One of the things that really can really make a difference in a worship service is having quality music. The music sung and/or performed during worship can set the whole tone of the service. The trick to using music effectively in worship is choosing music that ties into the theme of the service, and that is of a style that your audience/congregation appreciates. No matter how much you may love contemporary Christian Praise Music for example, if your congregation consists of primarily of elderly people, you will probably want to stick to using old, favorite hymns. On the other hand, if you have a congregation that is almost all teenagers, it is not really likely that they would enjoy singing songs like “Rock of Ages” and “Bringing in the Sheaves.”
Now, of course, there is nothing wrong with introducing new musical styles into your worship service, neither is there anything wrong with sometimes using the old, classic hymns. But as a pastor and worship leader, you do want to strive to construct a worship service that is meaningful to the great majority of your congregation. So it is very important that you learn as quickly as you can what style of hymns and songs that they love to sing and try to give them what they want.
Hopefully, you will have been blessed to have musically gifted people in your congregation that can play the piano, organ or guitar, and that can sing (and perhaps you have been blessed with these gifts yourself). If you serve a smaller congregation though, you may find that while they may be blessed with other gifts, musical talents are in short supply.
The most common thing that you may find lacking in a congregation is a good musician. In cases like these, you will probably have to go out and recruit one. It is NOT reasonable to expect that you can get a good musician to volunteer their services to your church. So be prepared to have to pay a musician. A good place to recruit is to go to your local high school, and speak to the band and/or orchestra director. Very often they will know of high school aged youth who are gifted musicians and who would appreciate a chance to play for pay on a regular basis. If there are people in your town who give music lessons, especially in piano or keyboard, they too should be approached. You can also call the local Musicians Union Local and see if any of their members would be willing to play for your church (though this will probably be a lot more expensive then hiring a school student). You can also advertise in your local paper, or make flyers to hang up in your local Christian bookstore or coffee shop.
Treat your musicians like valued colleagues, as their gifts and skills can literally make or break your ministry. But be warned, like any artists, they can be on the temperamental side. I had one once who got all huffy with me and quit suddenly because I didn’t want him to play “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” as a solo during a Candlelight Christmas Eve Service.
Now in the event that you can not find a musician to play for you, don’t despair. If you have a computer with a MIDI card installed, you can easily make your own musical accompaniment to pretty much any hymn you can think of as long as you have a copy of the sheet music. Many companies make software that allows you input a musical score on your computer, and to orchestrate it and play it back so that it sounds like it was played on a variety of instruments. When I conduct worship in jails or nursing homes, sometimes I have to bring my own musical accompaniment, so I use a program called “Noteworthy Composer.” This is a shareware program that you can download directly from NoteWorthy Composer
Noteworthy Software offers a fully functional, trial version of this product that you can download from their site. The only restriction on the trial version is that it only allows you to save the same file 10 times. The fully registered version of the product is only $49 (as of this writing), and I have found it to be well worth the cost, especially when at my first church, my 85-year-old organist broke her wrist, and I had to come up with a substitute with only 4 hours advanced notice. It is a pretty simple product to learn to use, at least if you have any musical background at all, or if you have kids who are well versed in music (like I do). Once you make the sound file on your computer, you can record it to a CD or flash drive. Or you can play it directly from your computer as long as you have a good set of speakers connected to it. I actually use a portable Karaoke Machine that I can easily take and setup where ever I am conducting a worship service in a place like a nursing home. The good thing about using a Karaoke Machine is that they usually have a built-in powered amp so you can use it as a unified portable sound system as well as a playback device for your music.
There are also multiple places on the internet that you can go to for Worship music. The most obvious one being YouTube. Simply by typing in a title or the name of the artist, you can find Videos of most popular Christian songs and hymns.
There are also some sites that have straight midi files that are available for you to download to use in your worship services. The ones I typically use are:
Hymnsite.com at http://www.hymnsite.com/
The Cyber Hymnal at http://www.hymntime.com/tch/
The Piano Accompianment site UMC Discipleship Resources https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/piano-accompaniment-recordings
If you belong to a mainline denomination, you probably already have a hymnal or two that your church expects you to use. If you are an independent though, you may have to do some shopping around.
A good all-around Protestant Hymnal, that has a nice blend of classic hymns as well as some more modern praise music is “Hymns for the Family of God” published by Paragon Associates, Inc. of Nashville, TN. If your congregation is primarily African-American, a good choice may be the “African American Heritage Hymnal” from GIA Publications, Inc. GIA Publications, BTW, has a fantastic website where you can examine and order many different hymnals and worship resources online. Click HERE to be taken to it.
If your congregation is more into contemporary praise music, Maranatha! Music publishes many different collections of modern praise and worship music. Click HERE to go to their main website.
Between you and me, I have always found picking music for worship to be one of the hardest tasks I face when I am planning out a worship service. Since I usually am a lectionary preacher (click HERE to find out more about the Lectionary), I discovered that there are some resources available to help you pick hymns that go with that day’s lectionary readings. Many of the lectionary worship resources that I have listed also have lists of hymns that go nicely with the readings. The best all-around resource I know of though is “Prepare! A Weekly Worship Planbook for Pastors and Musicians, This book, published by Cokesbury, has all four of the Revised Common Lectionary readings for each Sunday, as well as lists of Hymns from the major Protestant Hymnals, both traditional and contemporary, as well as suggestions for solos. You can click HERE to be taken to the Cokesbury website.
One thing I learned when I came to my current church is that I knew very little about contemporary Christian Praise Music. What can I say? I grew up Roman Catholic, and the United Methodist Church I attended when I reclaimed my Christian faith was a pretty traditional one. Plus we were not exposed that much to contemporary music in Seminary, and my first three pastorates were in churches that only had traditional services. When I came to my current church, we had both a contemporary and a traditional worship service, so I had to become familiar with Contemporary Christian Music pretty fast.
One service I have used in the past is the Worship Leader website at worshipleader.com . This site contains links to their Song Discovery service, as well as Worship Leader Magazine. Together these offer many helpful tips for conducting contemporary worship services, as well as a fantastic selection of contemporary Christian Praise music.
If you have the capabilities to show worship music videos, you may wish to consider the series published by Integrity Music called “iWORSHiP”. Each DVD in this series comes with 7 songs, that have been set to appropriate visual images. Each song can also be shown with or without subtitles, and you can even turn off the vocal track completely, and just let the instrumental track play, allowing you to have your own soloists sing along. Click HERE to go to the iWORSHiP website.
(A Word about Copyrights)
A frequent temptation many pastors and church musicians succumb to is to purchase one copy of a hymnal or piece of music, then to copy it to give out to members of the choir or other church members. Many also will simply print the words to a song in the worship bulletin, or project them on a screen. This is copyright infringement and can lead to you and your ministry being fined heavily, or even result in you going to jail. One way to avoid this is to subscribe to the CCLI (Church Copyright License Service). For a very modest yearly fee that is based on the size of your congregation (my last church of 230 members pays about $125 a year) you can get a license that gives you full reproduction rights to music published by literally hundreds of different companies, including the big ones like Maranatha. While it may seem unnecessary to have to worry about copyright laws, we do have to remember as Christians that we have to model what it means to be faithful to God’s laws, one of the main ones being “Thou Shalt NOT Steal.” Violating copyrights IS stealing, so as good Christians, we need to respect and honor the rights of those who have taken the time and effort to compose the music that we use to give praise to our Lord. Click HERE to go to the CCLI website.
One Final Note
Some people really have no idea at all how to sing in a church setting. The founder of my denomination, John Wesley, wrote a little piece once to help people learn how to sing appropriately in a church that has been printed in the United Methodist Hymnal ever since. For what it’s worth, here it is.
Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.
Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep, but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.
Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on ill who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
From John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761