Engaging Worshipers with Your Songs

Prolific songwriters have developed a process that works well for them time after time. If your writing output is low, here are three key principles for discovering what could release an overflow of creativity and, in turn, writing songs that truly engage worshipers.

Lisa, a Christian songwriter I recently mentored, told me that when we started working together, her big question was, “How can I get in front of a Nashville music publisher?” But as she began to understand what higher-level songwriting was, we laughed at how quickly her question became, “What was I thinking?”                                              

There are a lot of Lisas out there.                                         

I’ve spoken with over 2,000 aspiring songwriters about their desire to write at a high level. Almost without fail, they, like Lisa, tend to focus on the wrong thing.           

They all want to get their music “out there” and have a goal to get in front of publishers long before they’re ready. It’s as if they believe that getting heard by someone in the music business is their primary challenge. I assure them, and you, it is not.

Learning how to write great songs is an aspiring songwriters’ biggest challenge, much more than how to get a meeting with a Nashville publisher.

As I stated in Part 1 of this four-part series, “Songwriting ‘success’ means adding skills that help more worshipers engage with your music.” If you’re writing songs that truly engage worshipers, the publishers will follow.

Here I share three key principles for writing your best songs now, songs that will engage worshipers and get you closer to writing the kinds of songs publishers want to hear

Remember that your job is preparation and God’s job is opportunity.

Jesus described Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), yet we often forget that He’s the one leading us to green pastures (Psalm 23). He will guide us AND our songs exactly where He wants them to go.

The doors that opened for me might not open for you. But Jesus knows where your doors are. Be faithful to becoming the best you can be. Trust Him to lead you to the right circumstances to expose your songs. He’s the real steward of your life, talents, and the gifts He’s entrusted to you.

Listen critically to popular songs.

Popular songs are popular for a reason. The songwriters have captured something unique that refreshes us and draws us in again and again. They don’t settle for writing the same phrases in the same way we’ve heard them for the past 30 years. They change them up. They find a different way to celebrate the faithfulness of God.

Try listening critically to your favorite worship songs. That doesn’t mean listening with criticism, but with an analytical ear to understand where the title (hook) of the song shows up. How many times is it used? How does the melody support it? Learning to listen will sharpen your songwriting skills immediately.

Lean into your songwriting strengths.

The odds are that you’re a little better at either melodies or lyrics. Few songwriters I know are amazing at both. Why not focus on your strengths? I should never try to repair my car; I’m terrible at it. My mechanic knows what to do, so I let him handle the repairs.

Finding a co-writer is often just the ticket to overcoming a particular weakness. Maybe you want to write in a younger genre. Finding a younger co-writer who can program the tracks and give your song a more “current” feel might help. Or, maybe you track, but realize you need a better lyricist than yourself. That’s okay too! Playing to your strengths is almost always the right thing to do, even in writing for worship.

Engaging worshipers with your songs always involves skillful songwriting. Start building a better song process to tap into greater skills. Practice these three principles to begin writing your best songs now.

About John Chisum

John Chisum is a veteran songwriter, publisher, and worship leader. He was VP of Publishing for Star Song Media and Director of Song Development & Copyright for Integrity Music. He is currently President of  Nashville Christian Songwriters. He has been married to Donna for 40 years, and they have one daughter, Aly. This article is based on John’s new course, Your Best Songs Now.