Music is a powerful tool. It moves us, inspires us, and many times gives us a voice to say things we didn’t even know we wanted to say. There are so many wonderful songs used every week in worship services to help facilitate this, but even with the ocean of choices, there are times when nothing really seems to embody what your local congregation is trying to say. We find ourselves in moments like this with an urge to write a song that truly reflects where we are. But before we get too lyric happy and start spouting off the first thing that pops into our heads, we need some pointers on how to do this well. So here are five simple tips on songwriting for congregational worship.
Disclaimer: These are tips specifically for congregational worship.
1. Don’t let yourself get boxed in by a formula. There’s a temptation to think every song needs 2 verses, a chorus, and a bridge—that everything has to rhyme, and that it needs to start soft, build, and end soft again. That formula works sometimes, but it isn’t what makes a great song.
2. Write a lot. Songwriting is a gift, but it’s also a skill, and it’s one you have to practice to become proficient. It’s really not much different from learning an instrument. No one expects to play guitar for their church a week after they start lessons. Write something every day and expect to throw most of it away, that’s how you get to be a good songwriter.
3. Be careful with your imagery. If you’re just writing songs, then the sky’s the limit. Write about tractors, and cell phones, and the city you live in. But if you’re writing specifically to lead people to the throne, then there are some things that just don’t fit. This can get a little frustrating and we often tend to draw from imagery in nature. That’s ok, just don’t overdo it. The general rule of thumb here is to write in a way that is timeless. Would the song make sense a hundred years ago or a hundred years from now? Scripture is a wonderful resource for words and ideas that really transcend cultures and eras.
4. Write about what you know. It’s important to let your true experiences inform your writing. Be open and vulnerable, chances are someone else will really benefit from you helping them to express their heart to the Lord. If God is teaching you about freedom in Christ, then write about it. If He’s teaching you about intimacy with Him, write about it. Honesty in writing is far more important than perfection.
5. Abide. Get alone with Jesus, a lot. The truth is, in this ministry, you’re not really creating, you’re discovering. You know that feeling when you’re praying and you get so wrapped up with Christ that it seems like He’s praying through you? That’s what this is. We need to be so drenched in the Holy Spirit that whatever comes out of us really comes from Him. We’re joining Jesus in the work that He is doing—even through songwriting—to bring about His redemption in this world. God created music for His glory and He wants heart-changing songs in His church, even more than we do.
So grab your guitar or sit down at the piano and go to work! You’ll know when you get it right. And when you do, that feeling is like nothing else. I’m sure there are plenty more great tips that I’m neglecting here. If you have some, please comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!