When worship leaders reach out for guidance or input on their worship ministry, one of the first things I ask about is regarding the use of catalogs. Most are familiar with the concept but pick songs for their congregation with little attention to frequency, consistency, or breadth. The top 10 CCM songs are not a thoughtful or even helpful way of choosing songs for Sunday. Using a catalog is a great tool for worship leaders to balance the “worship diet” of their church.
First let’s define the term for our use:
A catalog is a set bank of songs used for a set period of time at a set location that balances the worship diet of your congregation. For example, we use a catalog that changes every 3 months, of around 25 songs at our Reno location. Catalogs differ between our 5 churches, and we tend to roll several songs forward each quarter.
Here’s a quick rundown on a few of the tested advantages we’ve seen play out:
1. It’s helpful for your people.
Using a catalog is a great way to ensure a “balanced diet” for your congregation. The Psalms are full of a breadth of human emotion. With a catalog in place, it’s easier to intentionally have songs in rotation that cover celebration, despair, doubt, gratitude, and confession. Here is a sample of some of the balances we are striving for in our catalogs:
- a. Subjective vs. objective (How we feel or respond vs. what is unchanging and true)
- b. Indicative vs. imperative (Reminding what Christ has done vs. what we do in response)
- c. Celebrational vs. contemplative (both in lyrical content and in musical mood)
- d. Individual vs. corporate (I and me vs. us and we)
A warning: many have moralized different categories of songs in recent years, which speaks to both an ignorance of the Psalms as well as church history. For example, in the hymnals I have collected from the 1800s, the most common first word found in the song titles is “I”. Balance is key.
2. It’s helpful for those you are trying to reach.
Every church has its own culture, and the music is part of that culture. When a new person walks through your doors they will not know the songs you use, which is to be expected, but you can make it easier for them to join in after a few weeks if you use a catalog to limit the sheer volume of content. We say, “a guest should recognize several songs if they spend a month with us”.
3. It’s helpful for your teaching pastor.
In many churches, the teaching pastor has ten times the theological training that the worship leader does. This is highly problematic, but that’s for another post on another day. Giving your teaching pastor a voice into the songs you use for Sundays is a great checkpoint, especially if they aren’t musically inclined. Using a catalog can help you work on the worship menu together and gives you a fighting chance at tying in the music with upcoming teaching themes. It also allows for your teaching pastor to request songs more easily when he has the catalog in hand. The same can be said for planning services.
4. It’s helpful for you.
Every worship leader knows that you have a certain number of songs you could play at any moment. There are another group of songs that with a quick glance at a lyric sheet you could pull off. Still other songs would require the music sheet to be in front of you and several practices. This is true because depending on many factors, you only have so much memory recall to allocate towards the songs you are playing.
“A guest should recognize several songs if they spend a month with us.”
Since a catalog limits the number of songs you play, assuming you go through at least portion of your catalog at practice means you also limit the time that has passed since you have played everything in your catalog. We play our whole catalog every 3 weeks or so. That means it’s never been more than 2 week since we played a song we are using for this quarter. I can’t overstate how helpful this is.
This saves time previously spent trying to remember that one tune you haven’t played for months. It creates space in practices for praying together, writing and creativity with your band or team, not to mention polishing the songs that need a little extra work.
These are only some of the benefits but it’s clear to see that catalogs are a incredibly useful tool for worship leaders. Type one up yourself or use PCO, but figure out a way to implement a catalog for greater clarity and intentionality in your worship ministry. You can download a sample of one of our catalogs here.
Anything we missed? Comment below.