When I first started as the worship team leader at NSCBC, my immediate goal was to modernize the songs that we sing on Sunday morning. I moved slowly, introducing one song each month and phasing out the older ones that had lost some life. I continued this practice for years, introducing one new song each month, and occasionally archiving some older ones, until we had a truly extensive list of songs that our church “knew” and that I could select from to fit the theme of the service! How wonderful!
In October 2016, members of the worship ministry went to a training conference together. I attended a seminar just for kicks: “Why I stopped choosing songs thematically.” I was certain I would never recommend that we change our approach but wanted to hear what the speaker had to say. Within two minutes of the class, I was convinced that NSCBC had to adopt a new method of using a restricted song catalog.
It turns out that NSCBC “knew” 133 songs, and we sang them on average 2.4 times each year. From November 2015 through 2016, we sang 85 different songs. And since the church body is not static, the majority of those songs felt like new songs when we pulled them out and sang them just twice a year. So, the worship people gathered, and we made a filter through which to choose new songs and to cut old songs. We decided the following things remained important to us:
- Excellent theology
- Emphasis on gospel story
- Lead well by someone in the band
- Good response to the song by the congregation
- Age of the song (no more than 10 years unless it was exemplary)
Then came the fun part. We started slashing songs from our catalog until we had wrestled the list down to 30 total songs: the songs we feel are right for our church for this moment. We made a commitment to sing only these 30 songs from January through March as a reset, so that all the church would know those 30 songs and be able to sing full-voiced. The band would meet regularly to rehearse these songs so that they could think less about the music and more about the worship on a Sunday morning. We have faith that this would result in communal singing on Sunday morning that helped all of us draw closer to God and honor him with our full hearts.
Even though I am leaving, the band is moving forward for now with this catalog. The idea is that starting in April, whenever a song comes into the catalog (1-2 each month), a song goes out, so there are never more than 30 songs. Songs can come in and out fluidly but the set will stay limited to 30.* It is our prayer that this will be an exciting tool to facilitate more vibrant and heartfelt worship, to the glory of God.
Introducing: the NSCBC song catalog
Dear family – it has been a joy and an honor to worship with you these 9 years. You have been my surrogate family and become my dearest friends. I will miss your familiar faces and think fondly of you every Sunday morning, even as they begin to be replaced by new dear faces. I am so excited to hear reports of how the church is growing and serving Jesus and of how God is using you to bring about gospel renewal on the North Shore. Thank you for loving my children, for supporting my family, and for being an encouragement and support to me in all seasons. We are all leaving a large part of our hearts behind at NSCBC, our home. Until we meet again: come quickly Lord Jesus.
*Christmas, Easter, and other holiday-specific songs don’t count!
Melissa Bull served on the worship staff at NSCBC for nine years, the last three of those as Director of Worship Ministries. She recently accepted a job in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as Minister of Contemporary Worship and Discipleship at Christ United Methodist Church.