Do Worship Planning in less time with better results. 3 Steps for Worship Leaders to clean out your Song Closets for easier decision making.

Purging your song base is key!

  • Too many old songs is just boring
  • Too many new songs and no one worships
  • Where’s the sweet spot?

Sometimes I feel like Goldilocks and the 3 Bears on Sunday morning. Goldilocks went through the house tasting porridge, checking out chairs, trying out beds. Experiencing the extremes until she found one that was JUST RIGHT!

That bed was too hard. That one was too soft.

That’s what we are looking for … the worship set that is JUST RIGHT!

So, read on to find your own sweet spot. And a few tips to keep it JUST RIGHT.

THE SIZE OF YOUR SONG REPERTOIRE AFFECTS WORSHIP

What is a Song Repertoire?

Your song repertoire is like your wardrobe. How many clothes do you have to choose from?

Too many clothes gets messy. You can’t find what you want. You don’t remember what you have. And digging through piles is a waste of time!

But unlike your fashion styling, the size of your song repertoire has a big impact on Sunday Worship.

Too many songs in your repertoire will negatively affect your worshipers’ experience.

And it also causes the worship leader more work and unnecessary stress.

How can the sheer number of songs in your repertoire affect worship?

  • Too many songs mean your best songs are not being repeated enough to become familiar
  • Newer worshipers are especially confused because every song feels brand new to them
  • For the leader, decision making takes longer and is less effective

100 Songs is Too Many. And 40 Songs is STILL too many.

Most churches sing a certain number of songs on a typical Sunday. Our church sings 5. Yours might sing 7. I’ve been to a few that sing only 3.

Whatever your weekly number of songs is, multiply that by 6. And that’s more than enough songs for your repertoire. 

That’s how big your worship closet is. That’s what will fit. 

…Unless you want things messy, lost, and stressful.

3 TYPES OF WORSHIPS SONGS YOU NEED IN YOUR CHURCH REPERTOIRE

SONG TYPE #1: THE NEW SONG

New Songs Awaken Our Spirits

Think about the last time you heard a brand new worship song. Maybe you were getting ready for work or driving in the car. But a lyric grabbed your attention. Or you were so moved by a chorus, you actually stopped in your tracks. 

When a new song catches my attention at home, I quickly yell “Alexa, what song is this?” Hoping to capture the song title and artist so I can look it up later and listen again.

If I love the song and learn the title, I search for the lyrics because I didn’t hear them all. I want to read the full message and soak in the words. I search for it on Youtube and listen again.

That’s the impact of a new song.

If I resonate with it in some way, it piques my curiosity. But I’m still figuring it out.

Keep in mind, that is the response of your Sunday worshipers when you introduce a new song. While your team has been practicing, listening, and absorbing … to your worshipers, it is brand new.

They are curious and they are awakened. But they are tentative because they are not familiar.

A brand New Song typically should be repeated at least 3 times in a 5-week period.

I often do a new song two weeks in a row. Take a week off and do it again. Then go to every other week. By then, it becomes familiar and moves into the once-a-month playlist.

(Click here for my new top worship songs each month.)

SONG TYPE #2: THE FAMILIAR SONG

Familiar Songs Draw Us to Deeper Worship

After that new song becomes a favorite, it just sticks. The words echo in my mind.

The New Song becomes intertwined with my soul.

Hearing just the introduction, I yell to my Echo, “Alexa, volume 8!”

I’m moved to worship. I know what’s coming. I even have words memorized that I never intended. I feel the song. It has become part of me.

(I label familiar songs “CURRENT FAVORITES.”)

With Familiar Songs, we don’t have to stare at the lyrics on the screen anymore. We aren’t nervous to sing out a wrong note because we know what’s coming next. 

When a worship song becomes part of our being, we are more free. We can close our eyes, at least in part. And we are not just making music singing words. We are singing with our spirits.

Familiar Songs should make up the majority of your repertoire.

These Current Favorites are sung about once a month.

SONG TYPE #3: THE TIRED OLD SONG

Old Songs Connect Us to a Timeless God

We live in a time-bound world. Everything changes. People change. Situations change. Our culture is dynamic, along with our lives. The same is true with a Familiar Song.

Just like the Velveteen Rabbit or your favorite old sweatshirt, after a song has been well-loved and long-sung, something changes.

The Familiar Song Becomes a Dearly-Loved, Old Friend.

The song will always be a part of us. And dearly loved. But it no longer awakens us or moves us the way it once did.

The song has done its part. And WE are changed. 

I may still keep the old song in my closet, to pull it out on a gloomy day. To feel its warmth and comfort.

But it’s no longer my day-to-day inspiration.

TIRED, OLD SONGS HAVE BEAUTY AND VALUE

  • They connect us to our history
  • Their nostalgia brings comfort and calm
  • They remind us of God’s timeless nature – He is age to age the same

Old songs need to part of your song repertoire. But a small part. 

They are warm memories. Old songs often remind us of God-moments of the past. Times when the Creator met us in our joy. Or in our sorrow. They might even be bound to a collective church memory.

THE TWO-FOLD CAUTION OF FILLING YOUR SET-LIST WITH TOO MANY OLD SONGS

FIRST: TO NEWER WORSHIPERS, YOUR OLD SONGS ARE UNFAMILIAR

They hold no meaning. And your church is a growing and dynamic community. 

If your set list is filled with old, familiar songs, you may have 200 favorites that your congregation has sung for decades. 

But for new worshipers, it’s like going to a reunion for a high school they never attended.

They will never be familiar and get to know all your old friends. Because there are just too many of them. Your newest worshipers are kept on the outside.

SECOND: BY HANGING ONTO YOUR COMFORTING OLD FRIENDS, YOU LEAVE NO ROOM FOR GOD TO DO SOMETHING NEW

And He is always doing something new!

Old Songs should make up the smallest portion of your set-lists. For us, hymns are included in this category. We include old songs a few times a month. 

WORSHIP LEADERS: HERE’S 3 STEPS TO CLEAN OUT YOUR WORSHIP CLOSET

Too many worship leaders are running off a song repertoire of 100+ choices. No matter how many songs you do on a Sunday, sorting through 100 is too much.

  1. It adds to your stress in decision making and wastes time
  2. Your songs aren’t being repeated enough to be familiar
  3. Your closet will only hold so much.

As you add new songs, you need to get rid of the old. And you NEED to be adding new songs. Because they awaken us! 

Quit hanging on to good songs. Keep the GREAT songs. 

I once used the Marie Kondo method to purge my clothes. And while I can’t say I talked out loud to my clothes as I discarded them, I can say the results of the rest of her process were quite freeing.

So, taking what I learned from Marie Kondo, the Organizing Queen, let’s clean out some Worship Closets!

STEP #1) ELIMINATE & PURGE YOUR WORSHIP SONG LIST

Survey your songs and only keep the ones you love. 

For me, this means chord sheets, printed on paper. For you, it may be a list on a spreadsheet. But I think something beautiful happens when your physical body is involved in spreading out your chord sheets. Picking them up. Scanning the lyrics. Singing a bit. 

(Looking at a list on the computer just isn’t the same.)

As you go through your songs, keep only the ones that bring you joy. Spark emotion. Quicken your spirit.

Be choosy. It will be difficult. You only get to keep 30. (And honestly, that’s still too many.)

When purging, you also need to keep in mind a mix of fast, medium, and slow tempos. As well as songs fitting for communion or other elements your church may include. 

This can be a painful process.

For most of us, we are eliminating songs with deep connection.

While Marie Kondo teaches to thank your sweatshirt for its service, I think it’s quite appropriate to thank God for each song. For its beauty. For its impact. Before you move it to the “retired” pile.

STEP #2) ORGANIZE YOUR CHORD SHEETS BY SONG TYPE

Staying organized is one of the keys to time management. Finding what you need means it needs to be kept where it belongs.

I use brightly colored file folders. My Worship Folders are labeled:

  • Current Favorites
  • Hymns
  • New Songs
  • Retired Songs
  • Mostly Dead: but keep for special services

The first 3 folders I carry around with me a lot. Back and forth to practice and church.

The Retired and Mostly Dead files hang out at home. But I know where to find them if needed.


STEP #3) MAINTAIN YOUR ORGANIZATIONAL SYSTEM

If your closet holds only 30 songs, then every time you add a new song, you need to retire an old song.

This may sound harsh, but songs really do get old and stale.

If you get into a habit of singing your Current Favorites once a month, by the time you introduce a few New Songs each month, you’ll be ready to send some into Retirement. 

Remember, “retiring” songs doesn’t mean you no longer love them. It just means you are making room for New Songs. Introducing them with enough frequency so they become Familiar Songs.

And it begins a wonderful cycle. A cycle that eases stress. Feels natural. And has a refreshing rhythm.

(Instead of tossing a song, I use the word “retire” because it’s just kinder! It makes me feel better as I take songs I love, or once loved [great, beautiful, skillfully written songs] and put them in a folder labeled “RETIRED.”)

YES, YOU REALLY ONLY NEED 30 WORSHIP SONGS IN YOUR CURRENT REPERTOIRE

Yep. Actually less. I use 16-18 songs a month.

Our church sings about 5 songs a week. 5 songs a week means 20 song slots to fill for the month (5 songs x 4 weeks = 20).

20 WORSHIP SONG SLOTS = 17 songs

  • 2 New Songs = 5 slots total (because these are repeated a few times in a month)
  • 12 Current Favorites, each sung 1ce a month = 12 slots
  • 2 Hymns = 2 slots
  • 1 Retired Favorite = 1 slot

That’s why 30 songs for your repertoire is generous and do-able. With plenty of variety. I only need 17.

And next month when I add 2 New Songs, I’ll retire 2 Current Favorites.

This keeps it fresh, but familiar.

  • New Songs become Current Favorites
  • Current Favorites become Retired Songs
  • Retired Songs come back for a visit now and then

And the cycle goes on.

With this system, each Current Favorite is happily sung for 6 months, give or take. And usually sung a dozen or more times in the year.

HOW I USE THIS SYSTEM TO PLAN A MONTH OF WORSHIP ORDERS IN HALF THE TIME

When I’m at my best, I plan a whole month at a time.

  • I look at my Current Favorites, and start slotting them in for once a month. It’s so quick! Half of my planning is now done.
  • Next, I look at my New Song options and usually introduce one toward the beginning of the month. I slot that into 3 spaces within the first 5 weeks. Usually week 1, 2, and 4. Then I introduce a 2nd new song, and play it two weeks in a row: weeks 3 & 4.
  • If there are themes like communion, Thanksgiving, or I know the Pastor’s sermon titles, I give that some thought. Move a few things around and maybe find a retired song or two to add in the mix. 
  • I sort through my hymn folder and find a few of those to include in the month.
  • Because I plan with my guitar, my colored file folders, and my chord sheets, I end up with 4 stacks of songs, one for each week of the month. Each pile has 5 songs.
  • I start to fiddle through the orders. Testing transitions. Reordering where it’s not quite right. 

In the end I have a month of worship orders complete in the time it used to take me to do one week’s order!

As the weeks pass, I may make some changes.

Sometimes a new song isn’t as well received as I thought and I scratch it completely. Or I feel inspired by another song that wasn’t in my original plan. 

But it’s so much easier to adjust a plan in place than to start from scratch each week.

LEAVE ROOM FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT, INTUITION, AND TEAM INPUT

In all this planning, leave room for flexibility and changes.

Sometimes during practice, a well-planned order doesn’t feel right.

Or because of the mix of team members or instruments, it’s just not clicking.

Going back to the story of Goldilocks, if it doesn’t feel JUST RIGHT, God may be nudging you in a new direction.

Be open to change the orders you make. They are just a framework.

For me, 9 times out of 10, my orders for the month remain in place. But when it doesn’t feel JUST RIGHT, swapping a song or even flip-flopping the order sometimes makes everything click.

DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER SYSTEM YOU USE TO PUT TOGETHER YOUR WORSHIP ORDERS?

Please leave a comment below and share what works for you!

FOR MORE ON WORSHIP LEADING IN SMALL CHURCHES, CHECK OUT: 

WORSHIP LEADING IN SMALL CHURCHES: 4 Keys to Wake Up Your Worship

The DOs & DON’Ts OF PLANNING WORSHIP FOR CHRISTMAS & EASTER