Monday, November 24, 2008


How many songs does you church band have in their repertoire?

When I arrived at my first full-time church position, one of the very first things I took a look at was the worship band's "repertoire" (list of songs that they had available for their worship gatherings). I was amusingly shocked to find that they listed over 250 songs...and most of those songs were well over 10 years old. I doubt I need to tell you that I quickly made a change, literally cutting that list to around 25 songs and slowly building it back up again to around 40.

Although the list wasn't nearly as long at NHC when I arrived here, it was out of date...the band admitted to me that they hadn't learned any new songs in over a year, that they actually hadn't used many of the songs on the list, and they were getting tired with most of the songs that they were using. Once again, the first thing we did was trim the list down to 15 songs that the band wanted to continue using until while we brought our list back up to 50.

At NHC, we are very purposeful about selecting the songs we use for corporate worship. We currently have a list of about 50 songs (actually, it's closer to 60, which means it's time to cut a few), and every song has been chosen for a very specific purpose. Here are a few of the reasons why our repertoire is the way it is...

1) We want to do everything as best we can.

We believe that each person in our church has been gifted to do at least one ministry (often more than one ministry) incredibly well. We also believe that God will provide qualified people to serve on our ministry teams. It isn't possible for our band to consistently be at their best if we've got a list of hundreds of song and if we have songs on our list that are only played once a year. Basically, we'd rather do 50 songs incredibly well than 100 songs well, than 200 songs ok.

Everyone in the band but me is a volunteer, and even though they each spend an average of 5-7 hours per week in practice and "performance", and even though most of them have been with us for 2+ years, and even though I would consider each of them to be an incredibly solid musician/vocalist, quality trumps quantity on our priority list. Even most pro bands who have been around for many years (and play on tour night after night) usually only have about 20-40 of their own songs that they choose to do on a daily basis (without having to remember and spend time practicing).

2. We want our corporate worship to be impacting.

As a church body, we only get about 30 minutes per week for corporate, musical worship. We want to spend most of that time using songs that are both fresh and familiar...that's not possible if most people only hear most of the songs we use once or twice a year (which is how it would work with a list of hundreds). And, because we average around a 50/50 split between regular attenders and guests (who often don't know any of our songs), it's even more important to us that we use songs that our people are familiar with.

3. We want all of our songs to have meaning and importance to our church.

To be honest, I don't think I could find more than about 75 songs that we would even want to use in our church (either because of the lyrics or musical style)...having a small list means that we get to choose the cream of the crop. We don't have any "fillers" (not that having a large list means you have fillers), nor do we keep any songs that have outlived their usefulness for us.

Have you ever thought about your band's repertoire? Have you ever considered that the number of songs can either help or hurt your ability to give you best to God and lead others in worship?



jordan fowler said...

We run a larger rep than that. I think over a long tenure, you don't have to get "rid" of songs. If people are singing them w/o heart and mind focus, we put them away for a bit and bring them out with either a new focus/arrangement/etc. As such our catalog remains quite large.

Os Guiness challenged me to use a broad spectrum of dates as another design filter. He said any week we only have songs post 2001, we ought to stop and ask, "Why am I not tapping into to the richer historical tapestry of the Church?" He is write and we shall start checking this even if it means a larger catalog.

Rick Lawrenson said...

I'm in with Os on that one.

Jeff T. said...

We do 24 songs with about 12 more that can be thrown in when needed (e.g. well-known hymns or refrains).

The reason is simple - the smaller your rotation, the more often you will play the songs and the better your church will learn them. We make the mistake of thinking that our congregations listen to worship music as much as we do. They don't!

We add one new song per month and drop the oldest song out of the rotation when we do.

For us, it means that a song gets played (on average) at least once every 6 weeks. When you do the math, you'll be shocked how often (on average) you'll sing a song if your repertoire is 75 or even 50 songs.

I'm REALLY passionate about this and would encourage other worship leaders to put their congregation's worship experience first by serving them in this area!

MilePost13 said...

But Jeff, you're missing two key pieces of the puzzle...

1) The number of songs a church may do in one service.

By the numbers you gave, my guess is you do 4-5 songs per week. I know of churches that do 10-15 songs per week, which means a list of 100 would still mean they'd be doing each song about every 5-10 weeks, which is pretty close to your suggestion.

2) The culture of a church.

You're not taking into consideration the culture changes between churches. Some congregations are quick to learn and quick to remember, while others are much slower. Some can do a song 3 times a year without any troubles, while others may need to a song once a month for a year before people feel like they're comfortable with a song.

All I'm saying is, it's great to say, "this is what we do and why", but not such an easy thing to say, "you should also do it our way"'s not always that simple.

Thom said...

This may be out of the 'repertoire' box a bit, but i concur with Jeff on one note. Most of the congregation does not listen to worship music like a worship leader or team member. Years ago, i would canvas the congregation via casual conversation concerning the worship music. I was also shocked to find that the song we hated, they loved, and the song that was overplayed, they couldn't get enough of it.

-power to the people!

As far as proper repertoire generation and maintenance goes... i offer two words: purpose and practicality. What is the written church purpose and does your repertoire reflect that purpose. Also, is it practical? -meaning - does it work? This comes from feedback from the congregation and other observers.

that being said, you are also bound, as you mentioned in the post, by your teams capability. At one time, we had an eight member crew committed and very talented. there wasn't anything we could pull off in 5 days notice. Then, we lost folks, we had a lot of short timers for awhile, this changed how we operated. We adapted, and so did the repertoire.