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A tongue-in-cheek guide to penning truly horrible worship songs.

So you finally learned to play the guitar and now you’re wondering, “How do I write a truly awful worship song?”

You’ve come to the right place, my friend. Here are some surefire ways to write a truly horrible worship song.

1. Recycle a Love Song.

Write a song for your girlfriend. When she breaks up with you, convert it into a worship song. Be sure to change all uses of “girl” or “baby.”

2. Use Time-Tested Rhymes.

Make sure you rhyme “love” and “above” at least twice.

The song becomes doubly awful if you can also incorporate the word “dove.” Example: “You sent your love from above, makes my heart feel like a pure white dove.” You get the point.

3. Be Vague About Your Theology.

Make sure to avoid any theology at all costs.

Don’t talk about atonement, wrath or any other biblical concepts. You want your song to be all about feeling. Don’t let the mind get in the way.

Repeat after me: “Worship is a warm feeling, sort of like heartburn, only better.”

4. Make the Song All About You.

The main point of your song should be your experiences and how God makes you feel.

Don’t bother with objective truth about God. I would suggest you use the words “I” or “me” at least 12-15 times.

For example: “I feel like singing, yes, I feel like spinning, because You make me feel so good inside. Like it’s my birthday, but more awesome.”

Stephen Altrogge Stephen Altrogge works as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, working with college students, and shining his dad’s shoes. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wanabes, which was published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, which will be published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games.

More from Stephen Altrogge or visit Stephen at http://www.theblazingcenter.com

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  • jenny

    that..was…fantastic

  • wayne

    Right on!…I mean, that was accurate sarcasm. I would add that you need to always read the verse(s) of Scripture that "proof-text" your song— even if it has little or nothing to do with your song!?

  • kylemullaney

    Finally an apt description of most of modern, marketable, American “christian” music! Sad description of the culture and the church that accepts it! I have been out of the country for 5 years I realize there is a lot of new music that is great but where I am we are still getting the stuff that has money and marketing potential. If you need a description see the above notes!

    I would add be sure that you have a translation and international marketing budget so you can take these new catchy song to foreign churches that are seeking God and more solid than those you are marketing to so that they can enjoy the same self-centeredness, degradation in thought, care for God, spirituality, and love for the word of God. This will help the support missions by in the duplicating impotent churches “american” style churches abroad!

    Again I reallze and I am very greatful that this is not a apt description of the many faithful churches in america. Is is a real joy to see a new church or movement of God that I haven’t seen before, every month or so. I believe God is working in a way that the church in America doesn’t quite see and it is wonderful. Another pastor here made the same comment to me a few weeks ago. I hope God keeps working. All reading please seek purity. Get Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen. It is edited by Justin Taylor
    http://www.crossway.org/books/overcoming-sin-and-temptation-ebook/
    Read it in prayer and apply it.

  • Matt

    Never ever ever write a religious song.

    • Zoezildjian26

      Right!

  • peterhamm

    Here’s another one. Put everything you’ve ever thought about concerning God into ONE song with 6 verses at least.

  • Chris Thom

    Be sure to include references that only relate to you. i.e. ‘when I was on drugs you cleaned me up’.

    Consider rewriting the words to a ‘secular’ song so the song can now be ‘redeemed’. For example, ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ can be ‘God Blessed Man’. ‘Colour My World’ & ‘Knights in White Satin’ don’t need rewrites. Ed Note – I’ve actually heard those two played as part of a worship service.

    Include musical sections in the middle & end that are at least 5 minutes long where the band can jam instrumentally when they feel the ‘spirit’. Bass & drum solos are essential in this so the people can yell ‘woo!’. It’s OK to listen to live Grateful Dead recordings for inspiration because you’re the ‘Grateful Living’.

  • Chris Thom

    Forgot one:

    Be thinking how ‘how marketable is this song’ because it only takes the right person hearing it & BOOM, ‘Shout to the Lord’ all over again.

  • Christian Ibzu

    And the greatest??: AVOID Jesus Christ’s name! If don’t, people could feel a religious agression. o_O

  • Grantmaker

    Songwriting is a great gift that only a few great songwriters possess.  All of us can make a joyful noise but only a few can provide the order and form and creativity needed to give birth to a beautiful song. 

    I think another component to the mix is faith mixed with zeal.  It was Charles Wesley who said “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn”.

    • Fencepost

      God said “make a joyful noise” rather than a “joyful song” because He knew not everyone could sing.

  • Tim

    As a Christian who is a songwriter, I strive for honesty in my lyrics. Sadly, that’s not always popular in the Church. What? Yes…true. We have embraced songs that paint an unreal picture of our spiritual journey (“Every move I make I make in you, Jesus”…really?) And that leaves believers feeling either unworthy, or questioning the authenticity of the author. 
    It’s time we got brutally honest with our worship. “God I’m a sinner. And I need you. Thank you for your grace and mercy”, etc.”
    There’s a reason Amazing Grace has stood the test of time. It’s honest (“…to save a wretch like me…”) and it acknowledges God for who He is…a gracious redeemer who surpasses even our wildest dreams.

    • Chris Thom

      One problem is that so many seem to ‘grow up in the church’ (personally, my family had a house) that they have no idea what a wretch is or what they’ve been saved from. I find that many take their salvation for granted since it’s been all they’ve known.

      It’s like how so many take for granted the life we have in this country. It takes leaving for a while & visiting the 3rd world to realize how good we’ve got it.

      • http://www.livingmartyrs.com/ brad

         Or, um, how bad.

        The 3rd world has a lot to teach us about authenticity in worship.

    • rob

       I feel the exact same way… I used to get really convicted because every move I made wasn’t for God… because I messed up a lot.

  • Doug Sloan

    Make a 7-11 song.
    7 words repeated 11 times
    …or is it the other way around?

    • Grantmaker

      I’m really enjoying Stephen’s post and the many insightful comments that it has generated. 

      This is not necessarily a comment to defend the short, repetitive choruses but just my observations in general on how music styles change over the years.

      In the late 80’s and  early 90’s most of the popular worship songs were only choruses (but usually more than 7 words).  These choruses were easily memorized and would be repeated over and over during worship (with a modulation here and there) and usually with eyes closed and hands raised.  Some of these worship services would last for 1-2 hours or more just by singing only a handful of repetitive short choruses. 

      I would not try that in my church today but even this repetitive style was nothing compared to the still popular Taize worship songs (which I think originated in the 1960’s).  You can google Jacques Berthier and view a number of videos of his music to get a sampling of this worship style.
       
      It’s no secret that God never changes but cultures and technologies certainly do.  In this generation alone popular internet media outlets such as You Tube have exposed Christian music simultaneously to literally every nation on earth.  It is exciting and a little scary at the same time.  God has raised up talented artists like Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Darlene Zschech and an army of other individuals and groups who minister so well to this current generation.  

      He did the same thing 30-40 years ago with Keith Green, Barry McGuire, Pat Terry, Twila Paris, Jack Hayford and a lot of other wonderful singers and songwriters, many of who are still going strong in some kind of music ministry.   Back then God used their ‘new’ music to help pull thousands upon thousands of new, young Christians into the fold just like what is happening today with the ‘contemporary’ artists.  

      I don’t think we can overstate the importance of inspired Christian music as a vital tool God uses to permanently turn the hearts of so many to Him.  We are blessed to see such powerful Christian music being created today by so many talented and committed Christian artists.  Can’t wait to see what the next generation brings.

      J.R.

  • Dancroy

    Make sure you build in at least 6 codas. You can never have enough religions of the last meaningless word or phrase or guttural sound (e.g. “Ah”).

  • Noelle

    I know it’s sad, but I sort of hate Christian music. Repetitive choruses, meaningless lyrics (“make me a candle that burns for You?” C’mon, do we really want to be made of wax?), and the all too familiar “oooooh’s” and the occasional “Lord!” thrown into the mix really make Christian music so tiresome for me. I guess that’s why secular singers never write their own songs…

    • sion7

      If you are looking for good Christian music, you should seek the oldies, much better than today.

    • Fernando Villegas

      Are you not familiar with the concept of *metaphors* in lyrics? It’s not just Christian music, *all* music has lyrics that are not meant to be taken literally, that in itself does not make it meaningless.

  • Amb Ken

    Whatever critiques, whatever praises yelled concerning Christian music, the bottom line is that God should be praise, God should be worship. Let Christian music be such that can provoke people to worship God’s awesomeness and themselves get edified and get closer to the Lord; and be fired up for missions; I mean to have a lost soul brought to God’s saving knowledge.

  • http://sacramentalnazarenes.blogspot.com Brannon Hancock

    8. Key it way too high for the mere mortals in the congregation to sing along.

    9. Use creepily erotic imagery (e.g. “Come nibble on my ear and surround me with your love”; or, “Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place” – oops, somebody really wrote that one).

    10. Copy the basic formula of Hillsong / Jesus Culture / Crowder*band / RedmanTomlinBrewsterEtc

    11. Don’t look to the Bible for inspiration.

    12. One word: POLKA!

    • Pseudopunker

      yes on number 9…it makes me feel really uncomfortable.

  • Landon Springer

    Verses, prechorus, chorus, bridge, and vocal interludes should be complex enough to take the congregation at least six weeks to learn.  By then, your team will be utterly sick of the song, and beg you never to do it again.

    Make the words so unpredictable that the congregation begins to hum if the powerpoint guy can’t find the next slide.

    Make the dynamics of the song so dependent upon one instrument that it’s a trainwreck if the bassist comes down with the flu.

    The best songs have at least three key changes, and some augmented/diminished chord that keeps the guitarist on his/her toes.

    Never, and I mean EVER, allow room for the congregation to break out in spontaneous worship.  Structure is golden, and people can only worship God the way you intended.  You’re the expert, after all.

  • Jakejohensen

    When a normal chord progression just feels too mainstream, use the Dorian Mode.

    Multiple time signatures bring hearts closer to God.  Remember, if 7 is a representation of perfection,  7/4 time must be even better.

    ALWAYS include a secondary chorus that is only sung A Capella.

    John Cage references are always a hit with the crowd.

    Lyrics can sometimes be substituted for mumblings, or as some like to put it, “Singing in tongues.” This was made popular by 90’s alternative band Pearl Jam, but has crossed over into the Christian Music scene.

    Include lyrics about cats.  We would not want our Reddit followers in the congregation to feel left out.

    Don’t be afraid to experience with music from other religious backgrounds.  “Our God” has never sounded better than played in minor on a sitar.

  • Danshep

    I recall the 7/11 method of 7 words, repeated 11 times. Also, use the. Words peace, joy, and happy incessantly. Finally, be sure to shout the name of Jeesus, Jeesus, Jeesus.

  • Rich

    Here’s one: Avoid the use of actual Holy Scripture at all costs. It might lead to accidentally mentions things like judgment, condemnation, hell, or even that thing called sin.

  • Jon

    Many may be surprised when Jesus appears again in His glory and learn that it wasn’t the wording, tune, instrument or structure that mattered but the heart from which the worship of our Savior flowed. We all have our own likes and dislikes, preferences and passions, but what matters is what Jesus says! When we try to put words in His mouth, overtly or covertly, we are treading on forbidden ground. Just my thoughts. I like it all! For three different styles of “song/hymns” check out Psalm 117, Psalm 119 and Psalm 136.

  • Fencepost

    Make sure you repeat the last chorus twice during every rehearsal. Rehearse it the same every time.

    Then during worship, change it up without telling the sound tech or the powerpoint guy. For example, you might switch the last two verses around, then repeat the last chorus three times (as the spirit moves you). It keeps the sound guy on his toes (we thrive on ad libbing!) and keeps things spontaneous.

    (Remember to schedule time to be spontaneous. In fact, put that right in the program, so the congregation will know when to spontaneously rejoice.)

  • JenMuse

    Always stretch the name of Jesus across 3 or 4 (or more!) sustained notes.

  • Lewecker

    Be sure to add complicated rhythmic patterns and as much syncopation as possible, then stick in some random “rests” or pauses in the lyrics so that only the elite (those of us who actually read music) can sing it correctly. Oh, don’t forget to include a lot of Christian code words/phrases like “Ebenezer,” “cleansing fire,” or “holy flame.” Hey, I’ve actually heard a nice rendition of Amazing Grace set to House of the Rising Sun. Steel guitar is a very under used instrument in most churches today.

  • daveonawave27

    Make the tune as complex as possible so that no one can sing along with you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.d.rowland Michael David Rowland

    How about trading cute for Biblical truth?
    “I will walk by faith even when I can not see.” If you can see you are not truly walking by faith.
    “Cause You know just how far the East is from the West From one scarred hand to the other.” The whole idea Jesus was trying to make was it was infinite, it can not be measured. If it can be measured then your sins can be retrieved.
    I first noticed this in th eold hymm that said “Lord, build me a cabin in the corner of Gloryland.” The Bible doesn’t say we will have cabins. It also doesn’t say we’ll have mansions either. Jesus said that there are mansions, but ihe said he went to prepare a place for us, not an entire mansion.

  • Drew

    Good Aricle

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    Sing all new songs every week that the congregation does not know. That way the people will stand mute while the professionals perform for God. Think medieval Catholicism.

  • Simon

    Can’t believe the sarcasm in all the comments! Wasn’t sure if anyone made a serious response. Saying that, I’m not even sure if my comment is serious. However, I would even like to question the title: “7 ways to write an awful worship song”. Isn’t that an oxymoron? If it is our worship (worth-ship) to God or our expression of praise to God, how can it be awful? Does God view our worship as awful?

    God created all of us as unique individuals who are different, therefore we express ourselves differently. Maybe a better title would be: “7 different ways to write a worship song”

    When I read the article I only saw a lot of judging or what is right and wrong. This critique came from an individual who I feel feels that the most contemporary worship is best. Therefore, I think we need to be careful that we don’t impose our style and beliefs on everyone, rejecting all other’s as wrong.

    Back to my beginning question: Can true worship ever be awful? Sounds a lot like what David’s wife said when he returned from battle, worshipping God through dance (what an awful dance!).

    • Bekah J

      Worship in itself is never awful. It’s the #1 thing we as…well, humans…are called to do. God made us to all be different people, and with true worship, there’s no way to “do it wrong”.

      But, I think, critiquing worship SONGS and critiquing people giving glory to God are not the same thing. No matter where your heart is, when you release a song as an official song, I still think it should be allowed to be judged as art, because that’s still what it is. Poorly written lyrics or boring melodies make me cringe and lose interest, and can very easily distract me from focusing on God. Not that worship depends on whether all MY preferences are met, but I still find that beautiful things point me to God.

      I’m not as critical of modern worship songs as some people are, and there are a lot of things I like that they don’t. But it does bother me when songwriters seem to put very little effort into creating a worship song. If I’m creating something for God, I want to do everything I can to make sure it’s the best-written thing it can be. If I don’t, if I settle for something low-quality when I don’t have to, it feels a bit dishonoring to God.

      On the other hand, though, I agree that it’s too easy for to get too critical, which can lead us away from a spirit of love toward other Christians. That’s something we need to be very careful of.

  • John Horst

    Yo, you’re asking for suggestions? You’re not willing to defend your 7 steps like they’re your 7 children? Step #1 would be your firstborn, right???

  • Kathy

    Make your song in a key known only to the leader and his group: that way you can berate the congregation for not singing ‘properly’.

  • Robert

    I’m a worship leader who has never written a song because I’ve never felt the leadership of the Holy Spirit to do so. ( I genuinely hope that’s not because I wasn’t listening!). I find this article (and the comments) not only very funny but very informative. Thanks…

  • F.J.

    Here’s an idea. Be creative and allow others to be creative. We are alleged followers of the Supreme Creator, we are His image bearers. The article was tongue in cheek; I get it. But reading through the comments it is plain to see why the church no longer dominates the arts. Good grief, as a songwriter I read through some of these comments and it is clear why the state of Christian art is a dilapidated framework of what it once was. Apparently in Christian art, metaphor is not allowed. Nor is the straight vernacular of the day. Simple is bad but so is complex. 3 chords bad, 3 key changes worse. Simple repetitive melody is trite and undesirable but unpredictable is unacceptable. Sad, sad, sad.

  • TomG

    Make sure you include words like “wanna” and gonna” so we can really debase the glorious English language and teach our kids that poor grammar is cool!

  • Eleanor

    I would really like to sing any worship song that has a complex tune, has more than one verse, has a chorus, and is focused on the theme that WE are one body and we are singing to enter into worship AS ONE BODY with Jesus Christ. This song should be easily identified as a worship song when sung or played in any venue and should not sound like a secular song. Sadly, many worship songs are set in the popular “rock beat” and seem to consist of the same easy-to-sing notes and chords. To partially satisfy anyone who still likes the old hymns, a number of songs have been written which link favorite hymns (which have been rockified) to other songs. The only thing that this accomplishes is to technically provide hymns to people who want them without offending those whose musical tastes are more towards rock music.