Planning a worship setlist does not have to be complicated. Is the work important? Absolutely. CAN it be complicated? Absolutely. But it doesn't have to be.
One way to keep it simple and focused is to start with the scriptures. After all, as powerful and wonderful as music is, it's the Word of God that "...is God-breathed and is useful for teaching...correcting...training in righteousness..." (2 Timothy 3: 16-17). So, what part of the text is your Pastor, teacher, speaker, etc. teaching on? Start there, and collect musical and creative ideas to support that.
Here's an example of how I sometimes do this.
Let's keep it simple and look at a well known verse: John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." After I read through the scripture, I take time in prayer. I ask God to lead me in my planning, recognizing that the same Spirit that "moves" in a service is the same Spirit that directs my planning, preparation, and creativity (side note - I'll be sharing more thoughts on this in future posts...spontaneity does not always equal Spirit led...anyways, back to setlist planning : ) ). I also ask God to bring to mind stories of the congregation or group I'm leading, things they are going through in life, things they've shared with me or our team (which means you need to know the people you're leading. More on that later, too : ) ). And don't forget your own life and worship; how does this verse inspire you? What does it speak to in your own life? Write down any ideas that pop to mind.
Next, I take a look at what's in the scripture that I'm supporting to see what's there. Here are a few things I notice right off:
1) God LOVES us. All of us. He loves us so much that he was willing to part with his ONLY SON for us. I have two sons. I cannot imagine doing what God did. It's incredible.
2) God is generous. "...He GAVE His only son..."
3) God gives us a choice. I sometimes think of God as a gentleman, giving us the info but allowing us to decide. He is patient, kind, loving, etc.
4) God hopes and wants us to choose Him. He wants us to be in relationship with Him.
I also recognize that this verse is so well known and so familiar to a lot of people, that it might be helpful to try and find or write a song or creative element that can support the idea in a fresh way.
Now it's brainstorming time. I love love love brainstorming! It's like a workout and massage for your brain at the same time!
In this brainstorming stage, try to learn to let ideas be what they are without picking them apart. No idea is a bad one at this point, and one idea can lead to another which can lead to another, etc. Capture song ideas, call to worship ideas, responsive readings, poetry readings, and other creative elements as well.
Once you've got your ideas, walk away. Yep. Let things be for 24 hours. The human brain and mind are amazing. And they need time to sit with these ideas. Come back to your brainstorming and planning tomorrow with fresh eyes and see what happens.
Then once you've collected ideas, let it sit, and come back to add any other ideas, its time to edit and put it all together. Remember, we're supporting John 3:16. I'm going to keep this final setlist example very straightforward:
Call to Worship: Here, I'll speak to the character of God that we find in John 3:16. God's love, generosity, and patience with us reflected in the gift of His Son, Jesus.
Opening Song: "Great Things" by Phil Wickham (I really love starting with a song that also has a call to worship vibe to it)
Next Song: "Firm Foundation" by Maverick City and Cody Carnes
Tag: chorus of "Goodness of God" by Bethel
Final Song before teaching: "I Thank God" by Upperroom/Maverick City OR a hymn like "Amazing Grace" or "Nothing But the Blood"
**Optional: Response song: "I Thank God" if not used above OR something like "Thank You Jesus" by Hillsong
One of the fun things about planning a worship setlist is that there's no "right" or "wrong" choices. In this case, it's about working to support the scripture and making sure the people I'm leading can sing along with me, aka choosing songs that they're familiar with or keeping choices simple enough that they'll be easy to teach and join in with.
I hope this is helpful to you as you're being diligent to bring your best to God and the people you serve! I'd also love to know how you plan set lists. Leave a comment below and let me know!