What is distinctive about a worship song for everyone?
Getting the right song is a crucial part of uniting adults and children together in worship. A church leader from North America contacted us recently to say that the one thing that managed to get his church worshipping together again, after many failed attempts at ‘all-age services’ was simply finding the right worship songs. But what makes a good worship song for everyone?
Think about the content. There are some universal things we all need to hear, regardless of our age. We all have a deep desire to belong, to be loved, to know there is a purpose for our lives, that we were no accident, that we have an eternal Father in Heaven who made us and knows us. So, one of the key distinctives of a song for everyone is that is captures a truth that transcends age. But crucially, the truth is also expressed in simple language with words relevant to the younger members of our churches – which interestingly, we’ve found, is often exactly what makes the song more powerful for adults too. The final track on our first album Big Family of God (When You are Sleeping) has ministered as powerfully to adults going through tough times, as it has to children at bedtime: ‘I know your troubles, I see your heart beating, I watch you when you are sleeping, I sing your name.’
There’s definitely a place for poetry in songs, but when it comes to worship for everyone, it’s more unifying to storytell. Rehearsing Bible stories or describing everyday experiences will draw people together. Songs like ‘All Through History’ and ‘He is Here’ journey with Bible characters who have experienced God or life in the same way we have. These songs demonstrate theology really clearly, highlighting God’s faithfulness and His presence. But this kind of songwriting also comes with a warning… in order to keep the adults engaged and ensure we’re not returning to old school Scripture songs, we need to be careful to not only teach, but also release praise. We’ve found that where we teach in the verses, we need a chorus that praises and sings to God – not just about God: revelation and then response.
Another way to bring everyone together in worship is through our shared emotions. We all experience joy and fear, gratitude and longings. God wants us to present our whole being before Him, and when we capture some of these emotions in our songs, we can find the whole church engaging. One of the tracks on our new album, Unique, begins ‘When I’m sad, when I’m low, when I feel far from you, you hold my hand. When I’m tired, when I’m weak, when there’s no words to speak, you understand.’ We all feel these emotions – no matter how young or old – and we can all unite in reminding ourselves of God’s love and closeness during these times.
Finally, think about the melodies. Worship for everyone is about finding simple, memorable tunes – but not twee or too predictable. Children need catchy melodies that are easy to pick up, but adults still need to feel inspired or moved by the music too. So a good worship song for everyone should aim to have a quality that will stand alongside current pop tunes or other contemporary worship songs.
The proof of course is in the pudding! Give the song a shot in your own church and you’ll soon see whether the congregation are smiling or not! But when they all do, there’s nothing better.