Practical Ways to Approach Songs for Your Sunday Setlists



A lot of times we just approach our song lists by taking requests and doing songs that we like. Here are some practical ways to incorporate familiar classics AND adding new songs to our Sunday Setlists.

Are you doing familiar classics?

There’s something very special about refreshing older hymns or much-loved choruses from days and years gone by. Here’s a few tips for incorporating those “family” songs into your setlists:

  • Sing them “A capella” (without instrumental accompaniment). There’s nothing that makes folks feel like part of a family of worshipers more than belting out a familiar hymn or refrain with nothing but the vocals. If you want to add just a little bit of foundation for the vocals to sit on you can carry a keyboard pad or light downbeat guitar strums.
  • Sing them “Cantata” style (with instrumental accompaniment). Over the years, I’ve tried to be intentional with my efforts in arranging older hymns for multi-generational worship services. This means that you can set an older piece in a modern genre but still give a nod to the older generations who came before.
  • Honor an older singer/worshiper by giving them a prominent role in leading these songs. Do it as a special. Bring them up between songs. Include them in your band (if they already aren’t…which they should be).
  • Re-arrange/re-mix them for a totally new sound. You can still give honor the generations before us by including older music, while at the same time setting these tunes in a modern arrangement. Rock them out.
  • Sing them like you used to. Sometimes if you’ve been around long enough, the fun in bringing back an older song is in revisiting an enjoyable arrangement that resonated with folks over the years. Don’t be afraid to revisit those!

Are you introducing new music?

Around the New Year, a lot of churches will be adding new music into their repertoires. It can be a fun and exciting time, especially for the band and singers, as we introduce new songs for a special service. Here’s a few tips for including those new songs into your Sunday Setlists:

  • Add the to your pre-service playlist. Do you use iTunes or some sort of rotation of music to be played in the background as people enter before services? This is a great “space” to begin to introduce these new songs over time leading up to when you actually include it in an actual setlist live.
  • Create a playlist ahead of time on Spotify that people can access with your upcoming music for a night of worship or special event. People appreciate having access to those songs ahead of time and feel more connected when they’ve listened ahead of time and are familiar with the song when it happens during a service.
  • Rehearse well. Make sure your band and singers know the song well. We’ve all been in situations where we realize we’re not quite as rehearsed as we could or should have been. Most of the time our people are really forgiving in those times because we’re family, but personally, I’d rather not have to deal with that if possible. There is a certain feeling of nervousness and awkwardness when somebody misses a cue or the band misses a transition. Try to avoid that by rehearsing well!
  • Sing songs that fit your family! Don’t try and pull off songs (or styles) that don’t serve your congregation well. There’s nothing like a hot, new joint that some new electro-funk-polka worship band releases. But that doesn’t mean you have to try and pull that arrangement of that song off. If you love the song, and it’s a good song, it will work in YOUR style. Good songs transcend genre. Be inspired and push the boundaries creatively, but don’t feel like you have to imitate every new popular worship artist.
  • Write songs for your family. There’s plenty of time to write a great song for your Easter service this year. Get together with a few writers in your group and put together something that serves your congregation. Don’t feel like you have any writers? Now’s a great time to get a songwriting group started! You never know what might come out of it!
  • Use these 7 Crucial Tips for Background Vocals which also cover some important aspects of introducing melodies for new songs.

Russ Hutto is the Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church where he mentors, oversees and helps lead Family and Student worship environments. He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship Community.

Chime in with your plans/songs in the comments below!