrients' out. We try to get a quarterly schedule out but we also stay tuned in to what is going on in our church, community, and even the world. If the Lord is speaking to us and we need to make set adjustments we'll do it accordingly.

I've really been into taking new melodies and applying them to hymns. Many of the hymns were written by pastors and theologians of old so they are very deeply rooted in the Word. There is too much meat-n-taters contained in the hymns to toss them out as old and out of date. If you google around on youtube you can find different arrangements of old standards and easily work them in.

We have roughly 20 'invitationals', 40 or 50 'quikies', 20 or so slower P&W songs, a hymnal of hymns, and eleventy billion Chris Tomlin songs.

We started out almost 2 years ago with only enough songs to go a month without repeating, now we go roughly quarterly. The schedule is really just a guide and a tool to keep our folks practicing.

Hope this helps.
May God keep you in tune and in time!
We do the same thing - in both the introduction strategy and the categories that you mention. I have the songs divided between "starters", "middle", and "end" songs. And we also introduce a song, sing it two or three times then shelf it for a while.
I think if you haven't done a song in over a year, people will forget it (with some exceptions). That doesn't mean you can't pull it out, just assume they don't know it anymore. I try to do new songs 4-6 times within the first few months. It takes that many times before people really know them. As musicians, we get sick of a song sooner, bc we play them at least twice as much as the congregation sings them (with practices). As a rule, I do a new song 2 weeks in a row, usually skip a week and do it again. Then I try to get back to it within a month. We do 6 songs (plus a closer, and maybe more if we have communion worship, etc...) per week. I'm not sure how many are in our total rotation, but adding (for a 3 song service) 1 new song a month might be a good pace. When you get up to 30 songs, you can start to let some drop off the radar. Just my 2 cents, for what it's worth.
It's funny you mention "Lord I Lift Your name on High". We just did that one on Easter Sunday after at least a 2 year gap and all sang along. Just last Thursday I heard a song on the radio that I hadn't heard in what had to be at least 20 years and, though I couldn't remember a lot of the lyrics, I was able to follow the melody. Melodies stick in your head, and if you have the lyrics on a screen or hand out then there shouldn't be a problem doing older material like this.

As for adding new songs--Brendan gave good advice for your congregation of about 1 a month with a 3 song worship set. This will also depend on the songs you choose. There are some relatively simple but absolutely fantastic worship tunes of only a short verse or two and the chorus that most have either heard before or can pick up immediately. Examples off the top of my head are "We Exalt Thee", "Highest Place", and "Surrender". (We did 'Surrender' by Marcus James once last summer and by the end of the song it seemed like most people knew it.) These ones can be done once and taken out in a month and easily remembered. Others will take more repetition.

As for totals in the rotation--I've been on the team since Christmas 2008 and have probably done close to 100 different songs during that time at 6-8 per week. Some are done every month or two, most will be done again in the next year and some will never be done again.

Hope this helps.
Thanks for all the great replies and insights! it's definitely given me a new perspective on pacing song introductions and what we'd be capable of in the longer run!
First off congratulations on starting a worship team in your church! We do a small service of just three praise songs before sunday school and then four songs throughout the worship service. From reading the responses my church seems a bit unconventional in the way we pick songs. I am the worship leader but we also have a music coordinator who picks the songs. The reason we have this is because she picked the songs for the service before we had a team and because I completly believe that how she picks the songs is a God given gift when we had a team I decided to continue to let her pick the songs along with my impute. The best advise I can give is to pray and pray some more about the songs you pick and have regular discussions with the Pastor about the movement of your church. We currently have around 200 songs on our list but depending on what kind of season (i.e. focusing more on healing; on redemption; on God's grace; God's strenght etc.) the congragation is in we may sing some of them a ton and then never hear them again for a year or two. For new songs we pick a four to five new songs that focus on what kind of season we are in and then do one at a time singing them around three weeks in a row and then introduce a new one. Sometimes we don't do all the new songs we pick out sometimes we have to pick more. It is all up to God and the way he moves our church.
We're over 50 right now and would like to replace some of the older ones with newer ones. We don't have any trouble with the 50 or so that we have, I think we could assimilate another 20 or so.

I see Leslie's note about adding about 2 songs per month, but in my congregation, some of the songs we added 3 months ago are still quite unfamiliar to the people. It partially depends on your congregation and how quickly they can assimilate new material. A goal that works for us is to have no more than one "unfamiliar" song out of the three on every other Sunday, or two per month. I try to watch their reactions to see if we're getting to that good place, then I introduce another.
Wow, I haven't counted in a while. I just did. We have about 400 songs in our catalog. Of those I would guess 200 to 250 are active and might get used depending on the sermon and service. I would say about 50 of those are non-congregational songs to use for specials, offerings, communion, etc. Another 50 are seasonal for certain times of year. We don't repeat songs within at least a 6 week period, mostly much longer. We introduce new songs slowly now. When we do, we tend to do it as a special for the offering one week, use it as a call to worship song the following week, then teach it during the praise or worship song set on the third week. If it sticks we do it the following week, hen set it aside in the active rotation to do again in the next 4 to 6 week again. Otherwise we ditch it.
As a pastor (and not a worship leader), we have had to look at this issue in our church recently. When I took this pastorate about 10 months ago, we sang different songs every Sunday. We normally do about 6 songs, evenly divided between hymns and newer songs. ("Newer" is a relative term here--"Lord I Lift Your Name on High" would be considered newer for us.)

The effect of having basically 6 new songs every week was disastrous. The congregation didn't know most of the songs, and had trouble keeping up. Our only instrumentalist at the time really couldn't play 6 new songs with any degree of competency. So the music portion of our Sunday service was really laboring.

After sitting back and analyzing the situation, we (mostly I) made the decision to cut the playlist way down. We (the musicians and I) got together several weeks ago and picked out 30 songs that are now the songs we are going to work on for the remainder of the year. That gives our musicians (we've added a couple of guitarists to the mix since I've come) a chance to really work on the songs, so they can play them to the best of their abilities. And since the congregation is hearing songs more than once, they are joining into the worship more than they have in the short time I've been here.

Cyrus, I realize I'm rambling a bit, but this is what I'm saying: my opinion is that fewer songs, played well, is better than a lot of songs played poorly. I have 2 objectives in regard to worship: help my musicians and worship leader to be in a position where they have the best chance to use their gifts successfully on Sunday, and to help them create an atmosphere of worship for our congregation. Do the things that give you and your team the best chance to fulfill those 2 objectives,and you will be in good shape.

You've got a lot of responsibility, Cyrus. I'm praying for you...
I'm with Richard here.

One more thing I'd like to add is this: if you see a song as entertainment or as artistic expression, you may want to introduce more and do so more frequently. But if you see them as confessions of faith, and believe that they take time to move from the mouth to the head to the heart, you may prefer to introduce them at a slower pace and let the people get more familiar with them.

I've always looked at worship songs as Chinese Kung-Fu moves, moves that I want the congregation to be able to use when crisises hit, so I am more keen to repeat them than other worship leaders may be. :)


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