How do you introduce new songs?
Here's how we do it at NHC:
First, we've developed a culture of change at our church. People who attend our church quickly realize that very little stays the same for very long, and nothing but our God and His message is sacred. Rarely do we keep a song in our repertoire for more than a few years, and, more than likely, you might hear us play/sing the same song more than one way if you stick around for more than a few weeks. We believe that tradition and ritual can often (not always) breed a sense of contentment (as in, "I feel like I've arrived") and entitlement (as in, "I deserve to know what to expect") in our faith and worship...but, because we're always changing, our people are always excited to learn new songs.
That culture of change is also foundational for our band. The MilePost13 Band is sharp...nobody considers themselves to be professionals, but they're solid, dedicated and confident in what they do, and they pick up new things very quickly. Most of us have been playing/singing together now for several years, which means our chemistry is also really fluid. Yet, along with those consistant characteristics, we also highly value the ability and freedom to "sing a new song". When I (or somebody else) brings a new song to the table, whether it's a challenging song or not, everyone is excited to learn and grow and experience something new and fresh.
The band will usually spend two to three weeks working on a song before we feel ready to use it. Because we don't often pick a new song to use on a specific date (ie. to go along with a specific message), we have the freedom and flexibility to take extra time if a song proves to be more challenging than normal or to use a song on week one if we feel confident enough.
Our church has a specific target (group of people) who we believe God has called us to serve. Because of that, we also have a very specific target when it comes to our musical style(s). This allows us to not only more easily identify songs that fit who we are, but also to learn those songs more quickly (than if we were to choose songs from a very broad musical style spectrum). Of course, this also means that our musical style(s) are also always (usually slowly) progressing with the culture around us...five years from now, we won't be playing the same music we're playing now.
When we introduce a song on Sunday for the first time, it's usually preceeded by a quick statement like, "Hey, we're going to teach you a new song!" We don't make a big deal about it, nor do we apologize if it's a song nobody has heard before. Again, our people are excited to learn new stuff, which means they tend to jump in on the first go.
I've discovered that (and again, this will come back to the culture of your church) people here tend to become comfortable and familiar enough with a song after hearing it just two to three times, IF those two to three times happen within a matter of a few weeks. So, typically, we'll use a song two Sundays in a row, not use it the third Sunday, and then use it again the fourth Sunday. It's what I call "The 2-1-1 (two one one)".
Rarely do we introduce a song that flops...the demographics of our band is a good representation of the demographics of our target, which means, if we love a song (musicall and lyrically), we can almost be certain that the rest of the people in our culture will enjoy it as well. Once we've determined that the song is a keeper, it goes into our repertoire (about 50 songs), which means we'll use it an average of once every two months.
A few more quick tips about introducing new songs:
> Don't introduce a new song at the beginning or end of a worship service. We almost always start our worship gatherings with a familiar, high energy song, which always helps people to engage with what we're doing. People will be much more apt to jump in with a new song if they've already engaged with the music/worship.
> Consider encouraging people to take the time (the first time) to listen (and read if you display the lyrics) to the song so that they can understand what the song is all about. It amazes me how many people sing a song with all they're worth but don't fully understand what they're singing.
> If the band is working on a new song, consider using it as a lead-in before the service as people are still coming in. We often do this (just the music, without singing/lyrics) with our new, high energy songs...it gives us extra time to practice it, some fun time to jam and maybe discover a new direction for the song, and an opportunity to allow our people to (perhaps, subconsciously) become familiar with the music before we actually introduce it.
So, how do you introduce new songs? Is it a strategic thing for you and your church?