Introducing a New Song in a Worship Service

The best way to introduce a song on stage during a service.

On Tuesday morning, a new song comes across the wire that leaves you inspired.

It’s got everything you're looking for: solid biblical lyrics, a soaring melody line that manages to hang within the congregational range, and a killer guitar hook that stays with you for days. Sunday arrives and you decide to lead it, but halfway through that epic bridge you scan over the church congregation and all that looks back at you is a sea of blank faces. What went wrong?  

Learning a new song is like meeting someone for the first time. Being a good worship leader means being a good teacher and good teachers find ways to present new ideas in ways students can understand. Here are some ways to make a solid introduction to a new song:

Use Well-Known Worship Songs Too

Church communities can majorly differ from one another. For some, throwing in a new song is exciting and accepted... for others, being told a new song is on the way elicits a feeling of total dread. Qualm these fears by getting having your congregation sing some beloved, well-known favorites in the same service. A new song won't seem quite so daunting when it's snuck in amongst some classics. 

You never want to pile on every experiment and new idea into one Sunday morning - any time you launch a new song, make sure there's something there for those who might not click with it the first time around.

Give a Reason for the New Song

You've put a lot of time and thought into the songs you choose to sing. And yet, hearing the words 'new song' can still send a bolt of panic through the congregation. Often, simply explaining why you made the choice to sing this song is enough to open minds and ears to hear it out. Now, this doesn't mean giving a 20-minute sermon (seriously - nobody wants to hear you give a 20-minute sermon). 

However, something as simple as: "Last week we were discussing surrender, and this lyric really stuck out to me, I believe it's something we need to sing together" is enough. Let people hear why you believe God has put this song on your heart, and the congregation will be better prepared when your worship team starts playing.

Share a Story with the Worship Service

We are all human and humans are moved by stories.  Songs aren’t written in a vacuum.  A life event often moves a writer and in turn, they write a song as a response. “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” is a beautiful song, but when you learn it was written by Louisa M. R Stead after she and her daughter witnessed her husband drown trying to rescue a young boy, you have a new appreciation for it.  Understanding the place from which a worship song is written helps us find a place for it in our own story.

If you're playing a new song for yourself and the service, take the time to learn the story behind it - or else share your own story from discovering it. Or, if you're playing an original song this Sunday morning, be prepared to share your heart and express vulnerability. We want people to connect with the songs of praise that they sing, and when worship leaders can connect music with stories this becomes so much easier to achieve. Familiarise everyone with the intention behind this new song.

Make Time to Listen

I like to internalize things before I sing them and that takes time.  Allow time. Try asking everyone to be silent and simply meditate on the lyrics as you sing them.  Keep the words on the screen.  Play through slowly and deliberately.  It not only helps the melody to stick but also gives weight to the words when you reintroduce the song later in the gathering.

As a worship leader, the creative choices you make during the church service serve both practical and spiritual goals. As you create space on a Sunday morning for the congregation to ruminate on these new lyrics, you are both allowing them to grow more familiar with the general melody line whilst also giving them time to pray and meditate as you play. Carving out time for the church to just sit and listen to the words and tune can be a powerful experience, all the while teaching them the basics of the new worship song.

Educating as Worship Leaders

It seems like a no-brainer but it took me years to make this my go-to introduction. After announcing that we are learning a new worship song, I sing through the chorus once with just a guitar then ask everyone to join me.  Depending on how quickly we catch on, I may repeat it a few more times and then launch into the beginning of the song with the whole band.  

After one pass through the first verse I give the old, “Let’s sing that again!”. Then, I'll run the verse one more time before playing the song in its entirety.  By the time we hit that chorus, my voice is drowned out by the voices around me.  Mission accomplished.

What you have to remember is that music doesn't come naturally to everyone. For the average church-goer, learning new worship songs can take time. They might not play instruments, or read sheet music, or have even the slightest aptitude for music outside of congregational singing. You're here to hold their hand and guide them through it, ensuring their worship experience isn't hindered by a new song.

Introducing a New Song However Works for You

In no way am I suggesting these are the only ways to introduce a new worship tune, but they are definitely the ones that have created the most engagement in my own context. Finding what works for you and your worship team is going to be a journey for you to embark on yourself. I'd love to learn from you.  What methods have you used to introduce a new song, and how did they work for you?  I'm all ears. 

Jason Houtsma is the co-founder and guitar teacher at Worship Artistry, where he is helping musicians of every level answer the call to worship with passion and confidence. Jason has been leading worship and writing music since he was 15 years old and currently serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA. He is husband to Alli and father to Bjorn and Asher.

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New Song Introduction

If your team runs 'canned' music before or after the service, place this song in the mix for a few weeks. It will seem familiar by the time you play it.

If your media team is producing a video maybe they can use the new song as the background of the video.

Play the new song as a special the week before it is a congregational song.

Play the new song for the whole set (30 minutes straight)... ;)

Those are all fantastic ideas!

I especially like the first one. So much of it is about familiarity. I had a band once that did an 80's cover and it was amazing how much more engaged the audience was after we played that tune. Musically it fit our set but just because it was familiar it got people listening. Love it!

New Song Intro

We do the first one above^^

New Song Rotation

How often do you put a new song in rotation at first? For example we typically do two weeks on, one week off, and then back on the fourth week.

Just curious. Love all you do!

It really varies.

I do at least 2 weeks in a row and usually 3 but I take a lot of care in making sure the songs flow well together so if the song just doesn't fit, I leave it out and pick it up next week. Glad you're enjoying the site!

Those are great ideas!

We usually will play a new song for the whole month, so by the 4th week , the congregation knows it, and are singing along. Our problem usually lies in the first two weeks, so I really loved this post. I think its really going to help our worship team to get the congregation familiar with the song much quicker... thanks a lot

Glad it was helpful!

Thanks for checking it out and let me know how it goes!

Introducing Songs

Yes, we use many of the same methods. Our church came from a very "traditional" background so I always try to throw in quite a few songs that have snippets from hymns in there. I think it makes some of the congregation more comfortable if it has a bridge that's familiar.

Introducing new songs

I was wondering how you get the congregation to listen to a new song that you have just introduced to them, outside of church to be more familiar with it?

There are a number of ways

You could try playing it before the service or after to reinforce it. You could post an iTunes link on the website or in an email newsletter. One simple way is to make sure the title of the song is on the overhead. If it's an original song, you could post a video acoustic version to your social media outlets. Ultimately, playing the song a few weeks in a row should help everyone retain it.

A few months ago I came on

A few months ago I came on stage just a couple of minutes early and announced "We are not starting yet but I want to have a quick choir practice(made it an ice breaker for fun)" I taught the whole church just the chorus to the new song. I sang it first then asked them to join me, went through it a couple of times, had fun teaching the new chorus. Then we began as usual with familiar songs, but when we got to the new song seems like everyone really perked up and belted out our new song. It has since become one of our church's favorite songs. Got this tip from Paul Baloche. worked that time!

I just did that last week!

We had about 100 camp counselors show up 20 minutes early so I taught them the newest song. It was so loud and beautiful when we all kicked in together. Was one of my favorite services in a long time.

New song?

How often do you repeat a new song in your weekly worship service before giving it a break?

I try

And do it 3 weeks in a row

I love these Ideas...

and do some of them.

We repeat a new song three weeks before putting it up for about a month. I want the crowd to own it before it gets put up for a bit; and, even though the team new it before we did once, the three weeks helps them to own it, too. But, before we get there...

I'll either announce a new song and let them know that we'll be doing the first verse and chorus twice so they can have a couple of shots at it. Another approach I've taken that I actually like better is to do the first verse, then, while the band continues to play a musical break, I tell the crowd that I know it's new and ask, by show of hands, how many folks have never heard it before. I invariably get input. What I like about this is that it is engaging. People like to be asked and, when a band is involved, they like communicating with the stage. (I know it isn't a performance, but, there are similarities.)

New songs

We used to introduce a new song during offering just to let the people hear it, also telling them it is new and just to listen at first even if some knew it, than we would have them join after the first run through. We would keep the song in rotation for 6 weeks than once a mouth after that for about 4 months.

New Songs

I usually start by playing new songs before and after service for a couple weeks. Then I will play the song as an offertory with just acoustic guitar and vocals. Then I will add it to the service the next week with the full band, and play it at least three weeks in a row. I'll also post a new song to our Facebook page and encourage the congregation to give it a listen.

Have you had much feedback

on the Facebook stuff? We do a lot of original music at my own church so I've thought about starting a Youtube channel with acoustic performances but it's a lot of work so I'm wondering if it's worth it.