How To Plan A Set List

One of my favorite aspects of being a worship leader is planning and programming set lists. It’s where creativity kicks in, and we find ourselves dreaming of new songs, great transitions, powerful moments, and a joyful response to the Lord! 

Types of Songs

Each congregation is unique in the songs they connect with, but every worship leader faces the constant challenge to choose songs that are engaging, align with the teaching, and are, most importantly, true. The best metaphor I’ve heard to describe types of songs was to think of them as plants. Different plants have different lifespans, but they are all a part of God’s created order. Each one has purpose and is used to bring glory to the Lord in it’s own way. So, I like to think of songs in plant-type categories:

•    Annuals - Great songs that have a short season (1-2 years).  They aren’t shallow, the church connects with them, but they don’t have longevity at your church. (“This is Amazing Grace,” for us, could potentially sit in this category).
•    Perennials - These songs have a longer season (3-10 years).  More life, sometimes more depth, or containing a truth that people connect with. (Here I Am to Worship, Blessed Be Your Name, How Great is Our God, 10,000 Reasons).
•    Oak Trees - (10-50 years). These are longer lasting songs for your community. They might be seen by the younger generation as “oldies” but, in my opinion, these songs allow every generation to enter in and worship the Lord (In Christ Alone, I Love You Lord, Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful, You Are My King).
•    Redwoods - (50+ years).  Songs that last for generations, speaking of truths and hope in a way that transcends cultures and styles.  (Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, and Great is Thy Faithfulness).

A Balanced Diet

When you introduce or write a song, sometimes you know which type of song it will become, but often you don’t. What’s important is that you offer your congregation a “balanced diet” (or garden, I suppose) for them to participate in as they worship the Lord. The Word calls us to “sing a new song to the Lord,” but we also value the other songs in our church’s history, and we want to sing those as well. 

At Calvary, we look at a month’s worth of services and try to plan for 1-2 new songs, and also 1-2 Oak Tree/Redwood type songs. Often we use new arrangements of older songs so the timeless truths have new creative life.

Feedback

Your congregation, if they’re like ours, will let you know what they think of your choices! You’ll always get people that ask for more annuals (“let’s sing more new songs”), and others that ask for more Redwoods (“too many new songs, I just want to close my eyes and worship the Lord”). The journey to plan balanced and engaging set lists is incredibly rewarding, but it takes constant evaluation and a servant’s heart to lay aside what you want for what the church needs.  

Worship leaders, ask yourself these questions today:

•    How am I balancing new songs (Ps. 33:3) and those older, timeless songs?
•    What feedback am I getting from those around me, and is there any truth to it?
•    Do I feel pressure to always do new, perhaps at the cost of missing out on the great songs of past generations? Or vice versa?
•    Am I stuck singing too many Redwoods, and need to bring more new songs to my church?
•    Is there an Annual or Perennial song that has outlasted its life, and is it time to remove it?

And finally, always remember:  We get the privilege to choose the words and songs that our people sing to Jesus!


Andrew Wooddell serves as the Worship Pastor and Executive Director of Ocean's Edge School of Worship. He is an excellent musician, and a loving husband and father. Learn more about Andrew.