A revolution in writing and sharing worship songs?
You might have come across RESOUNDworship.org – a website sharing new worship songs for free, by a relatively unknown group of writers. We’ve had no major-label backing, little or no budget, and have worked on it mostly in our spare time, and yet the site has over 8.500 subscribers and has resourced churches worldwide. And we’re thinking – there must be plenty of other people out there with great songs who could be doing this! So we thought we’d share our story, and see if we couldn’t spark a revolution…
We started off with the same questions as thousands of worship songwriters around the world – how can we improve our lyrics so they are more biblical and inspiring? How can we make our music contemporary and engaging, yet still singable in the average church? And how can we share our stuff with the wider church, without a publishing deal or a slot at the latest festival?
So we dreamt up the idea of a small group, writing songs for their local church, and meeting a few times a year with the expressed aim of critiquing one another’s lyrics and music. We were inspired by the story of the Jubilate Group, who since the 1960s have been producing material for worship that has been through a peer critique process. We didn’t know then just how hard that would sometimes be – playing your ‘baby’ to the rest of the group, only to be met with an awkward silence, or the classic line: “Well, I think you’ve made a good start, but…”!
We started a closed web forum to continue the conversations and revisions online, but have found that it is vital to continue meeting face-to-face for good relationships; we pray and worship together, and have grown close. Although the process is sometimes frustrating (especially when two bits of critique contradict each other!) we have definitely developed as writers through the journey and produced much better songs as a result. For example – the Easter song On the Darkest Day originally began with the metaphor of light and dark, but then moved off in other images of the resurrection. It was fed-back that the light/dark images should continue throughout the lyrics, and this led to a much stronger development of the initial idea.
The songs go through an extra anonymous check process when we send them off to a panel of Bible experts, including staff at London School of Theology – again, this can sometimes be painful, but worth it! Then we record the best of them onto laptops as good quality demos. It is a balancing act to present the song in a fresh and engaging way, without over-producing or adding musical flourishes that will put the song outside the reach of an ‘average’ church band. A good example of where we think this has worked well is our most recent post – You are a refuge (Arms).
The next step was to develop a website – RESOUNDworship.org. With the generous support of the Jubilate Group we launched our first site in 2007, committed to sharing mp3s, lead sheets and chord charts for free. We didn’t know that in just four years the website would have attracted over 8,500 subscribers, or generated feedback from local churches all over the world, such as these:
“A fantastic resource for the worshipping church. Simple to use and a great way for band members and singers to learn new songs and to introduce them to the congregation.” Martin
“Our church has been through a very hard couple of years without a minister… I want to be honest about how we feel. This song [You lead us through] has provided just the right balance between faith & the struggles we face both as a church and as individuals.” Erika
‘We have sung “When our songs” – it was quite hard-hitting as we sang it at a service following a period of xenophobic violence where our church was quite instrumental in caring for victims who had been violently removed from their shacks in the squatter camps near our town…” Linda, South Africa
Due to demand we have added piano scores, backing tracks, and the occasional choir and orchestra score to the free downloads. We have also been thrilled by the response we get to seasonal material – Christmas and Easter are always our most popular periods, and we get lots of emails telling stories of how the songs have touched guests and regular attenders. Here are a few –
“I found your website when I was trying to find some new and different Christmas songs. We loved them! Besides the wonderful music, the lyrics brought the scriptures to life. We will be using them for years to come, I assure you.” Heather
“On Christmas Day… contains finely crafted theology in a 12/8 feel with an anthemic chorus. Bob Kauflin, WorshipMatters.com
“I used this [What kind of throne] at Christmas, and it was very well received, but I have found that this song echoes with a message that needs to be shared year round, so I’m using it again and again.” Peter
We’re in an exciting period right now, having just relaunched our website with new features, new songs and a fresh interface. We’ve already had great feedback:
“RESOUNDworship.org was already one of the most creative developments in worship in recent years, taking seriously the theological truth that the Spirit is poured out on the whole church, not just on songwriters and publishers. The new website makes it even easier for the whole church to get involved… This is a great example of the internet being used for the good of the whole church.” Mark Earey
In addition we’re deepening our links with London School of Theology, taking an active role in the Songwriting modules taken by students on the Theology, Music and Worship degree courses. The aim is to help them hone their songs, and then to record the best at the end of the year to share with the wider church. It is great to be able to pass our experiences on to the next generation, and exciting to see their fresh approaches to music and lyrics.
We often get sent songs to consider for the site, but in reality we can rarely use them, due to our group-critique process and the fact that we all do this in our spare time. Our response is usually this – you don’t need our site! Start your own songwriting group. Get as much input as you can. Record the songs at whatever quality you can. Put your stuff on the web. Use it in your local church. Trust God to do the rest.
We don’t want to start an empire – but we’d love to be part of starting a revolution!
Sam Hargreaves, Matt Osgood, Joel Payne and David Peacock, co-leaders RESOUNDworship.org