I had the privilege of sitting in on Brenton Brown‘s workshop on “worship song writing” this weekend at the CMS event in Buffalo, NY. He’s known for writing such memorable choruses as Your Love Is Amazing, Lord Reign In Me and Holy Holy Holy.

Aside from appreciating Brenton’s ability to articulate profound truth with effortless means both with regard to Christianity and in teaching song writing, he’s also an extremely personable man. The first time I ever met him, we were sitting in the VIP trailer at Creation, talking about South Africa, Boy Scouts and family. He didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him; only later would I piece together just who he was.

His points on song writing for churches were profound enough that I felt lead to share them here over the next three days. I hope his words are as inspirational to you as they were to me, and that my notes do his talking points justice. I’ve taken the liberty to expound in places in the hopes of capturing what he was saying and eliminating the “chicken scratch” mentality of the moment I wrote this in.

Enjoy. And write well.



It Feels Like Fishing

Our goal is to help a large group of non-musician people who don’t normally sing at all to worship the Lord with music.

We need to write songs that are easy enough for a large group of diverse people to sing, but interesting enough that people will want to sing them again.

-Brenton Brown

This thing is art. It’s elusive. And songs are like hums:

You don’t find hums, hums find you.

-Winnie the Pooh

To get “found” by a song, you need to find head spaces that inspire you. This is because we’re essentially playing when we make music. It’s important to be in a playful mood when you write. The other head space we write from is pain, brokenness and desperation, and I don’t recommend actively looking for that one.

What things make you happy? What seasons where you most prolifically writing in? Take 30-seconds to think of these things and seasons in your life.

My wife tends to know what mine are better than I do; I love to be around water and to surf. She has always notices that I’m happier when I come home from surfing, and grumpy when I’m not. So she’ll kick me out of the house on occasion to go surf. I tend to write a lot of my songs while I’m sitting on the water. It’s a good head space for me. These are your fishing holes. Find good fishing holes.

Other fishing holes for me are movies. I love movies! I’m 4 years old again. I also get inspired by the sermons of Louie Giglio and James MacDonald.

Fishing also has a catch and release element to it. You must work an idea until it’s “done” and then put it away. Let’s songs gestate and mature. This practice ensure only your best stuff will come out. If a melody keeps popping back out and getting stuck in your head, it’s a keeper. If a particular lyric or phrase won’t leave you alone, it’s a keeper.

Stephen Covey talks a lot about the Scarcity Mentality and the Abundance Mentality. The Scarcity Mentality says, “Hold on to the precious, few songs you’ll ever get, and don’t share them with anybody, especially don’t share the credit.” The Abundance Mentality says, “There are plenty of wonderful ideas out there that I’ll discover. I need to share them to bless other people, and to let my ideas get refined, regardless of who gets credit – I’ll always have more.”

Write with the door open.

-Louie Giglio

This open door policy will help gain outside perspective. Anyone can critique a song; my mom can tell me when something sucks. But asking other writers for objective input will build your songs.

What’s makes you feel good in this song? And what makes you feel odd in this song?

-Paul Bloche

Remember that when you’re writing a worship song for people to sing, you’re actually contributing to an ongoing conversation between God and his people. What do people need to say to God? (Prayer). And what does God need to say to his people? (Prophetic).

Take 30-seconds to think about the 3 favorite careers you’d love to have. It’s in these personal states of “favorite” that we find the same inspiration to write out of as artists.


Bill · 7 May ’12 at 9:45 am

One thing this speaks to is “excellence within context”. As musicians/creatives we need to put the “lense” of our context on when we are being creative. Love the idea of ability for congregational participation as a measuring point. Rom 12:16 is a good passage to meditate upon for the spiritual impetus.

Brenton definitely has a heart for God’s people. Loved being part of what he was doing when I attended the Forge Conference a few years ago.

    Christopher Hopper · 7 May ’12 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for pointing out this summary concept. Being aware of your context (and consequent audience) is critical, and most excellent.

    I’ve found myself meditating on Romans 12 quite a bit over the last 3 years from the standpoint of what the Christian is called to as a modus operandi: all actions as worshipful, bless and do not curse, good truly overcomes evil, etc.

Gabe · 7 May ’12 at 10:54 am

This is an awesome post.

So if you’re song writing, does that mean there’s a new album coming soon?

    Christopher Hopper · 7 May ’12 at 11:16 am

    Jennifer’s next one will be first. I’m also producing one for my church as the new studio finishes up. But somewhere in there, yes, is a new album. Not sure when though.

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