Songwriting for Congregational Worship | Stefanie Potter | Skillshare

Songwriting for Congregational Worship

Stefanie Potter, Music Artistry Channel

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8 Lessons (28m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Songwriting Overview

    • 3. Church Music Focus

    • 4. Writing for Congregations

    • 5. Instrumental Guide

    • 6. Congregational Melody

    • 7. Testing a Song

    • 8. Final Thoughts


About This Class

Do you want to write music for the Church, or know someone who wants to? Ever wish you could sing something different in a worship service?

"Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people." - Psalm 149:1 (NIV). 

I've lead worship in a variety of church and para-church ministries for about 25 years. I have been writing music and developing as a songwriter for almost 20 years, taking courses from industry professionals, and participating in co-writing sessions.

In this course, I will walk you through what is unique about songwriting for a congregation to sing in worship services. Some basic songwriting/music knowledge will be helpful, or you can write with a musician or songwriter to help fill in any knowledge gaps you may have. Even seasoned songwriters can grow from this course... as songwriting for worship settings is different than other styles.


1. Introduction: Welcome to song Writing for Congregational. Worse it, My name is Stephanie Potter and I am a lifelong songwriter and worship leader, so I'm excited to share with you some insights that I've gained over the years. Congregational music is not the same as Christian contemporary music or personal devotional music. So today's class we're going to focus on contemporary worship for our congregation. Now it is just like anything else, a unique craft that we can learn and grow in. I've taken classes and workshops from top industry professionals, and I've been writing for a long time, and I've done a lot of co writing recently as well. For my own congregation, our course overview is starting with an overview of songwriting basics. Just says a review. And then we'll jump into the purpose and function of church music Well, then go into some guidelines that differentiate writing for a congregational setting for leading worship. Um, that differentiates it from some different styles of writing music and finally will talk about how to test the song and see if it's actually ready to lead in a corporate setting. Our class project is to write a song, so let's hear those songs upload any part of a song that you have, whether lyrics or you singing your chorus with ideas for the rest of the song, or if you have a full song that you'd like feedback on. I'd love to make this a community where we can encourage each other and and sharpen each other skills, So let's dive in. 2. Songwriting Overview: All right, let's jump into our song writing overview. I do have other courses on song writing, so this will just be a quick review. So the biggest thing I will say here is to just pick one idea per song. Focus on that idea, right it at the top of the page and stick with it. The biggest mistake that I see from beginner songwriters is that they want to say so many different things within a song that you really get lost in the whole point of what they're trying to say. So, for example, we might be writing a song about God's compassion. So what we'll do is write God of compassion at the top of the page and go from there. We might start with a chorus, which should be memorable and highlight that key idea. It should be one simple main idea that the rest of the song serves said in some sort of memorable way, so it could even be a simple of You are a god of compassion. Then we might jump Teoh Averse, which will help tell the story that leads up to the chorus and sets up that hook of the chorus. That's where we might explain more of what we mean by God being a god of compassion. For instance, you are close to the brokenhearted. You defend the widows and the orphans. Um, you see my pain and you care set in artistic ways. Of course, you might have a pre chorus toe lead into the chorus, but you might not. A lot of contemporary songs really don't have Recourse is anymore. Then you'll dump to the bridge, which is a time to say something different, yet still serving that main point. Often times we see that the bridge is used as a time of response. So, for instance, in light of God's compassion, what is my response to him? Is it gratitude is asking him to see like he does and toe love and have compassion like he does in Congregational Song writing. It's good to have it be repetitive, sometimes for easy learning, but it really depends on where you've gone with the rest of this song. So once again, feel free to check out my other courses for more songwriting tips, and next we'll move on to a discussion of church music 3. Church Music Focus: worship songs declare that God is worthy. They are written to God or about God, helping us to fix our hearts and minds on him in praise and Thanksgiving. Helping us to bow down in surrender until lift him up is king in the church context. They're often full of hope and celebratory, even if there are moments of crying out and lamenting. Ephesians, five says, be filled with the spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God, the father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. So this is where worship starts in these gatherings, where we get the chance to use music to encourage ourselves and each other to give thanks to God. But it doesn't stop there. Romans, 12 says, to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is our true and proper warship to not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can test and approve God's good, pleasing and perfect Well, so the goal of worship is that we would not just keep it within the four walls of the church and within our own carts, but that it would be an overflow from our full being that impacts how we live our lives. So let's write music with that in mind that it's not just worship between us and God for within the church, but it should be transforming our lives. We should have a lifestyle of worship. Scripture really helps with that. So we want to make sure that our lyrics are based on Scripture and based on a relationship with God, and that they are theologically sound. Worship can be used to teach important theological concepts toe hold onto throughout the week. People are a lot more likely to remember a song, then to remember three points of a sermon. We are that theologians of the contemporary church and we need to take that to heart were not the only theologians. But we need to take our role seriously that people will be remembering what we are writing when they sing these songs that we write 4. Writing for Congregations: the defining characteristic of congregational worship music is that it is a worshipful song written for a community of people to sing together. So this is different than contemporary Christian music, where there might be a lot of stories involved. Ah, lot of personal anecdotes, Um, and it might be different than personal devotion music, which is used to connect an individual to God outside of the context of community. So when we're writing our lyrics, we should remember The whole goal is that it is unifying for our community to come together before God. Everything should be generalize herbal to your community. And really, this presents an opportunity. Is songwriters toe listen for what needs to be sung? Listen to the stories that are going on around you, what people are struggling with, what sorts of truths that they need to hear and those air the songs that our community should be singing together in a worship context. A big thing to think about is, will we remember this song when we leave the worship setting? That's a good way to analyze the lyrics that we are writing. It should be memorable. Not too worried. E. We should say everything and as few syllables per line as makes sense. This serves a community so that they can carry these concepts into their weeks. If we have too many words to many complex concepts, they're not going to remember a and we've missed an opportunity. When were song writing? It can be beautiful to bring in some images and some metaphors, but we want to make sure that these are actually helpful in the way that we are writing our songs. When in doubt, just say what you mean. If you would like to use some colorful images, just try to make sure that they are helpful in bringing across the point and helping us to remember these points, bringing the message from our head to our hearts. We want to make sure that they are easily understood without explanation, that anybody could start singing this song. And we don't need ah whole introduction toe, understand what we're singing about. Another way to be helpful with images is to not switch it up in the middle, but to just pick one metaphor and be consistent with that. So, for example, don't go from a journey up to the mountain to walking on the water within the same song or don't go from images of boats to images of being used as clay vessels. Just stick to one image so that people can really enter into that image and take the concepts from their minds to their hearts so that they can live out these concepts of worship. Ultimately, every image, every line that we write should be leading people to the throne of God. If it doesn't serve that purpose, then we can find a different way to do so, whether that be just simplifying it down so that people understand and can engage with God better through it. We always want to err on the side of lyrics, being general to the community, memorable and images being something that people can easily enter into without being overwhelmed by too many ideas at once. This serves the purpose of leading people to God in a lifestyle of worship 5. Instrumental Guide: Even if you are not an amazing instrumentalists, you can still right. A worship song that is the beauty of congregational worship is it is accessible to even beginner players. You may notice if you look up contemporary Christian songs. A lot of them have similar chord structures. Many of them use the first chord in the key, the fourth chord in the Key, the fifth and the sixth. So, for example, if you're Song is in the key of a that top row, you may use the A, the D, the E and the F sharp minor, so that's a good place to start. Um, it is a good thing to make songs a bit more colorful to the glory of God than those four chords. But at least that will give you a starting place to make your song sound hopeful and have that congregational worship feel. Any riffs that you add to those chords on guitar, piano or whatever you're playing should be simple and memorable. We generally don't shred in congregational worship like we would in a rock band, because in the congregational setting that could distract attention from God to the musician and suddenly were worshiping, and we're focused on how amazing that guitar player is instead of how amazing God is now. There's a way to make beautiful music to the glory of God, and that is where the balance lies. Um is figuring out that place of how can I express God's beauty God's power God's character through the music without letting the music detract attention but really enhancing people's focus of how beautiful God is, how powerful goddess This is one of the reasons why I really enjoy playing electric as a worship musician because a lot of thes lead lines are more melodic and purposeful to share the glory of God. It's not about how good or how not good I am, Um, but it's really just adding to the bigger picture of who got ISS and expressing that through the music. So take that to mind as you are writing different melodies and riffs with your instrument over those chords. Our goal is excellence and beauty to display who got ISS but not done in a prideful way that would distract people away from focusing on God towards worship of the musician. We want to make sure that we are aiding the worship of God rather than ourselves, 6. Congregational Melody: when were writing melodies over our cords. Remember that the goal is for the whole congregation to sing this song together. That means that we need to make the melody accessible to the average person who probably isn't a musician might not even feel confident in their voice. So let's keep the range from low notes, toe high notes that we sing in that song pretty small. This isn't a place to show off are amazing voices and how low and how high we can go or the way that we sing notes all fancy. We want to keep a simple melody that is easy to catch on. You'll notice that a lot of worship songs use repetition, and this is on purpose. This is to help the congregation toe learn the song quickly and to be able to sing it after hearing it. Maybe just once. So, think of how quickly you would be able to teach this song to maybe somebody in your life who is not a singer. We want to think straightforward phrasing of our melody, not a lot of bouncy notes of random jumps from low to high or high to low. We want to think one note per syllable. Not switching up, how quickly we say things very often, but just very rhythmically similar throughout a section. We can change that rhythm for the next section of the song, but we want to intentionally use repetition. So, for example, in my song, you lead me Ah, one section goes When I look back on my path, all I see is you. When I look back on my path, you'll notice there's repetition. It doesn't jump from low to high notes. It's a very straightforward phrasing, very rhythmic. Everything has its own beat. It's a very simple melody that people can catch on too easily. Another example is from my song that I wrote with a friend called even now and the chorus goes you, uh, he you, uh, here, Even now you, uh, he you are here even now, very straightforward, very memorable. I betcha, if you turn this class off and walked away 10 minutes from now, you might be able to sing that again because of how straightforward it waas. So that's not to say make everything you know so simple that it feels dumbed down, But, um, that was an example of, Ah, hook and how to make something memorable. So I hope that helps let me know if you have questions about melody and how I can help you with that. 7. Testing a Song: Once you have written a song or even part of a song, you want to start to test that song before you put it in front of a congregation. Your first test will always be with Scripture. Make sure that it's not just an emotional response, but that it's actually in line with what Scripture says and then test it with. People. Find your people that you trust. These are some of mine. I know that these people care about me as a person and as a songwriter, and they believe in my creativity enough to tell me like it is, and they'll tell me whether they think that I can do better. And that's a beautiful thing. I don't really feel defensive around them because they're people that I trust. So find those people, even if it's just one person that's always a good place to start. Share with other believers, whether they're a songwriter or not. And then as you're sharing, hold your creation with an open hand. Be open to rewriting co writing, be open to feedback. Once you've shared it with one person and you feel comfortable about where it is, then maybe you'll share in a small group or online somewhere. You can ask what people see in it. If there connecting with it, figure out if it's registering with people, ask for any edits that they would suggest. The challenge here is, um, most believers might not be able to understand the difference between congregational and Christian contemporary music. So another resource, of course, is to post it here on skill share, and we can look at it together. And then when you feel like it's a song that is registering with people, that is meeting those congregational worship criteria first talk to your ministry leaders before trying it in a worship setting. You want to make sure that they are in alignment with the message of your song and that they have approved the delivery of it. The most encouraging thing. I got waas online. I had posted one of my worship songs, just a sharing, and one of my former pastors had said, Well done. It was very singable and very true. So I knew that that made for a good congregational song because he used that word singable on his own and the truth he found in that was in line with Scripture at that point, if you haven't thrown it out by that point or just kept it as a personal song, but you really feel like it is ready for the congregation than try it out in a worship context. It may be a smaller worship context or bigger one, um, but also pay attention during that. See if people are able to catch on quickly. Make sure that you're teaching this song before you start toe, lead it and help them to engage with it. And if they're still not really connecting with it, then talked to people afterwards and find out what it was about it that didn't really connect. That will help you to improve in the long run. And it's okay to just say, Okay, this was a good first try. Let's try a new version of the same concepts. A new song or unedited version always always, always be open to rewrites, even songs that I have recorded and played out for years. I still think of ways that I can improve them. It's important to remember that there's always room for growth, so we gotta be open to whatever needs to happen to find those most excellent songs to be used in the worship setting 8. Final Thoughts: thanks so much for joining me today and taking my class. I hope it helped feel free to ask questions. I know it's a lot and we are stronger together. Go ahead and upload any part of your songs that you would like feedback on. I'd love to have a conversation with you and answer questions specific to what you're writing. And then once you're done with that, feel free to check out some my other classes that might be helpful to you. There's a class on leading worship on playing in a band, on writing song lyrics that inspire change and hopefully more to come. So thanks again and hope to see you in another class.