LEARN HOW TO BUILD A POWERFUL WORSHIP SETLIST
“Your voice is so forgettable… in a good way…” I remember the evening I received this comment from someone after a worship session. As an artist, I felt the sting of being ordinary.
As a worship leader, I felt the joy of fading to the background. It is amazing how a great setlist can create an environment for God to receive the worship He deserves.
Setlists are the songs and scripture that make-up a worship session. Many worship leaders do not know how to build powerful setlists. It is a skill that is subtle and perhaps overlooked. Setlists are not your favorite songs simply strung together. I believe that all worship leaders should remember these 6 simples tips:
Tip #1: Pick songs that focus on Jesus.
Some songs are literally the songwriter’s personal journal entry put to music. It can be wordy, long, complex, and devoid of Jesus. These songs are great to listen to during the day, but please don’t expect these kinds of songs to work in a corporate setting! Instead pick songs that are explicitly about Jesus. Songs about Jesus’ sacrifice, resurrection, and return inspire awe, reverence, and ultimately… worship!
Take inventory of your past 4-5 setlists. Is the focus on Jesus… something else?
Tip #2: Add scripture to provide context.
Great songs are typically birthed out of a particular scripture passage. Reading a passage before, after, or in between the song provides great insight about God. When you take time to focus on God’s characteristics, His actions, and His impact on the world, it increases your desire to worship. Avoid reading long scriptures. Avoid reading scriptures that require further explanation. I suggest reading various Psalms.
How can you insert scripture creatively into your upcoming setlist?
Tip #3: Use the heart-language of the audience.
Your primary audience is God, but your responsibility is to remind people to worship God. Unless you explain this in the heart-language of the people, they may miss their chance to give God the credit He deserves in their lives. For example, I never sing long, wordy songs in South Asian churches.
I typically sing repetitive songs that center around specific topics like the following: overcoming trials, remembering His goodness, praising His might, etc. These songs open up hearts. I also encourage inserting songs that are in the primary language of the audience (i.e. Malayalam, Hindi, Spanish, etc.)
Consider your setlists and compare them to the people you lead. Does it match their heart-language?
Tip #4: Determine the general flow of the setlist.
There should be a logical progression when you lead. It can be frustrating when a worship leader does not consider the mental, emotional, and spiritual trajectory of a setlist. You start singing about God’s power, then His love, then about holiness, etc. It is all over the place.
Furthermore, the flow of the songs musically wavers between fast, epic, slow, loud, fast again, etc. It has no progression! I take time to see how each song fits together. I also draw a chart on how the setlist should progress musically. Be thoughtful on how the songs link together logically and musically.
What kind of flow do you have to your setlists? Does it make sense?
Tip #5: Saturate your heart with the songs.
Selected songs should impact your life because you reflect on them throughout the week. At times, stories from your personal times of worship will accentuate your setlist and help people focus on God. However, if you are not familiar with the songs, then you can be more worried about performance than God. Be a leader that cares for people by preparing your heart beforehand with these songs. Lead people to God in an intentional way.
How often do you let songs from your setlist impact your life?
Tip #6: Pray that God would be glorified.
Powerful setlists are covered in prayer! Pray that God would be glorified, adored, and praised. Take time during your week to pray for hearts to be softened, eyes to be opened, and lives to be transformed. When you do this, you are aligning your heart with the heart of God. He will guide you to build your setlist with new songs or scripture. However, don’t just rely on prayer and hope everything else works out — that’s a cop-out. Give your best; trust God to do the rest.
Do you spend ample time in prayer for God’s will to take place during worship?
I remember leading worship at a conference in Dallas, TX. The audience was changed from being irreverent to expectant due to a powerful experience of giving God worship. God opened their hearts to hear from His word. Lives were transformed and brokenness was healed that night! I was extremely thankful to be a part of it! You can do the same thing.
Please remember these 6 tips as you build your next setlist. Be a catalyst for renewal by being intentional in your leadership. By making the way for God to be praised, you are changing the world one moment at a time. You are an Everyday World Changer! Start today.