Worship Songs: Select the Best

There are so many worship songs out there! How do you pick which ones to sing? What criteria should be considered when picking worship songs?

I'm presenting a breakout session this Friday, April 10th, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for the Student Praise Band attendees at the Youth Lab conference about this very topic. Please read my thoughts, and if you have a few minutes, rate some worship songs using my 24 point system and share your ratings and opinions!

It is very easy to simply select songs with which you are familiar or you like a lot! However, just because you "know" a song or you really "like" it, doesn't mean it is the best song for you to sing in public worship with your Bible study group, youth group, or at your Sunday morning church service. I am going to describe six criteria which you should consider when choosing songs.

Text Criteria-

1. Theology 

Key question: "Is this text a faithful expression of biblical truth?"

                a. Is it true to Scripture b. Is it theologically precise? c. Is it gospel-centered?

2. Craftsmanship

                a. Does the text make sense? b. Positively: are the lyrics creative, fresh, timeless? Do they rhyme well? Exhibit poetic strength? c. Negatively: are the lyrics distracting, controversial, or hokey?

3. Appropriateness (mainly a textual criteria, although also a musical criteria)

                a. Does the song express your church's theology? #1 example: Many contemporary Christian songs express Charismatic/Pentecostal theology. This is fine if that fits your church, but be careful if it does not. b. Is the text written for corporate worship? Is it reverent? (even celebratory, upbeat songs should have a certain amount of reverence) 

Musical Criteria-

1. Singability

                a. Range -Is it too high for normal people to be able to sing? -If so, consider changing to a lower key. b. Melody -Does it have awkward skips, or nice and easy steps and skips? c. Rhythm -Is it too syncopated or irregular to be easily grasped?  d. Is it congregational or soloistic?

2. Accessibility

                a. Would your youth group or congregation want to sing it? b. There is a difference between immediacy and accessibility, because sometimes you have to learn to enjoy good things, ie. vegetables, hymns.

3. Craftsmanship

                a. Melody b. Harmony c. Interest d. Fit (Does the music fit the text in mood and syllabic stress?) "The primary purpose of music in the worship context is to express right affections to the Lord as we hear and respond to truth." (Dr. Scott Aniol, SWBTS)

Using a four-point rating system for each of the six criterion, you can rate songs on a 24-point scale. 

4- Excellent      3- Good      2- Fair      1- Poor

Obviously, your ratings of songs will still be somewhat subjective. Yet I think this system, or at least an awareness of these criteria, could be helpful for students or adults who must select worship songs. 

Now, I'm interested in hearing your opinions about a few songs. Let's say you were choosing between three fairly well-known contemporary songs focused on salvation/the work of Christ/salvation to introduce to your youth group or congregation. How would you rate these songs? Which would you choose to introduce? Please tell me your ratings on the 24 point scale for one or all of the following songs:

"At the Cross" (Love Ran Red) -Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jonas Myrin, Matt Armstrong, Matt Redman

"Man of Sorrows" -Brooke Ligertwood and Matt Crocker of Hillsong

"Mercy" -Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin