Every week, every worship leader has the hard task of choosing one song that will open the set and provide a spiritual and musical on-ramp to the rest of the worship experience. What if you tried something unexpected – like repeating the same opening song each week for a season?
Photo by Jan Tielens on Unsplash
You’re planning your next set asking the same kinds of hard questions you always do, in a similar order. One in particular leads the way…
- Which song should I use to open the set, and how will that open us to worship?
Answering this question often tips the dominoes of our other planning questions, and gets us moving in planning an effective, thematically strong set.
Give Yourself A Break – Repeat Your Opening Song
Repeating the same opening song for a season – i.e. in every worship set for a limited time – can bring relief to your worship planning and be a refreshing wind to the worship life of your congregation.
It can also be a useful experiment for seeing how your congregation actually responds to repetition. Let’s talk about that for a moment.
a) Repetition As Bad Guy
Repetition in contemporary worship leadership can be seen as the bad guy in our quest to use all the great new songs that are being sung around the Church (or, quite honestly, on the radio or most popular YouTube channel).
Sure, worship leaders “repeat” new songs for a bit, then integrate them into our flow, but if we do one song too often – we’ll hear about it (it should be written in a worship leader’s job description, “Must please everyone, every week, and the worship experience must be a home run – without fail, always with fresh songs leading the way).
b) Repetition As Good Guy
Repetition in nature, in architecture, daily and weekly routines, and sacramental actions – can be beautiful.
In liturgical worlds, repeating songs like the Doxology, the Gloria Patri, and the Sanctus is a normal practice. Everyone knows it can bring a sense of solidarity, community, joy, healthy predictability, and power when a song reappears week after week.
But for contemporary worship leaders, it feels like the sky will fall if we repeat a song too much. The truth is, I wasn’t sure how it would go if I repeated an opening song for a season. So, I ran an experiment.
Opening Song Case Study: The Doxology
For 6 weeks in one of my worship leading environments, I made the worship set a test lab. True to my liturgical roots, I decided to open every single set, for a 6 week season, with the Doxology.
However, I designed a special Doxology for that repetitive opening moment. I rewrote the Doxology of Thomas Ken into the Doxology Anthem (Lord We Praise You) as an intentional opening song (invocation/gathering song) to start each set, as per my criteria below.
What I Needed In An Opening Song:
- A medium-tempo song I could use as an on-ramp into the set
- A theologically-rich (Trinitarian and praise-centered) and devotionally-engaging song
- A simple, short song they could memorize (almost a prelude rather than a big song)
- A song that connected with the old and the young with equal strength
- A song that set an anticipatory musical and spiritual stage for entering into the next songs
What My Community Needed In An Opening Song:
- A song they knew by heart, and was short
- A song that didn’t scare them awake at 10 am on a Sunday
- A song that felt like they should sing it regularly
- A song that they could harmonize with and practice weekly (in the same key)
- A song that leveraged our sense of joy in coming together
What The Congregation Did:
- The congregation began to gain confidence singing the song
- Harmonies became stronger and more beautiful
- They appreciated the repetition (I was told by many), knowing other songs followed
- They enjoyed bringing new people to a rich sonic and devotional experience
- They all sang louder each week – from the kids to the silver-haired saints
Initially my worship team mocked the idea (lovingly), and my pastor questioned me (but with enthusiasm for the concept). But after we did it for 6 weeks? Our community loved it (especially after the first 3 weeks when they realized I wasn’t going to stop and they kicked into “harmonize” mode).
Open With The Same Song – Every Week
You don’t have to use the Doxology, or Doxology Anthem like I did (and do). But whatever you do, find a song like it that is strong, repeatable, short, and somewhat familiar (even historic?) that works for your community and fits a theme.
- Pick a season, like Advent and Christmas, to try it
- Talk to your pastor about the experiment, and make sure it’s welcome and good timing
- Set the arrangement, keep it short, and do it the same way (in the same key) each time
- Tell the congregation that’s what you’re doing, so they’re not confused
- Give it at least 3-4 weeks before judging if it works
(Personally, if I had my druthers, I could probably even begin every set, every week, for a year, with the same song! But a shorter 3-6 week season is a better start.)
With the song in your congregation’s soul, you can then use the song in Communion, in weddings, in funerals, and in various other settings, with a strong, predictable response.
But even if you just repeat an opening song for a season like Advent, you’ll have a taste of the saints singing, in one accord, with a song through which they can experience God’s heart, express their hearts, hone their musical participation, and offer their devotion.
Question: Have you ever tried this with a song? How did it go? What could we learn from your experience?
If you want to experiment with the Doxology Anthem as your opener for Advent or another season, I created a full, free resource download. It includes the song in an accessible key, chart, text files, litany, responsive reading, videos, and more.
Download here: Doxology Anthem Resource Pack