What Makes A Great Worship Song?

Have you ever wondered what makes a great worship song? What makes a travel across the world to be sung in both stadiums and the local church? Here are some of my thoughts….

1. They are theologically sound and therefore cross denominational boundaries.

A song that carries the truths of the Gospel will travel miles further than a song that carries denominational truths.

A denominational truth is a belief that is birthed out of the scriptures but is reflected in the different styles or colours of each church or movement.  Themes like Salvation and Jesus being the Saviour for all are universal church truths.  Speaking in tongues or being filled with the Holy Spirit for example have different interpretations in different denominations.

You may have heard the song “This I Believe (The Creed)” written by Ben Fielding on the latest Hillsong album “No Other Name”.  Inspired by Aussie Anglican theologian John Dickson’s urge via twitter for writers to write a clear song around the apostles creed, it is a perfect example of a song that is theologically sound and therefore crosses denominational boundaries.

Also, watch this incredible interview with Ben Fielding:

2. They are carried via productive mediums.

Regardless of how you feel about ‘church and marketing’ the old adage “Build it and they will come” is just not true.  You can have an amazing song, but nobody is going to hear it if they don’t know about it.

Things like record labels, marketing, social media, large conferences and songs being sung in large church and parachurch movements means it’s going to travel. I believe this is partly due to also reflecting something more than a song – its about what God is doing in a moment in time.

So does this mean that if your song doesn’t become famous it’s not a great song? Absolutely not! I find many songwriters become very discouraged if their music which has worked well in their local church or regional context doesn’t seem to go any further. Its easy to think it’s not a great song when the ‘masses’ don’t hear it. But this is not true!  A song isn’t great just because the whole world hears it. But more often than not having a conference, television ministry or record label backing it will really help more people know about it.

3. It’s breathed on by God for this moment in time.

There’s no doubt in my mind that with all the marketing experience and fame a person can have, that is really not at the forefront of why a song works across the global church. The bottom line is God just breathes favour on what He wishes. He is the one bringing things into the light when He wants certain themes to be magnified.

4. They stand the test of time.

Great songs, are always going to be great.  CCLI  (Christian Copyright Licensing International) is a great tool for you to see what songs are being most used across the church in your country.

Take a look at the top 100 most used worship songs of 2013 here.

Generally, you will notice that the songs on this list were greater than 12 months old at the time of the blog post.   In fact, a majority of these songs are over 5 years old!  It takes time for a song to ‘travel’ and become known. The world is a big place and it can take a while for a fire to spread from one place to another.

One encouragement we can also take away from this observation is that your songs, which may not be well received right now, might be for a different season. I believe songwriters are the prophets of our day. We can often feel a little misplaced and out of time – because we are often singing and writing about themes that are not just about the here and now, but what the church is actually about to step into.

5. Easy To Sing.

Again, look at the top CCLI list of songs for this year. You will notice there are few similarities between each song.  Here’s some quick pointers:

  • They are easy to sing;
  • They are in keys that are easy for congregations to sing (not too high or too low);
  • They carry memorable lines and ‘hooks – melodies and lyrics that are easy to remember, musical motifs that are instantly recognisable.

A great resource I have found is Dan McCollam’s book The Worship Writer’s Guide. Another great book of Dano’s is Finding Your Song, for a more technical look at songwriting.

Worship Writers Guide - Dan McCollam Finding Your Song - Dan McCollam

I don’t know about you but as a worship writer, I want to write songs that help the church find it’s voice. This is why I am always studying what makes the great songs great.

What do you think makes a great song?