Dove Award-winning songwriter Krissy Nordhoff has written worship songs for many popular artists, including Natalie Grant, Mandisa, Darlene Zschech, Jenn Johnson (Bethel Music), Tauren Wells, and Aaron Shust, and for churches including Life.Church and Cross Point Church. In her first book, Writing Worship: How To Craft Heartfelt Songs for the Church, which is now available through David C Cook, Nordhoff invites aspiring and seasoned lyricists on a journey of exploration and skill development because, as she states, "your voice is valued by the King and needed by the church."
Though she's been writing since childhood, it has only been within the last 10 years that the Nashville area wife and mom's songs - born from her tears and triumphs - would travel the globe and help others plumb new depths in their relationships with God. Through Writing Worship, Nordhoff hopes to impart the lessons she learned to help writers discover, cultivate and nurture the songs in their hearts in order to write impactful worship songs for themselves, their congregations and the global church.
While focusing on their relationship with God through prayer and two-way journaling, readers of varying skill levels will learn to craft lyrics and melodies, learn to self-edit during the writing process, clarify a song's purpose and co-write songs customized for their churches and communities. Nordhoff also offers free resources such as video tutorials, a songwriter personality assessment, topical podcasts, a leader's guide for group learning and a bonus audiobook.
An instructor who regularly coaches individuals and church worship teams in writing and co-writing for their communities, Nordhoff is passionate about unlocking God's fresh revelation through new songs and the head-heart connection found in music.
Q: Krissy, thanks for doing this interview with us. How did you start writing songs? Can you still remember the first song you wrote?
Thank you for the opportunity! I really don't think I realized what I was doing when I first started writing songs... because my mom says I sang as soon as I could talk.
My Grandmother played piano by ear, and I believe she lit a fire for music in me. She passed away when I was five years old, which was the same year I began to officially write my songs on paper. And, yes, I do remember my first song. It was called "Miracles" and it went like this:
Miracles can happen anywhere you go
Miracles can happen day or night or at home...
God sent the miracles way up from heaven
And we might have a miracle happen to us, happen to us, happen to us!
Q: Let's start with the most basic: how would you define a good worship song? What are some characteristics a good worship song needs to possess?
Simply put, I believe a good worship song brings the focus of our hearts to God, Jesus, Holy Spirit. While styles, instrumentation, and production trends will always change, the focus never should. Worship songs range widely in their characteristics, but there are a few basic guidelines that are good to keep in mind, especially when writing for congregational worship.
1. Worship songs should be true and biblically accurate because song teaches theology. (This one is non-negotiable!)
2. Most worship songs have a community voice-using "we," "you," or "Him" pronouns.
3. Simple, memorable melody and lyrics.
4. Staying close to an octave in range helps people to be able to sing.
5. Sometimes worship songs contain elements already familiar to the church, like hymns or Bible verses.
6. Hope is always present thematically.
7. Worship songs show us a greater perspective.
8. A worship song can tell the story of the gospel.
9. Worship songs call us to respond.
10. Worship songs can remind us of what's to come.
Again, not all worship songs have all of these characteristics, but all of them have some. In general, these are great guardrails to stay within.
Q: In your book, you make a case for churches writing new songs. Yet, there are many people who think that the old hymns and choruses are enough, what you have to say to them? Why are new songs important?
First of all, because it blesses Him and it blesses us! Psalm 96:1-2 says, "Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day." (NIV) This passage makes it really clear to me that the Lord wants us to sing new songs to Him! It was so important to remember the new songs, that He tucked this message right inside the old songs so that we wouldn't forget. As He is blessed by fresh praise, we receive fresh insight and revelation so often simultaneously.
Secondly, new songs also have the ability to speak the dialect of an individual church. There is a lot of variation in theology, beliefs, and culture across the Church. Writing new songs gives us a chance to minister to each and every one in a way that sounds like home to them.
New songs can bring great unity to the church. This can happen among staff as they have conversations about what God is doing that ultimately sync up the message and the music. It impacts the congregation, too, as there becomes great continuity in the weekly services.
New songs minister to the congregation right where they are. We read about many situations in the Bible where there was a song to accompany a season. These songs are simply a gift to the congregation, often ministering in much deeper ways than a spoken word could.
Finally, new songs prepare the congregation for the future. Many times, the Lord will give the pastor a vision for where He is leading the church. Supporting this through music will only ready hearts, bring hope, expectation, and focus to the people.
Q: How can a pastor encourage his worship team and members in the church to write songs? How do you foster such a creative climate of songwriting in a church?
By championing them! See them as valuable partners in delivering the message. Have conversations with them about what God is saying to you, where you see the church going, important words for the season you are in. Give them room to grow. Ask them what they need. Pray for them!
I have also created a few resources that I think could help foster a songwriting culture:
1. A Leader's Guide, that's a companion to my book, which you can find at www.krissynordhoff.com/book. This is a free resource specifically for worship teams that are wanting to start a songwriting culture in their church. Worship leaders can guide their teams through the book a couple of chapters at a time, and are given discussion prompts, etc.
2. Writing Worship Course, the companion course to the book, which can be found at www.krissynordhoff.com/course. You can watch online together as I guide a worship team through heart, skill, co-writing, and purposes of songwriting. This is a great foundation building experience. My team and I also do this course live in the church setting in a 2-day event.
Q: Over the years, you have co-written with many of worship music's best songwriters such as Tauren Wells, Corey Voss, Travis Ryan, Michael Neale, and many others. How do you choose your co-writers? What should songwriters be looking for when choosing a co-writer?
I am a staff songwriter for Integrity Music and often assigned co-writes as part of the team. But I also often choose my own co-writers. When I do, I always look for those who have different gifts than me... I used to feel like I needed to have opinions and wisdom about every aspect while in the writing room. Now, I know I just need to bring my strength and surround myself with others who are strong in the areas where I am weak. This is the musical picture of the body of Christ. When we work together, all bringing our strengths, we can create something that we never could alone.
I actually developed a Songwriter Personality Test to help people find their strengths and also what combinations would work best for co-writers. You can check it out at www.songwriterpersonalitytest.com.
And one more thing... I like to have fun! So, I look for people I can laugh with.
Q: How can your new book help songwriters become better at their craft and worship?
It is my prayer that the book will first of all help them to feel invited into this adventure of songwriting. I want them to know just how important "heart" is to this whole process. I honestly care more for their hearts than anything, and that just happens to be where worship is born. I also share a lot of skills that professional songwriters use all the time, and I think if they can implement one at a time, eventually their craft will grow in amazing ways. Learning the basic etiquette of co-writing is essential, so we spend a good bit of time learning tips and ways to say things, etc. Being able to navigate the writing room is something that took me many years to learn, and I hope to give them a head start in that way, as this wrestle is often where the greatest growth and success happens.
And finally, I want them to be confident in their purpose. So often the songwriting "process" and doubts and fears can get in our heads... knowing the truth about who we are and what God has called us to do keeps us centered.
Q: It's no secret that my favorite artist is Darlene Zschech. And one of her favorite Christmas songs was co-written by you! How did the song "Gloria (Our Savior Found Us)" come about? And tell us how you got the song to Darlene?
Integrity Music wanted to create a Christmas album that featured some of their writers and artists. Often we will gather together for these types of projects and do a "songwriting camp," which is a great retreat. (We just had one!) For this song, we just met up at Integrity's office for a few days of writing sessions. We usually start with a morning devotion/worship, and then are given our writing assignments for the day. That day in particular, Michael Farren, Travis Ryan and I were working together in a co-writing group with Christmas songs being our focus.
After a beautiful conversation with these dear friends, we began to consider the fact that it might be an interesting perspective on the birth of Jesus if we see it as Him finding us instead of us finding Him. I don't think it took us more than three hours to write. I still remember the room, the soaring melody, the tears in our eyes. Since Darlene was an Integrity artist, and because of the nature of the melody being in a great female range, the song was offered to her as an option and I think she liked it.
Nordhoff and David C Cook release Writing Worship [Paperback | $16.99 (US) | ISBN 978-0-8307-8079-2] globally March 1. For additional information, visit KrissyNordhoff.com or follow Nordhoff on Twitter @KrissyNordhoff and Instagram @Krissy_Nordhoff.