7 Steps To Writing Your Original Worship Song
So, you feel the need for a new worship song.
You’ve already browsed Youtube, checked out the CCLI Top 100 Songs for United Methodists, and even tried to change some words in that Taylor Swift song to make it more about Jesus. But nothing is speaking to the particular needs of your youth, young adults or worshiping community.
What do you do now?
The following steps will guide you and your creative team through a process for creating original, contextual, and theologically rich worship music for your young people. We hope you’ll dive deep into each step, and maybe even share with us the music that comes out on the other end!
[See Or Hear the 7 Steps in Action]
STEP 1 - Do your homework
Worship music in the Methodist tradition teaches discipleship while it praises God. So the first step in creating new music should be your regular exploration of the Bible and our Christian story. Bible studies that lead to deep discussions are a great place to start. In those conversations you’ll start to see what your community might need to delve into more deeply.
As a part of this exploration, ask youth and young adults to reflect on the existing songs that help them understand the topic. Maybe We Are One In The Spirit has helped explain our common membership in Christ’s church and our shared responsibility to show compassion to the world together. Or maybe Joy of the Lord by Rend Collective has encouraged your youth to have hope in God through tough times in their lives.
But what questions remain? And what issues of theology and discipleship haven’t the church’s songs helped us address yet? This can be a great launching point for developing new songs that fill those holes.
STEP 2 - Double Check
Even when you think you’ve identified a topic worthy of new music, it never hurts just to check twice on what songs you may have missed that could be helpful.
Be sure to check out independent artists like Richard Kentopp who makes his entire worship songbook available online for you to use.
Or, try out some public domain hymn texts from our own Charles Wesley. We’ve found that even three-hundred-year-old hymns sometimes find new life when we reclaim them for worship today.
Or follow collectives of artists like the one curated at Cardiphonia to stay on top of emerging music from all over the United States and beyond.
In general it is good to remember that your need for a particular kind of worship song may be a shared need across many faith communities. So make yourself aware of what is out there. Don’t let Christian Top 40 radio trick you into thinking that’s all there is!
STEP 3 - Retreat & Collaborate
Now that you’ve double checked and realize that there is some need for the song you are seeking, then remember what Rev. Cameron Trimble at the Convergence Music Project says, “Every movement needs new songs to sing.” So plan to honor that call by taking the right kind of time to create this new worship song.
We encourage staff, worship leaders and the youth and young adults they work with to take time away to work on their song. An artists retreat, at a facility other than your youth room for instance, can help focus attention on the project. Be sure to bring any and all of the people on your team who could lend a hand at the creation of this music: the writers, the musicians, the Bible scholars, etc. This should be a moment when you draw upon each other’s gifts to make the best piece you can.
And remember, you are writing for others. When we set out to create a song for communities to sing in worship, artists need to imagine the words and the melodies being sung by their intended audience. Be sure the elements of the song are a good balance of innovation, insight, uniqueness and accessibility.
STEP 4 - Rewrite, Rewrite, then Rewrite
Hymn writer Ruth Duck notes that “a hymn is not a theological treatise, but a poem.” So, we shouldn’t expect a worship song to be a list of facts about God or a set of how-tos about being a good Christian. Once your team has put together a draft of your song, be sure to leave time to re-imagine, revise or rewrite the piece so that is as beautiful a poem for Jesus as it can be.
Don’t rely on your first draft to be the perfect version. Each time you prayerfully re-examine your song, look for the blurry edges that can be improved with more concrete imagery or a more unique melody line. Find an honest reviewer to help you identify the awkward or confusing spots in your song that you don’t see.
Psalm 96 reminds us that new songs to the Lord should be marvelous, great, blessings that honor God and inspire God’s children. So keep working until your song feels like it!
STEP 5 - Record
By this time you should have a song which is moving on toward perfection and is just itching to be recorded. So, get it down on some format that works for you. Something as simple as a voice memo app on a smart phone can allow you to experience your song as a listener for the first time. Share this demo with friends and invite their feedback. If there are any further changes to be made in the song, now is a great time to address those since it is still developing.
You may have the capacity to do more in-depth recording of the song with studio equipment, fancy microphones and that sound guy who usually works the board at your contemporary worship service. But don’t get so involved in the technical details of that process that you lose sight of this song and it’s intended recipients: your worshiping community.
STEP 6 - Reveal
One of the best experiences with a new worship song is the first time it is sung by others. This is where your song will come to life. You should be ready for comments/suggestions. Everyone will have some opinion about the song, so try to be intentional about seeking out both positive comments and constructive criticisms.
People’s reactions will probably have a lot to do with how your new song compares to their usual set of hymns or choruses. Be sure that you have a plan for choosing music that complements typical music with newly developed pieces so listeners can appreciate your creative work and not just get distracted by their unfamiliarity with it.
STEP 7 - Share
Once you’ve helped a new song emerge from scriptural explorations in your community, tested it amongst existing collections of music, written and perfected it, and revealed it to your community, it is time to share it more broadly.
Now might be the best time to record a more polished version of the song. A live recording during worship can capture a kind of energy but studio versions can also show the intricacies of the work. Either way, we encourage you to make a shareable version of your song for the world to see/hear. Make use of platforms like Bandcamp to share or sell your song to support the work of your church. Consider allowing remixes of your music to see what other communities could do with your song. In general, find a way for the hard work of your community to bless the worship life of other singing faith communities.
So that’s it! These are seven (not so quick) steps to making beautiful music for your youth group, college ministry, or worship gathering. We hope you’ll send us a link to your music so we can share it with others. Check out our Conspiritor Collective project which features this kind of work.
And like the Psalmist said, “Sing to the Lord, bless [God’s] name; tell of [God’s] salvation from day to day.”
Written by Carl Gladstone
(NCJ & NEJ)
Young People’s Ministries