Are you involved at all in the choosing of music in your church? How do you go about it? Unless you have some overarching principles in place there is a danger that it can become a subjective list of personal favourites - there's a better way!

The following article is an abridged version of a lecture I gave at Wycliffe Hall Oxford in April 2019. Read on, and let me know what you think.

Roger Peach, Jubilate Editorial Co-ordinator, E:

Principles and Practice

A. Principles

From spending many years choosing music for worship in a variety of contexts I’ve concluded that music in worship should display the following characteristics:

  1. Breadth
  2. Shape
  3. Relevance
  4. Synergy

1. Breadth

Why do we need a variety of worship expressions? It’s a bit like a healthy diet - it’s not good for us just to eat puddings! But it’s more than that:

  • God is not a monochrome God, so our worship needs to reflect the full colour of a richly creative God – we therefore need a variety of musical and non-musical responses
  • One style of worship will attract one type of person, one personality type, and possibly just one generation. Gary Thomas in his book Sacred Pathways elaborates helpfully on this – people engage with God in many different ways; our challenge is to provide a worship framework that celebrates diversity, and enables as many people as possible to engage deeply with God – one style alone won’t do that. This might mean providing a range of services, or harder still (but more faithful to the Biblical image of One Body) a range within one service. We need to embrace this and teach it.

So we need a range of resources available – funeral hymns to all-age celebrations, no organ to full band. See the resource list below for some ideas.

2. Shape

The structure of services is important – but as a framework not a cage. There needs to be a sense of movement or a journey, so that we are in a different place by the end of our worship service as we experience a transformational encounter with the living God. The following ideas are loosely based on a very helpful book The Worship Architect by Constance Cherry.

Set the foundations first: for me that means that our worship is rooted in the Word, is Trinitarian, and points to Jesus, the Cornerstone.

From there it can be helpful to think of several movements or sections to our gatherings, with some overlap and an overall sense of flow.

A possible framework:   

a) Welcome/Gathering

b) Word

c) Response  

d) Sending out

What are we aiming to achieve at each stage? This will inform our song choices

a) Welcome/Gathering – Drawing near to God and to each other – there is an element of the “horizontal” as well as the “vertical” here, recognising we are in the presence of the living God and in the presence of one another.  This is a good moment for general praise & thanksgiving, and could also involve confession.

b) Word – typically reading & sermon – this could include music to focus our minds & hearts, sung or instrumental music providing some space

c) Response – this could be personal or corporate and could include intercessions

d) Sending out – closing worship & blessing, something to encourage us as we prepare to go into the world

In addition to this, how much thought is given to pre- and post-service music? Is it just the nearest CD/organ voluntary to hand, or is it something that ties in with the theme and flow of the service? 

3. Relevance

authentic worship to suit the local context, local resources & local needs. Be aware of:

  • Make-up of the congregation - young/old etc
  • Place in the church year (more relevant for some churches than others)
  • Major international events
  • Musicians available…or not!
  • Repertoire - Keep a longterm strategic view – eg maximum one new song per service

4. Synergy

Aim for a unified approach, matching music choices to:

  • Sermon title
  • Sermon key themes
  • Bible reading
  • Prayers

B. Practice

How does all this work in practice? A few factors that will influence music choice:

  • Pray – the most important element – this is a spiritual exercise!
  • Read the bible passage – what’s the main message?
  • Communicate with the preacher/service leader. Could you choose music collaboratively?
  • Relevance – who is this for? (see above)
  • Focus – does it point to Jesus?
  • Draw from a range of resources – see below
  • Communicate with musicians. Who is available? What is possible/not possible?

Questions to ask re song choices (adapted from Sing – Keith and Krystin Getty)

  1. Am I open to broadening my music & worship tastes?
  2. Is there a good balance of style & content?
  3. Are the songs scripturally “sound”? Is the focus God-wards? Is Jesus central?
  4. Are the songs simple enough for all to sing, without being bland?
  5. Am I reviewing “How did the congregation sing?”

Resources – these are a few of the many sources I’ve found helpful, starting with the two most obvious!

  • Jubilate website - themed collections and searching by theme or bible verse   
  • Resoundworship -  search by theme, also some helpful podcasts and blog posts
  • Indexes of hymnbooks/songbooks – some are more useful than others!
  • RSCM Church Music Quarterly magazine with Sunday by Sunday planner
  • Song Select (CCLI) – themes
  • Hymnquest –  33000 hymntexts from 500 hymnbooks
  • Engageworship – especially for non-musical ideas  


  • Sing – Keith and Krystin Getty
  • The Worship Architect - Constance Cherry
  • Sacred Pathways – Gary Thomas - how different personalities best engage with God
  • Whole Life Worship – Sam & Sara Hargreaves - connecting our worship to the rest of life