It’s Tuesday night, you’re sitting at the computer browsing a digital song concordance (or perusing a hymnal), sipping a bold cup of joe, and making a song list for the upcoming Sunday worship. Sometimes, these lists practically write themselves and sometimes, it takes a bit of digging to compile a solid song set. In churches of Christ, one of the most difficult songs to choose is the response or invitation song, at least for thoughtful leaders.
By nature, response songs should evoke or encourage a response to the Gospel, or at least get people thinking about their condition. We try not to sing anything even remotely unfamiliar because we want as much focus on the message and the occasion as possible. If we pick something that people can sing from memory, even better!
Every thoughtful worship leader has a difficult balance to maintain. We have a theme we’re planning that is parallel or complementary to the sermon, we have the balance of the functional and the interesting (there are plenty of songs that suit the occasion but aren’t particularly moving), the tired and the fresh, the nostalgic and the trendy. By the way, young worship leaders, when the older folks ask for you to lead “the old songs”, they don’t mean 17th century German chorales. They mean they want something nostalgic, and that usually means a gospel or Southern gospel ditty from the early teens to the 50s, but I digress!
When planning the response song, familiarity is important, but with the right perspective of the occasion, it doesn’t have to be the primary objective. Our primary objective is to evoke a response, causing somebody to reach out to the church or connect with Jesus, or to at least consider their condition and leave the assembly with the resolve to go to war with their vices. “All Things Are Ready” is not the only tool at our disposal, which might come as a shock to some song leaders (this is a low blow, I know).
We need to dig a little deeper and look beyond the “invitation songs” section of the topical index. What spiritual concepts might soften a heart and evoke a response? What well-known hymns touch on those ideas? If you look outside the “invitation songs” box, you will be amazed how many songs work extremely well here, and some that are effective because they’re traditionally used elsewhere in a worship service.
Consider the following concepts: Prayer, cleansing, lament for sin, praise for redemption, refuge, and resolve. Each of those ideas contains a world of possibilities, and precious few of the songs are being used in this part of worship, meaning you have a trove of fresh material. Sweet!
Here are a few suggested titles for each topic:
- Servant Song
- On Bended Knee
- Purer in Heart
- I Need Thee Every Hour
- Nearer, Still Nearer
- My Faith Looks Up to Thee
- Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
- There’s a Fountain Free
- There is a Fountain
- Lamb of God
- Nothing but the Blood
- What the Lord Has Done in Me (Hosanna to the Lamb)
- Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed (please for the love of all things holy, OMIT the ridiculous chorus!)
- How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
- Lord, Jesus, Think on Me
- Flee As a Bird
- I’m the One (arguably not my favorite, but it fits)
- Father, We Have Sinned (Townend-Getty)
Praise for Redemption
- O Thou Fount of Every Blessing
- Hallelujah! What a Savior!
- Revive Us Again
- Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart
- At Calvary
- To God Be the Glory
- Here Is Love
- The Power of the Cross
- The Battle Belongs to the Lord
- Hide Me Away, O Lord
- A Shelter in the Time of Storm (the minor version is fantastic!)
- Come, Ye Sinners
- What a Friend We Have in Jesus
- I Am Coming, Lord
- I Surrender All
- I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
- Just As I Am
- Lord, I Lay My Life at Your Feet
- A Passion for My God
- Be Thou My Vision
You could easily add topics to this list, and titles to each of them. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but rather a sample to get the juices flowing. Get creative and think outside the box! Our job as worship leaders is to stir up the brethren to love and good works (Hebrews 10.24-25).
We have a tremendous responsibility, yet also tremendous resources at our disposal, for there has never been a time where the church had so much good music in its arsenal. Let’s sing the songs that soften hearts and evoke change, which will only happen through intentionality in worship planning and leading. The brethren and almighty God deserve nothing less.