Introducing new songs to the congregation is important. Congregations, as well as the individuals within them change. It is the very nature of being human, and our ascribing worth to God will invariably change as well. Hopefully, we will continue to mature and grow spiritually, and our ability to express our devotion will become ever-more complex and nuanced. But there are also seasons we go through that will create these changes as well. Sometimes new songs, or at the very list different songs, will be more appropriate as our response to God. Looking at the Psalms one can see this in action. Where the Psalmist might plead with God, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God” (Psalm 51:10), he in another moment in life says, “Praise Him with resounding cymbals” (Psalm 150:5). Our relationship with God is dynamic as we change, our circumstances change, and our congregation changes both in size and season. Our worship will echo this changing season.
Also, it is worth noting that the charge to sing a new song is biblical. In Psalm 33, 40, 96, 98, 144, 149, Isaiah 42, and Revelation 5 all speak of singing “a new song” to God. So it is important that as new life experiences come our way, as new mercies are poured out upon us every day, our worship reflects that. New songs remind us that God is constantly doing something new in our lives and will continue to do so. We could write millions of songs and not exhaust our ability to sing of something new and exciting about our God. It is amazing.
But the realities of leading worship beg the question: how often should I introduce a new song? To this, I answer an infuriatingly vague: it depends. Really it is dependent on your congregation. I know some congregations that love new music, and just go for whatever comes on the screen, whether they know it or not. But this is rare. So if your congregation likes new songs and they want a new one almost every week, then I say go for it. Another factor is the type of music your congregation likes to sing. There are definitely grades of songs out there and some are very simple and repeatable and others need some time to sink in. For example, “Jesus We Love You” by Bethel Music is simple, repeatable, awesome, catchy, theologically awesome, and an overall home run. That song is simple enough that if you don’t know Spanish and heard it in that language, it would be singable/stuck in your head by the second Chorus. Juxtapose that against a song that is equally pretty, but a little more complex in its melody like “Yours (Glory and Praise)” by Elevation Worship and you can make the argument it is a little harder to pick up for the average congregant. So, music style and preference play a large part in the selection of music.
Currently we are introducing somewhere between 12 and 20 songs a year. We introduce a song by doing it two weeks in a row, followed by a week off, and then a third week, after which we evaluate the congregational response. Sometimes, we will introduce a new song in that period as well, other times we will not. At my previous church I was a little more aggressive since we needed to build our repertoire and therefore needed new songs quickly. I would introduce a new song every two weeks and sing them three weeks in a row. In both instances the congregation responds nicely. It both cases there is push back.
Another criterion we use is whether a song fits. There are moments that we feel a song will perfectly fit with what we are preaching about. There is something very powerful that can happen when a congregation fully understands what they are singing about. Sometimes we all go through the motions of singing, even with the newest songs. When we are able to point the congregation to whom we are singing, worship becomes fully engaged. New songs are often a vital part of this as the need to focus is increased. Coupled with direction and theme and the focus increases even more. And the more focus we have on God, the more we truly worship. So context often plays another role in our decision to introduce a new song.
We currently have a list of about a dozen songs that we believe will work for our congregation in general or specific cases. We may or may not get to all of them, but we have them ready to go so we can be prepared as needed to help point the congregation where we believe they need to be pointed on any given week. In a perfect world we would all be able to engage in worship on a continual basis. But due to our brokenness and distractedness we rarely give God the time He deserves. It is our job to break that pattern and help as many believers focus on God. New songs help. Introduce them as often as you can manage.