Podcast Episode #170: The Lifespan of Worship Songs

Mike Tapper and Marc Jolicoeur did a deep dive into CCLI data to analyze how long it takes a worship song to become popular in the church and how long it stays there.

While the results of the study might not totally surprise you, the implications are profound.

On beginning the study

We were gifted 3 years of top 100 CCLI data and we wanted to look at song curves in the data. So that’s looking at how quickly they rose up the CCLI charts, how long they stayed there and how they declined. We also looked at how the top 40 songs were ascending as well as how long it took from time of publication to when they entered the Church. We had some hunches but we resisted putting our expectations on the study and let the data speak for itself.

What we know now is that songs are both rising and declining three times faster than they were 25 years ago. The most popular songs arrive much more quickly and the publication date to entry into the church is 5 times faster than than it was 25 years ago.

On meeting the hypothesis

That lifespan of songs are completely different. We are playing songs in more compressed time frames and for shorter time spans. We can feel like this is happening but the data really corroborates what we’ve been feeling.

On the importance of songs in church

We believe that worship leaders are the theological gatekeepers of our church. We know songs stick with us a lot more than the other aspects of worship. We know our attention spans are shorter. More often than not people will struggle with sermon content and Bible learning but they will remember a song lyric forever.

On who the study covered

CCLI is global but it’s also not every church. It mainly only deals with Protestant churches and for the most part more urban churches. Generally, more rural churches aren’t buying into the whole “this song is copyrighted” thing. That is a huge swath of churches so this study doesn’t cover everything. 

The AI is way ahead of us now. We’re no longer going to the Christian bookstore and getting song suggestions based on what secular music we listen to. Our streaming services have the data and are serving up content that fits with what we’ve already been listening to. So even while the big songs are more homogenous there are way more sub cultures to dig down into.

Why do you choose the songs you do?

Songwriters have been listening to constructive over the years and the depth has actually deepened. We’re using more Trinitarian pronouns than we used to. We are seeing more old testament themes. Themes are expanding and we think that’s good. We often hear about how great the hymns are but when you really word cloud it and look and analyze it you realize that’s not really true. A lot are poorly written and incorrect so older isn’t better. 

On the implications of a faster song cycle

Anecdotally many churches I know have removed response time in their gatherings and the song time has become the only opportunity for us to speak our hearts to God. It’s what gets down into our souls. It’s what comes out in those moments when we need to speak to God from our deepest parts. The concern is that if we are moving on from the songs we’re singing that we’re not letting those words truly get planted in our congregants and then what comes out in those moments? 

On what comes next

We’re looking at volume and why worship leaders choose the songs they choose. What are the motivations? Why this song over that one? Is it topic, tempo, the authority of the church the music comes from? We’re really curious about that.

Listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Kristina Kislyanka leads worship and student ministry at her church in Washington state. She’s passionate about songwriting, producing music, and growing community within the Church. Kristina is a member of the Maverick City Music Choir. 

Podcast Episode #170: The Lifespan of Worship Songs

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