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“How do I make songwriting happen in my church?”

By February 10, 2020September 25th, 2020No Comments

The Case for Songwriting

Since you are here already, you probably don’t need convincing that songwriting in local churches is a good idea. But just in case, or if you are looking for a way to convince those around you, I would like to make my case.
Currently, Churches make their own sermon content, but they don’t make their own songs. Now I totally understand that some churches aren’t going to have anyone interested in songwriting, but that isn’t surprising since most churches don’t put any effort into it. People don’t talk about it, there’s nothing in the budget for it. If we were short a preacher and had to go from a video, that wouldn’t last long, yet we are fine with it when it comes to songs. So why should we care so much about songwriting? I believe that God cares about it. Psalm 96:1 doesn’t say to sing a new song to the Lord for nothing after all, and God is a creative God who designed us with minds to think which can be creative and conceive of lyrics which bring people to think of, understand more of and worship him. It’s not by accident that the bible is full of songs (Psalms). I think that part of what churches should do is write songs, sing them in their churches and make them available to others as a resource. We should make use of our moment in history, as with the printing press which was the primary tool which allowed for the protestant reformation, the proliferation of tools for creating and spreading music should be taken advantage of. This is our moment so let’s not waste it.

So how Do I Move Forward with this?

It’s best to start with something. It’s best to start with you because you can’t make someone else write a song. If you organise some kind of get together for people you can bring what you have. If you have something to start with it is a lot easier to work on together and that tends to be the best use of a group’s time.
So when you are on your own if you hear a sermon and think, ‘that would make a good song’, then run with that idea, or if as you read the bible you are struck by an idea you hadn’t understood or a scripture that you think would make a good song, then work on that. The best songs tend to come from times when you aren’t trying to write songs. Now this shouldn’t prevent you from sitting down and writing and spending intentional time, but it will give you something to work with when you choose to do that. For it to be helpful though, you must record everything. Whether it is at 1 am, or when you are driving around, or in a cafe, if you have an idea, you must write it down, straight away. Once an idea is gone, you can’t get it back, and you will wonder about it forever. Make use of the voice memo app on your phone, notes, pen and pencil. Then pull these ideas out when you sit down to write and see if you can put them together with whatever other idea you have. There is a big difference between an idea and a song so don’t make too big a deal out of ideas that you have, the hard work is the process of making a finished song. Often if you have a melody but not finished lyrics you can make up some nonsense ones and then fill in the gap later, sometimes it’s necessary to do stuff like that if you can’t think of something. When you have a gap that you can’t fill, an unfinished bridge, missing lyrics, lyrics that aren’t clear enough, missing second verse, these are great things to get help from a group with. Other people will be able to see what you are trying to do if you explain it to them and if there is enough there to be able to hang something off. Everyone brings different talents and perspectives, whether in lyrics of music and everyone’s opinion is valuable, even if they won’t all be used in the end, it takes humility to admit that.

How do you work as a group?

Someone should be in charge

Someone should be in charge, someone needs to be responsible for making things happen. It probably won’t happen otherwise, someone needs to pull people together, set times and help us all to overcome the urge we sometimes have to be lazy or to not use our time well. It is still highly collaborative in terms of the creative process.

Make it relational

It’s good to be highly relational in a songwriting scenario with people you trust. Often this can mean catching up with someone one on one to work on songs, or organising a get-together or a camp or something like that to write music. I highly recommend these kinds of approaches.

Combine structure, fun, and creativity

In these environments, it is good to have Structure which can involve things like warm-up games, and rules to be followed by everyone. We had The Bank, which is a place we kept unused ideas for later.

Make people feel safe

People need to feel safe about sharing their ideas. Ideas should be heard and deliberated as a group.

Be open to change

If you bring a song to the group, it’s a good idea to say that if it is entirely changed by the time you finish, that is okay.

Use a whiteboard

It’s a great idea to have a whiteboard available. Write all the lyrics on the board so you can make adjustments together and stare at the board longingly when you don’t have any ideas.


Try things

It’s a good idea to play the songs through as a group and try different things, change out chords, change the time signature, change a fast song to a slow one or slow to fast. If a song feels boring, try some uneven chord lengths, subvert expectations, get out of your musical comfort zone, try tempory modulation, rhythmic hits, slash chords and lead lines. I could list off these forever, but mostly just get creative. Don’t try and make your song confusing, but also don’t settle for lame or boring.

Use randomness

If you hate the chords you have, roll dice and use the number you get a number for a chord and roll and roll until you get something you like.

Singable intervals

We want to make our songs singable, which means being smart about our use of intervals, Ie, don’t make them too large.

Using old ideas

If you have an idea that you already worked on, and it’s a great idea, bring it out if you are stuck. Maybe your old, unused idea is this ideas’ missing piece.


Cliches and cleverness

Stay away from cliches if you can, although sometimes they can be useful. Get clever but not too clever.

Know what you want to say

Have a clear idea of what you would like to convey before you start.

Get into Syllabification

I like to write on a whiteboard how many possible syllables that I have and then fit my lyrics into that. If you can, come up with a clear meter, that will allow you to make your lyrics predictable (in a good way), ie eight syllables, ten syllables, eight and ten. “what can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus, what can make me whole again, nothing but the blood of Jesus” is an A B A B phrase which is quite easy to sing, because it has repeating melodic lines.

Complex vs Simple vs Easy vs Hard

The more lyrics there are, the more difficult a song will be to sing, but the less there are, the less you can say. There is probably space out there for songs that say a lot and songs that don’t say too much. I am always amazed by musicals, because writers have tight constraints yet always manage to say what they need to in the song, they have no choice, because it conveys a story. We probably have more choice than we think, and we could come up with better ways to say what we need to if we worked longer and harder.


It is good to be specific with pronouns for a congregational setting. The difference between ‘I’ and ‘we’ matters.

The Scriptures

Everything that we write should be checked with the scriptures. We should probably just use the scriptures if we can, but it isn’t always possible and so we want to have a good overall understanding and knowledge of the bible so we can take ideas and synthesise them in our own words, this is basically what Theologians do.


Rhyming can be good, it makes things feel nice and balanced. ‘nice’ and ‘rice’ is a perfect rhyme, ‘orange’ and ‘door hinge’ is an imperfect one. You can get creative with rhymes. Check out Rhymezone for help. If you want a song to feel unbalanced, you can intentionally use a word that doesn’t rhyme. I like cake, my name is Jake, but when I bake, it makes me bored. It works because I want you to feel surprised and unbalanced when you read it.


Using synonym dictionaries is a really good idea, often what you write will be boring like plain porridge, you can spice it up by chucking some Adjectives (words that describe), adverbs (which describe verbs). It’s good to consider each word choice and see what you can change out to make your song more cohesive, clear, and compelling. Lyrics can be better if you work on them. I promise you.


You really want the lyrics and the music to work together, the lyrics should be lifted by the music. The music should reinforce the idea of the Music. If the lyrics are about something sad or reflective, try quite and subdued music, if they are happy, triumphant, glad or encouraging, try and play something that matches that musically. Or invert that and subvert everyone’s expectations, but do it on purpose.

Final thoughts

If a song makes you excited, that is great and generally, the more people who are involved in the writing process, the more excited people will be about the project. We have our eldership check the lyrics, but we work really hard along the way with the hope nothing will need to be changed. We are humble about this so if something needs to be changed, that is all good and we respect that, and make the changes, and get it checked again.
I hope that these tips will be useful to you in your future songwriting adventures. If you want to know heaps more, then check out our podcast here.