I thought I'd share a framework that I've recently developed that is designed to give our song selection process more transparency, objectivity and consideration. This framework is called a 'SWIM analysis', better framed in the phrase "How does it SWIM?".
S.W.I.M stands for Strengths Weaknesses Intent and Matching, and helps us consider whether a new song is valuable as a congregational song and appropriate for our context. Here's a breakdown of each section.
Here, we list the strengths of a song. This is generally the easiest section, as we're normally choosing a song because we like it. It's good to get the reasons why we like the song down on paper though. These can be things like memorable melodies, ease of learning, good handling of theological topics, clarity of meaning in lyrics and helpful biblical references.
This is a tougher one to fill out if we really like the song, but it's good to be as honest and impartial as we can. Remember, a song we sing in church is something that we're going to be expecting everyone to sing and will shape our congregation's theology somewhat. New songs need to be considered as best as possible. Weaknesses can stretch from musical technicalities like a difficult melody, note range or fixed arrangement style to unclear lyrics or poor handling of theology. If a song has a strong chorus and a poorly written verse, I would make those distinctions in these first two sections, rather than try and average out the good/bad melodies/lyrics.
These next two sections will evaluate the song's place in your church's context and song list. These are governed by some questions to ask yourself about the song you're considering.
This section tries to drill down the meaning of the song. This meaning will change in varying contexts, so there are actually two meanings we need to think about. Firstly, ask yourself 'Why did the songwriter write this song? What is the original meaning?'.
Sometimes songs are released with background stories on the artist's websites that are helpful. Worshiptogether.com occasionally has interviews with the artists or written blurbs about the songs that make this pretty clear. The next question is 'Why would we sing this song at our church? What does it mean for us?'. Think about what your church is dealing with at the moment, what you're preaching through and what's coming up in the life of your congregation.
This section narrows down your potential song to the context of the other songs in your song list. There are two main areas to consider here, theological and musical. Theological matching considers aspects such as topical themes and styles of language (congregational/personal etc) while musical matching looks at tempos, time signatures and playable keys. This will help you work out if you already have songs about this topic you could use instead (or perhaps older songs you could remove and replace with the new one), as well as how this new song might flow into other songs in a set.
Once you've gone through a SWIM analysis on a new song, you should have a clearer picture of how the song will fit in your church as well as a more defined idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the song. It also gives your ministry staff something considered and objective to discuss and ask questions about, while equipping both of you with some common language to discuss the sections.
If you'd like a copy of a song submission form I've done up that includes a table that goes through SWIM, get in touch using with the Contact Me tab. Happy to email it in .pages, .docx or .pdf format.