When Is It Time For A Song To Die?

I’ve heard and read a lot lately on how to introduce a new song, but the Worship Links blog posted a link to Jon Nicol’s thoughts on the Lifecyle of a song, or better yet, how to put a song out of our misery.

RECOGNIZE THAT SEASONS EXIST

“To everything there is a season” the Bible tells us. This is also true for worship songs, although not everyone seems to have read Ecclesiastes 3:1.

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. If you don’t recognize that every song has a season, then you won’t be aware and watching for when that season has it’s end. This doesn’t mean that every song you’d played last Sunday is out of date. But out of the songs you did lead, some where at the start of their life cycle, some where in an undefined middle, and some were quite possibly past their prime.

RECOGNIZE THAT NOT EVERY SONG HAS THE SAME LIFE SPAN

Think of it like Dog years. A song may only be a few years old but in “dog years” it’s in its 90’s. Some songs like Be Thou My Vision have been with us in some form for over a 1,000 years and don’t show any signs of stopping. A song’s literal age does not necessarily determine it’s lifecycle. Some songs are for a moment and some songs are for lifetimes.

NOTE: A Song’s lifespan will vary from church to church. So just because a song is still going strong elsewhere doesn’t mean you should still lead it at your church, or visa versa as the case may be

RECOGNIZE THAT SOME PEOPLE LOVE DEAD THINGS

Just because a song’s season is passed, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be someone out there who could care less. I feel bad for these folks. Not because of the songs they like, but because it is harder to serve them. At the risk of showing my Nerd Cred, in the case of song choices “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Meaning that in our churches there is a person who’d be very happy if we just sang the old standards the way we always have until glory or the grave takes us home. But those folks do not represent the whole of the church, nor are they thinking about the future health of the church. Some people love dead things. I commend churches that try to find ways to serve those people, but for the life, health and future of the whole church, we have to recognize the seasons, and not allow a minority who can’t or won’t take be the determining factor in our song choices.

Sometimes I, the worship leader, am the lovers of dead things. There are songs that still speak and minster to me personally, but are past their sell by date in a corporate setting. Having the discipline to value the needs of the church over our own desires is possibly the hardest part of our job.

RECOGNIZE THAT WE HAVE A GOD WHO RAISES THE DEAD

Just because a song has run it’s course, does not mean that it won’t have another course to run. We serve a God who raises people from the dead. There are whole movements of men and women to whom the Holy Spirit has granted the creativity to revive songs who’s day had come and gone. It’s not just the modern hymns crowd. I’ve personally found a very fruitful avenue in reviving old 70’s and 80’s worship songs. I have a modernized, indie rock arrangement of “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” that has been well received in every church I’ve lead it in. For several years now I’ve been asking the Spirit to grant me wisdom in how to bring back “He Is Exalted” in a fresh way. It hasn’t happened yet, but I have faith.

RECOGNIZE THAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE A PLAN, IT WON’T HAPPEN

If you don’t have a plan, then you just have wishes. You’ll know best how to determine if a song has reached the end of it’s journey at your church, but here’s how I do it.

I have a Master List of songs that I call “The Hymnal” that I update periodically through the year. It’s part of how I’m intentional about introducing new songs, but also how I phase out old songs. When I’m redoing the Hymnal I will sometimes “give a song a rest”, because I feel like it’s been overdone, or become a crutch to myself or the church. That doesn’t mean that this song will never see the light of day again (I’ve pulled some pretty big name songs off the list) but that I’m giving these songs a pause. But it has the added function of letting songs end naturally. If they don’t make it back on the hymnal after one or two go arounds, then its probably a pretty good indicator that, for now anyway, the song has run its course.

Its not just overuse that will get a song pulled from the Hymnal. Almost all of us start our ministry with an inherited song list. Even if you are really aggressive in leading new songs, you probably won’t be able to introduce new songs (well) at a pace that will allow you to drop all the songs you don’t like or are outdated. This means that for a period of months or years you’ll be leading songs out of necessity. Some songs stay around a little longer than they would have otherwise due to need. So when the time comes that you’ve introduced a few new upbeat, high energy songs then “Victory Chant” or “Trading My Sorrows” get retired.

No matter what songs we sing, we need to know the times and the season that we are serving in. Knowing where we are will shed a light on where we are going, as a worship community, and as a church.

Agree. Disagree. Mad that I retired Trading My Sorrows? Leave a comment and let’s talk.

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3 thoughts on “When Is It Time For A Song To Die?

  1. Bless you for retiring Trading My Sorrows. And I don’t even attend your church. It’s like the fast song version of “I Can Only Imagine.” If I’ve played that song once, I’ve played it a thousand times! Killing me Petey!

    when coming in to a new place of ministry one of the biggest musical challenges I have faced is phasing out the beloved songs that have bad theology. I mean just because a Christian wrote it, or sings it, or covered it doesn’t mean that it’s theologically sound.

    The sad part is that when it comes to songs that live and die within our Sunday morning repertoire, we as Worship Pastors/Leaders often do not practice good stewardship and over-sing the song and can easily shorten the lifespan of a song.

    Two that come to mind in my place of service are 10,000 Reasons and One Thing Remains. The congregation sings the heck out of those two, so I’m very careful to leave them wanting at the end of the service. I want them to want to sing it again. Once that appetite has been filled, the song loses its impact and then its bumped to the list of “filler sings.” And no one wants to be a filler song. It’s like being in the Caterpillar Room on Toy Story 3. Some songs are meant to be there, but sadly we overplay others that are great songs and they end up being discarded.

    There. That’s my thoughts.

  2. Thomas Bourne

    Adam, this post is great. With Ben’s and my band up here at Calvary MLT, there’s been some conflict with the fact that we do basically 15 songs over and over… This post is actually really helpful in how to introduce/phase out songs. Anyway, thanks for writing. This is great!

    1. Hey Tommy,

      Glad it was helpful.

      Here’s the thing. Lets say you lead every Sunday for 3 months straight. Assuming a 5 song set, you’ll be doing 60-65 songs max. When you factor in repeats you’re probably only doing 36-41 individual songs. That’s an average church. So if you guys do 15 songs (assuming repeats) your really not that far off the church that isn’t limiting itself (and again that’s assuming that you’re always leading).

      A year ago I had the overhead projector die during a set list with all well known songs and people struggled with the words. After that Sunday I cut down my “hymnal” list dramatically.I think what you are doing is better than the church that’s doing a totally new set (no repeats) every Sunday where the people don’t really know more than a handful of songs by heart.

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