There are many factors that go into putting together a set list that aids in worship. To many this will either be a pedantic article or one that they don’t understand the need for, but doing this well can take an average set to an extraordinary one. Which songs to play and when they are to be played will determine the flow of worship and that flow can either be an aid or a deterrent to bringing people before God.
There certainly are formulas in doing this, such as the old fast to slow idea, but a good set list accounts for many variables in worship. Some questions to ask when starting the process:
What songs do the worshippers know?
How open are they to new songs?
What context is the worship in (short/long service, retreat, camp, conference)?
What is the tone of the message?
Is there a theme?
What are the worship leaders capable of executing?
All of these questions determine the amount of flexibility of songs able to be used. If you have a very open community and a very capable band, then you are very free to move outside the norm (and you probably live in heaven). For most of us though, we have limitations on what we are to perform.
One great idea that came from a totally unrelated book is the idea of Flow. I don’t mean this in the typical use but a specific use. Flow is the ability to relate the new to the old. Think of a graph where the horizontal line is a new idea and a vertical line is an old idea. You generally want to stay in the middle. If you get too far into the old, people get bored. Likewise, when you get too into the new, people become alienated. A good set list will take things that are very familiar and do them in new ways. An example would be a new arrangement of an old song. Good flow increases excitement and keeps people into worship.
I don’t usually have a formula for fast or slow. I do always want to capture people’s heart and interest on the first song. That could mean fast, but it should always be more on the new side of the flow graph. I don’t recommend doing a completely new song to start a set. This is usually too different for them to engage, which either leaves doing a familiar song in a new way or something different in the music. After the opener, I usually pick songs that complement the first song by theme, key and feel. If there is a break in songs, plan accordingly. Whatever the case, if there is a message/sermon after worship, make sure to set it up either with a song, music, prayer, or whatever you feel is important. Check with the speaker if you are in doubt.