On Tuesday morning, a new song comes across the wire that leaves you inspired.
It’s got everything you're looking for: solid biblical lyrics, a soaring melody that manages to hang within the congregational range, and a killer guitar hook that stays with you for days. Sunday arrives and you let it rip, but halfway through that epic bridge you scan over the congregation and all that looks back at you is a sea of blank faces. What went wrong?
Learning a new song is like meeting someone for the first time. Being a good worship leader means being a good teacher and good teachers find ways to present new ideas in ways students can understand. Here are some ways to make a solid introduction:
Give a reason
You've put a lot of thought into the songs you chose. Often a simple introduction of why you made the choice is enough to open ears to hear it. You don't need to give a 20-minute sermon. Something as simple as: “Last week, we were discussing surrender, and this lyric really stuck out to me. I believe it’s something we need to sing together” is enough.
Share a story
We are all human and humans are moved by stories. Songs aren’t written in a vacuum. A writer is often moved by a life event and in turn, writes a song as a response. “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” is a beautiful song, but when you learn it was written by Louisa M. R Stead after she and her daughter witnessed her husband drown trying to rescue a young boy, you have a new appreciation for it. Understanding the place a song is written from helps us find a place for it in our own story.
Make time to listen
I like to internalize things before I sing them and that takes time. Try asking everyone to be silent and simply meditate on the lyrics as you sing them. Keep the words on the screen. Play through slowly and deliberately. This not only helps the melody to stick but also gives weight to the words when you reintroduce the song later in the gathering.
It seems like a no-brainer but it took me years to make this my go-to introduction. After announcing that we are learning a new song, I sing through the chorus once with just a guitar then ask everyone to join me. Depending on how quickly we catch on I may repeat it a few more times and then launch into the beginning of the song with the full band. After one pass through the verse, I give the old “Let’s sing that again” and run the verse one more time before playing the song in its entirety. By the time we hit that chorus, my voice is drowned out by the voices around me. Mission accomplished.
In no way am I suggesting these are the only ways to introduce a new tune, but they are definitely the ones that have created the most engagement in my experience. With over 500 song lessons, if you’ve heard a new song lately, you’ll probably be able to learn to play it at Worship Artistry before introducing it to your congregation.
I’d also love to learn from you —what methods have you used and how did they work for you? I'm all ears.
Jason Houtsma is the co-founder and guitar teacher at Worship Artistry, where he is helping musicians of every level answer the call to worship with passion and confidence. Jason has been leading worship and writing music since he was 15 years old and currently serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA.