Yesterday I explained that we start most Verve services with an opening song, and began discussing what kind of song we’re looking for. First, we want it to be a song people know, so it can help build a bridge and bust stereotypes. Second, we want the song to be upbeat, so it can help loosen up and livens up the crowd and gets them amped for what’s to follow. Here are our third and fourth priorities for an opening song:
Third, we want the song to be on our theme. If we’re talking about forgiveness, we’ll try to find a song on forgiveness. If the message is about have a risk-taking faith, we’ll try to find a song on living a dangerous life. If the sermon is on proctology, we’ll try to find a song about butts or fingers, or preferably both.
This has the obvious advantage of setting the theme for the day and getting people thinking about it immediately. But it does more than that. It also helps to demonstrate that what we’re talking about is relevant. Secular song writers are writing songs about what we talk about in church. It’s like when Paul spoke at Mars Hill and told the people there, “As some of your own poets have said…”
It also helps people to remember the church service. When they’re driving down the road a week or month or year later and the song we opened with comes on their car radio, it will bring them back to that service and, hopefully, chew a bit more on what they learned that day.
Fourth, we want the song to be currently hot, or about to hit. If possible, we prefer to play a song that is so hot a person might have heard it on the radio on their car to Verve that morning, or on the way home. One obvious reason is that it means it will meet our first priority – a song people know. Another good alternative is a song that people haven’t heard much, it’s not that hot, but is about to be. We’ve had times when we picked a song just released, realizing it was likely to get big. This means people will be hearing it a lot in the months to come, and each time will be reminded of our service and what they learned at it.
This means I spend a lot of time checking out the Billboard Hot 100 and listening to popular radio stations. When I jump around the stations on my car radio, I’m not looking for that old song I love, I’m looking for a new popular song I haven’t heard yet, and listening to the lyrics to see if it’s something we might be able to use. Personally, I’d rather listen to the old song I love, but this is a pretty small sacrifice to help people who are far from God get on a path that will connect them to Him.
Fifth, we want the song to jive with our style of music. Years ago there was a radio station we used to advertise on who contacted me to let me know they were changing their format. They were going from rock to everything. “We’re going to play the top hits from rock, country, hip hop, R&B, and adult contemporary! All hits, so people will love all the songs!” “No,” I countered, “people will love 1 of every 5 songs. And then they’ll think, ‘There are stations that only play the kind of music I like,’ and they’ll stop listening to your station.” I was told I was wrong, people today are very diverse, just watch. Three months later the station changed back to a rock format.
Our church has a rock and roll kind of vibe. Our worship songs are rock, and we choose opening songs that are rock. We might occasionally choose songs that border on rock, a country/rock song, or a hip hop/rock song, but we won’t deviate much from straight forward rock. It helps people know who we are and prevents confusion.
So there you have the five things we’re looking for in an opening song, and some of why we start our services with an opening song. But how do you start your church services? If with worship, why? Is that really the most strategic way to launch your service? And what would be?