If you're a fan of the show The Office you'll remember an episode where Jim and Dwight try their hand at planning a birthday party for Kelly. Obviously out of their depth, they order a cake. A plain white cake with no decoration or lettering.
Kelly takes one look and disappointedly remarks "I don't know what the theme is. What's the theme?...there's always a theme"
A set list without Thematic Thoughtfulness can fall as flat as that plain vanilla cake.
What Do You Mean?
When I say Thematic Thoughtfulness I mean giving careful attention to the lyrics and theme of each individual song and how they fit into the larger order of service. I don't mean you should choose a theme, God's Grace for instance, and then sing five songs about the grace of God.
So what does Thematic Thoughtfulness look like?
It's easy to find a song about the love of God. God's love is "Fierce", "Furious", "Reckless", "Relentless". The love of God gets a lot of air time. A strong set list allows the church to marvel at God and respond to Him in different ways.
We all have our favorite kind of song. If we're not careful we can sing over and over about the love of God without ever celebrating His power. Or we can cry out repeatedly for His presence without ever confessing our devotion.
Thematic Thoughtfulness begins before you even start planning for a Sunday. Each time you choose a new song to introduce, consider its theme. Does it bring new light to who God is or is it more of the same?
A lot can happen in the span of a single set list. We gather, encourage, reveal, respond, teach, and adore through song. If you've chosen wisely each entry in your master song list is strong and valuable. Standing on its own two feet.
But this doesn't mean you can grab four songs, put one after another, and expect a meaningful encounter. Each song should follow its predecessor in a thoughtful way.
There's no formula. The soil of set list planning is fertile ground for creativity. When ordering your songs simply ask, "does it make sense for this song to come next?" Don't let tempo, key, and musical flow muscle their way to top priority. Consider the theme of the song. What are the lyrics saying?
Take a moment to read Part 2 of the Setlist Checklist Series, "A Progression With Purpose". Start here and you're well on your way to thematic unity.
Some churches choose every song in a service based on the teaching topic. Other's give no thought at all to the Pastor's theme or text.
Wherever you land on this spectrum it's always a good idea to read the Scripture being taught for the service you're planning. Search for themes and pray over songs that can reinforce them. People may never notice a connection between song and sermon but the intentionality can't hurt.
If nothing else, carefully consider your closing song(s) after the teaching. If they don't connect to the topic directly they should at least suit the mood the Pastor lands on. An obvious blunder would be launching into an upbeat, celebratory song right after the Pastor closes on a point about solemn repentance.