Song Sheets Can Be Your Friend

A lot of worship leaders are under the impression that in order for people to “really worship”, then the words to the songs must be projected. Projecting lyrics can become not only a non-negotiable, but also an idol. PowerPoint will make our service more alive! MediaShout will get people’s hands in the air! Song sheets are the enemy!

I’ve come to learn that sometimes, song sheets can be your friend.

Now don’t get me wrong – I prefer projecting lyrics to printing them for several reasons. Here are just a few:

  • It gives me flexibility to make last-minute changes
  • It allows people’s heads and eyes to be lifted up
  • It frees people’s hands to be expressive (as the bible encourages)
  • It saves money by reducing the cost of paper, copying, and ink
  • It makes lyrics easier to disseminate to large numbers of people
  • It prevents waste of un-used paper
  • It avoids the problem of not printing enough copies of the lyrics
  • It helps promote unity in the congregation by physically pointing people in the same direction.

Most worship leaders would agree with those pro’s of projecting lyrics. The problem is when the pro’s of projecting lyrics blind us to the con’s.

The cons range from the practical:

  • The ceiling is too low
  • The church can’t afford a laptop and projector
  • The room is too bright
  • The sight-lines aren’t good
  • You’re leading in an open field

To the pastoral:

  • Some members of the congregation have threatened to leave if a screen ever appears in the general vicinity of the church
  • Projecting lyrics is more of a distraction than an aid

Worship leaders need to be able to be honest and objective enough to know when projecting lyrics would be a hindrance to people singing to God. In those instances, song sheets can be your friend.

In what we call the “main sanctuary” at my church, projecting the lyrics is a no-brainer. The screens, projectors, and computers are all permanently installed in the room and easy to use. But in our “historic church”, a civil-war era colonial-looking building, there aren’t any screens or projectors installed, and until we find a way to do that without disturbing the beauty of the space, projecting lyrics requires a good deal of work. After a couple years of going through all that trouble, I finally realized it was more trouble than it was worth. Deciding to just go ahead and use song sheets has been incredibly freeing.

Sometimes if the song sheet is for a home group, or a staff meeting, or an informal gathering where I’m just leading a couple of songs, I’ll put the songs on one half of a 8 ½ by 11 piece of paper. This way I can get two song sheets out of one piece of paper, and it’s not very big.

Other times, if the song sheet is for something more formal, like a healing service in the historic church, we’ll put a nicer looking heading on top of it so that it feels more official.

Here’s how I format the song sheets to make them not only readable but pleasant to read:

  • 12 or 14-point font
  • A readable font that has a bit more character than Arial or Times New Roman. Not too much character to be distracting, but just a little bit
  • Bold-ed song titles
  • Italicized chorus
  • 8-point font for the copyright information at the bottom of each song
  • One 6 or 8-point line between the sections of the song
  • Two full lines of 12 or 14-point space between each song

It’s totally fine (and understandable) to prefer projecting lyrics to printing them. I certainly do. And I look for ways to make rooms more conducive to doing so, since I think the advantages of projecting lyrics are worth some work. But, from time to time, the advantages of printing the lyrics are too great to overlook.

Projecting Excellence – Obeying Copyright Laws

Since this blog started in July, we’ve looked at a number of ways we can serve our congregations more effectively by making sure our projected lyrics are projected with excellence. So far we’ve covered line breaks, font size, keeping things in context, avoiding little mistakes, where to put the song title, not using all caps, and alignment.

One important topic we haven’t covered yet is what to do with the copyright information (i.e. author, copyright date, publishing company, etc.). This may not seem like the most exciting topic in the world – but it’s important that in everything we do, including trying to obey copyright laws, we’re seeking to honor God. There are rules to follow here, and choosing to ignore them or continue to be ignorant of them is a problem.

Step one: Get a CCLI license. Every church should have its own license, which costs a small annual fee, allowing it the freedom to duplicate song lyrics and music, project lyrics, record services, and more.  It is against federal law to copy song lyrics or music in any form without permission. This license is the easiest way to get that permission.

Step two: Before projecting lyrics to a song, find out the (1) song title, (2) author’s name, (3) year of copyright, (4) copyright notice (i.e. company), and (5) your church’s CCLI license number.

Here’s an example of how it should look from the CCLI website:
“Hallelujah.” Words and music by John Doe. © 2000 Good Music Co. CCLI License # 0000.

It’s not very difficult or complex.

Step three: Put all of that information on the bottom of the first slide of the song. It’s not necessary to put it on every single slide, and I’ve found that having it on the last slide means that the congregation begins to think that whenever the copyright information appears it means the song is almost over.

Here’s how it looks on our slide for the first verse of Stuart Townend’s song “Beautiful Savior”.

And a close-up.

On our slides, the font size for the lyrics is 38. The font size for the copyright information is 12, and centered in its own text box. This way it’s readable, fits on one line (most of the time), can be moved to a different slide if needed, and isn’t distracting.

You can read more about this in the FAQ section of CCLI’s website. Click here.  

Projecting Excellence – Does Alignment Matter?

At my church, we’ve found that using 38-point white Arial font on a black background is the most readable way to format our song lyrics. We center the lyrics, paying attention to line breaks, grammar, margins, and accuracy. We don’t want the lyrics to be distracting either in their flashiness or messiness. We aim for readable and easy to follow.

In our services we employ a good deal of liturgy and corporate prayers that are projected. We’ve discovered that it helps the congregation differentiate between song lyrics and prayer text if the prayer text or liturgy is left-aligned.

Here’s an example of the first verse of Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name”.

Blessed Be Your Name good
Here’s an example of the “prayer for purity” that we use for communion Sundays.

prayer for purity

And here’s a little bit our baptism liturgy.

Verses 2 – 4 of Psalm 103.

Psalm 103
We left-adjust almost everything we project that isn’t lyrics to a song. When you’re reading, not singing, something, it’s easier when it’s laid out like in a book, a website, a newspaper, etc. Most things you’re supposed to read are left-aligned.

If you use your screens to project prayers, creeds, or liturgies, think about helping the congregation read them more easily by aligning them to the left. Yes, a very small detail, but we’ve found it helpful. Maybe you will too.

Projecting Excellence: STOP SCREAMING!

I recently read a story about a woman in New Zealand who was fired from her job as accountant with no warning. Her offense? Sending confrontational emails. Confrontational in what way? “…Words in red, in bold, and in capital letters.”

Capital letters? CAPITAL LETTERS?

You may not be aware that capital letters, or “all caps”, is the universal way to scream and shout at people in print, over email, or on the internet. Want to get a point across? USE ALL CAPS! Want to be courteous and professional? Don’t use all caps.

Needless to say, it’s probably not a good idea to scream at your congregation when projecting lyrics. Check out this sample of an all-caps first verse of “How Great is Our God.”

How Great is Our God UPPER case

A few things stand out to me:

  • Yes, it does seem like someone is screaming
  • The words take up a lot of space on the screen
  • Reading the lines seems like hard work

Now check out the same verse in the standard mixed-case (upper and lower).

How Great is Our God lower case

  • It doesn’t seem like anyone is screaming at me
  • The words don’t take up as much space
  • It feels more natural to read the lines

You might think all caps looks kind of cool and different. Unfortunately, most people find it really annoying and distracting. Mind your manners on this one and remove that potential distraction while you’re at it.

Handling Awkward Moments – When the Lyrics Operator Falls Asleep

SpaceBarWe’ve all been there.

You’re leading a song on Sunday morning when all of the sudden everyone stops singing. You look over at the screen and realize the lyric operator (or whatever you call the person who controls the projection software) has not advanced the slide. You start to sweat. You can feel yourself growing impatient. You look back at the person and they’re oblivious. You feel like screaming “PRESS THE SPACE BAR!” but decide (wisely) that’s not a good idea. Finally after what seems like eighteen minutes, the lyric operator wakes up and advances the slide and everyone in the room breathes a collective sigh of relief.

How do you handle this situation?

First, a few suggestions of what not to do.

Don’t allow yourself to get angry
I saw this happen once when I was visiting a church in the UK. When the slide didn’t advance, the worship leader stopped singing (thereby making everyone else stop even though they knew the song by heart), let out a huge sigh, looked back at the lyric operator and gave him the kind of glare that said “I want to kill you”. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, it embarrasses the lyric operator. Second, it magnifies the distraction, as opposed to minimizing it. Third, it could result in the congregation getting angry and wanting to kill the lyrics operator too. You turn a late-advancing slide into a major crisis.

Don’t stop singing if you’re in the middle of a verse or chorus
Nothing screams “we are completely dependent on the screens” like stopping during a verse or chorus that’s already started. Just go ahead and finish whatever section of the song you’re in, hoping that most people will either know it by heart, or just patiently wait until the slide progresses again.

Don’t take it too seriously
If it happens all the time, you’ll need to talk with your lyric operator and ask them to be a bit more attentive. But if it happens once, just let it go. As someone who has operated the projection software from time to time, I know how easy it is to forget to advance the slide when you’re singing along, when a member of the congregation interrupts you, or when your mind wanders. Extend grace to the lyric operator and don’t take it too seriously.

Now, a few suggestions of what you can do.

Offer a subtle prompt to the lyric operator by talking to the congregation
Instead of saying “Sally, will you please advance the slide?” – try saying “let’s sing the next verse together”. If that doesn’t work, try saying “this next verse says ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise…’” By prompting the congregation, you just might jolt the lyric operator back to life.

Offer line prompts to the congregation
With a gentle and calm voice, call out the line before it’s sung. If you sound relaxed and like this was planned all along, you’ll minimize how much of a distraction is caused by the late-appearing slide.

Make a small joke out of it
In my post “When is it OK to Use Humor”, I suggested that, on occasion, the worship leader can use humor to break tension. When a room full of people is staring at a screen, and staring, and staring some more, it might get a little tense. Instead of feeding into it by being tense yourself, you can break it by making a small joke.

I had to do this when I led worship for an event in Bedford, Texas, with a few hundred pastors and bishops in a big tent, singing the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign”. I didn’t have the words in front of me, and was relying completely on the screen, which wasn’t such a good thing when I couldn’t remember how the third verse started. Neither could anyone else. We all stood there for about 10 seconds just waiting. Finally I made a joke and said something like “what do you all say we try singing the next verse now?

On the inside I was begging the person to “just press the space bar!” but, by God’s grace, I was able to relax, make a little joke out of it, break some of the tension, jolt the lyric operator to life, and help the congregation feel comfortable.

Go back and sing the verse or chorus again once the slide comes up
If we’ve gone through nearly an entire verse or chorus without the right slide (and the slide finally comes up at the very end), I’ll usually say “let’s sing that again”. In a way, it kind of redeems the fact that everyone stood there waiting for it the first time through.

Just wait for a few measures
The lyrics operator might get the hint if he or she realizes no one is singing. If we’ve ended a chorus and the next verse hasn’t come up yet, I might just play for another measure or two. Oftentimes that does the trick.

Connect with the lyrics operator before the service
This is something I could improve in. Take a few minutes before the service to connect with the person who will be in control of the lyric projection and let them know of any repeats you know about, any new songs you’re teaching, etc. This will help them be more alert and aware that you’re depending on them – and the congregation too.

Ultimately, if your lyric operator falls asleep during a song, you have a split-second decision to make: How big a deal am I going to allow this to become? If you want to make it a big deal, then stop the song, look angry, embarrass the volunteer, and distract everyone in the process. If you don’t want it to be a big deal, just relax, keep leading worship, offer some more prompts than usual, and don’t overreact.