So I’ve been working on a collection of songs for small churches for the last few months. In my work with congregations around NZ (and indeed in Australia and Scotland) I’ve noticed that while most of our contemporary worship music is written by large churches with amazing musical resources, when small churches with more limited musical resources try to recreate them they struggle. The songs tend to rely on their arrangements, thundering rhythm sections, or large vocal ranges which make it hard for small groups of ordinary humans to sing them well. I realised that songs for small churches needed to rely on what they did have, rather than what they didn’t. They have voices. They can carry a tune. They might even be able to sing harmonies if we leave some room in the arrangement for it!
So I created the ‘Songs for the Saints’ Songbook and resource CD. 13 songs that are melodically driven, that don’t need much more than a piano or guitar, and in a couple of songs that would be overdoing it. They are organised and presented to fit the movements of a worship service (call to worship, adoration, confession etc). They’re in keys that women and men can sing together, and they have ranges that don’t require professional vocal training to reach. They are songs for the saints. The little, ordinary saints, faithfully working in their small corner of God’s world. And I’m so pleased to be sharing this gift with them. You can order a hardcopy songbook and CD here, a copy of the CD alone here, or a digital version of the songbook here, or a download of the album here.
Perhaps that’s because I grew up in a small church. Sunday by Sunday we had about a dozen people in the church at Waihola. Our music was led from a guitar or the organ and we glided between choruses, hymns old and new and Scripture and Song. Sometimes the person operating the overhead projector would forget which direction to push the slide. That was ok, we knew the words.
Small churches are not big churches. Small groups of people with few or no instruments require different kinds of songs in order for them to work. They can’t rely on instrumentation for a lead, because there may not be any instruments. Or if there are instruments, it’s no good the piano belting it out because then we can’t hear ourselves sing. After all there’s only a dozen of us! Small churches need songs that are carried by voices. Our Presbyterian forebears knew this. Unaccompanied Psalm singing, allowing voices and harmonies to offer thanks and petitions to God is a big part of our story. They believed there was nothing more beautiful to offer God than our own voices. Perhaps it’s time to remember and reclaim that truth.
A friend of mine says, ‘God must love small churches, because there are plenty of them.’ These songs are a gift to the small churches of the PCANZ and beyond, and a reminder that these small churches are part of God’s gift to the world. Can we lay aside our feelings of inadequacy, our narratives of ‘we can’t do anything because we’re not big’ and remember the Sunday school stories we tell our children about David and Mary and Gideon? God is with us wherever we are.
These songs are arranged to follow the liturgical flow of a service, so you can find songs to fit whichever movement you’re after. They’ve also got Scriptural references included to help you build them into a service. The music is in the best possible key for men and women to sing together. The recordings have been done in such a way as to recreate the sound of a small congregation. The reason for this is two fold, firstly so that when you hear it, you are not filled with a feeling of, ‘well we could never sound like that’. Secondly, if your congregation is short of musicians at present, you may find these recordings useful to sing along with.
The songs themselves have been written over the last 4 years. Each one of them has been ‘road-tested’ congregationally. They draw on Scripture , ancient Christian worship (Christ before me) and more recent stories of God’s work here in Aotearoa.
I have not written these songs alone, because I never intended to sing them alone. A number have been collaborative efforts with good friends. But even those with only my name beside them have been honed and strengthened by congregations up and down the country. My thanks to you all.