First off, this is not a commentary on the use of “secular music” in Younglife clubs. This is a culmination of my personal convictions and beliefs about content songs, their role in club, and how they should be approached by teams in club planning and execution.
What is a content song?
I think this is a reasonable place to start for those who don’t know what I mean by content song. In Younglife contexts, at least the way I was trained in it, a content song is a song containing content (duh) that communicates a Christian message and is used in the Younglife model to focus attention in preparation for the club talk. Although I have seen clubs done without a content song, and without music in general, I personally think that a content song is vital to running a YL club in the traditional model.
Why have music at club?
My first year as a young life leader we did not have music at club. We had music we played over the speakers during games and mixers, but we did not have anyone leading music from the front of the room as its own activity during club. I spent the whole first year pushing for music as part of club because I believe that music serves a powerful role in club. In Younglife, club is structured with larger, high energy group activities and mixers at the beginning, and throughout club the games get lower energy and more focused on the front of the room until it is time for the talk. This is done so that the person speaking will have the best environment for getting a sympathetic reception of the gospel.
Music is the perfect mixer (depending on the song). Good club music on the front end raises the room’s energy, breaks down walls, and allows everyone to participate in something as a unified group. This is how mixers should be used in a YL club setting, and if your kids are not receptive to music on the front end, a mixer should still serve this role. A content song is used after the games to change the energy of the room and to prepare for the presentation of Jesus, and I think that it is the most effective way to do this.
The Purpose of Content Songs:
This section is my real goal with writing this. The way many people approach content songs is lacking in intention and understanding of their purpose in club. There are two primary purposes that a content song serves in club:
- Control Energy: This is something that so many people miss. The energy level that you lead out in the music is going to affect the energy level of the room, but you have to know your audience to be able to use this effectively. If you do Wyldlife and have middle schoolers bouncing off the walls, then a super slow content song is probably not going to keep their focus, and you end up with 7th grade boys running around distracting everybody. If the culture of your students is really chill, then doing a jumping up and down Hillsong Young and Free Song might not be their cup of tea, but a slower, “put your arm around the person next to you” type song might go really well. If you’ve put in the work to get kids to club, then you should have enough of an understanding of your students to be able to do this, and it can have an amazing impact on your club environment.
- Communicate Truth: There have been a few instances in the past year where I have said no to a content song for lack of content. A team member will go on about how he or she “loves this song” but when I go to look through it, there is no real substance about who God is or what He’s done. It’s just a catchy song that has a Christian theme. These are my requirements for this category:
- About God or the person of Christ. A content song needs to communicate truth about who God is to the people singing it. If Younglife club is to reach kids who haven’t heard the gospel, then it is vital that when we are singing songs that they are Christ glorifying.
- Not about our response. I don’t think our content songs should be centered on the response of believers to Jesus. Again, if our audience is people who have not yet made a commitment to Him, then I don’t want them singing about practice when our practice is in response to His presence in our lives.
- True. I have to read the lyrics of the songs we are singing because I do not want to be communicating heresies to the young people I am leading in song. It is not enough to just sing a fun “Jesus-y” song, we should not sacrifice the integrity of our message for a desired response.
- Clarity of message and purpose. I want the words of the song to be a clear message of who God is and what He has done to the students in club. There is a lot of great Christian music out there that is really confusing if you do not already have some level of theological understanding, and if the students that are receiving this music don’t understand it, then they are missing out on a chance to hear truth. This is why I want the music we sing to be clear in its message.
These are the primary things I look for in planning a content song for club. To be honest it can be tough to find songs that meet all of these criteria, but I care too much about the integrity of our message to ignore this. There is also an argument to be made for matching your content song to the topic of the talk, I think this is good if you can do it, but it is by no means vital.
Another thing that I’ve been trying a bit recently is writing my own content songs. This lets me give a clear, simple message, I know what content is going into it, and I can write the songs to the energy level we need for my club audience. Don’t feel like you have to stick to the well known songs just because they’re popular in Christian culture, there’s always going to be people that don’t know the song yet, but if you are picking songs that are communicating a clear message then they will learn it, and they have opportunity to receive that truth. If you want some good content songs that are fun and higher energy, check out some written for this purpose by some of the bigger name YL people: http://www.younglifeleaders.org/2014/06/brand-new-young-life-content-club-songs.html
If you agree with these points please feel free to share this with your YL team or others you know working in this mission. Younglife prides itself in its pursuit of excellence, so I don’t believe we should be sloppy in our presentation of Jesus through song.