Build a Worship Set List that WINS

If you're a worship leader, you're familiar with set lists as it is the grind of what we do throughout the week. Outside of our weekend experiences here at Bethany Church, we build set lists for midweek Prayer at each of our campuses, staff chapel, and whatever else happens to be on the calendar that week. Bethany Church values worship so much that we make it a part of almost everything we do!

This week we want to give a broad overview of how we build set lists. Worship Pastor James Stockstill gives three tips for building a worship set list that wins!

At our church, we have questions that we ask ourselves when evaluating our experiences (services). We always ask ourselves: 

  • Was it spiritual?
  • Was it excellent?
  • Was it corporate
  • Was it invitational?

For the purposes of this post, we want to hone in on that third question- was it corporate? Our goal is to draw people into an experience with God. A set list is crafted intentionally to help you reach that ultimate goal- PEOPLE CONNECTING WITH GOD.

Here's what a set list is not: 

  • Finding a way to sing your favorite song right now.
  • Showcasing your vocal abilities.

We really have to approach our set lists with the question, how can I engage people and help them connect with God? Here's three practical tips to help you do that: 

1. Find your moment.

As worship leaders, we're always looking for opportunities to have a moment of connection. We want to provide ways for people to become engaged and not just watch as spectators.       

  • Freedom in Praise: Will people have a song or a part of a song that they can really get into (clap, jump, dance, sing at the top of their lungs)? 
  • Expression in Worship: Is there a moment in worship where people will be able to fully engage (hands lifted, hearts made aware of God’s presence)?

2. Find your key.

Find keys that are good for you vocally, but also keys that are easy for other people to sing.

  • Give yourself as much room to win as possible and pick a key that sets up the leader to win. Ask: are the songs keyed right for me and for others leading? Do I need to alter structure? Arrangement? 
  • Also think about the people in your congregation. Ask yourself: is this realistic for the average church attender to sing? If we want them to sing with us, we have to sing in a key that allows them to. 

3. Find your flow. 

We like to use tracks and guides, but we always go into a set list looking for a flow. We call it "flow" because of references in the Bible to the River of God. We always want to create margin and provide space for God to move in our experiences. 

  • This might look like backing off the mic and letting the congregation sing on their own. Sometimes prophetic words can be spoken in moments like this by a Pastor or leader. No matter what it looks like, we want to be sure to build this into our set lists because we so value the presence of God. 
  • Ask yourself: Are there any moments that can be a springboard for prophetic/spiritual flow? Does the arrangement lend itself to creating space?

How We Build Out A Month of Set Lists

We usually build out our set lists for the next month on the last week of every month. As a general rule of thumb, when we're creating a set list for a service we like to include one-two original songs that we've written in house and accompany it with other songs that are very corporate.  

  • For example, here's what last week looked like for us: we played "Loud", "Glorious Day" and both of these songs provided opportunity for the entire congregation to clap along and sing together. Next we did a Scripture Reading and then went into "Wonderful Things" from our friends at Highlands Worship (which we highly recommend!), followed by "Here as in Heaven" from Elevation Worship, and then we tagged "Holy Ground" from Passion. "Loud" and "Glorious Day" were played in the same key (C) and "Wonderful Things" and "Here As In Heaven" were played in the same key (D) for smooth transitions. 
  • We use Planning Center as a tool to help us build set lists and it's been great for us for the visual compontent. We use the matrix function to allow us to see a whole month of set lists at a time. Seeing our set lists from this perspective ensures that we aren't too repetitive in our song choices. It takes us about three or four hours to build our set lists for a month of weekend experiences. We encourage you to get ahead on set lists and don't live week-to-week as it can be more laborious this way!

You're Going to Win!

We believe that if you keep these tips in mind and remember that first and foremost your job is to serve God's people and help them encounter God, you're going to win every week! Stay tuned as we will further unpack each of these three points (moment, key, flow) in the weeks to come. 

Ask us Anything

If you have a question for Pastor James about building set lists, ask away. We will try our best to give you an answer in future posts!