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Songwriting (For The Church)

How do you write great songs for your church? In this helpful video, Jenn Johnson teaches on having an open heart and mind to whatever song God will give you. She shares about the different kinds of songs she has written and lets you into her process as a songwriter.

Opening Prayer  Time: 00:20-00:39

“So Lord we love You. Thank you for this class. We pray that You’d inspire us, that we would write the songs from Your heart, and You’d just give us [...] what You want to say and that You’d give us the wisdom and ability to be able to craft that into a song that would change people’s hearts and lead them to You in whatever vicinity the song is that You give us to write. In Jesus’ name, amen.” 


What kind of song to write  Time: 00:40-2:26


  • Jenn is passionate about writing songs for her church, but she tries to stay open to whatever song God gives her. 

  • “So, I want to just encourage you to not think of songwriting in just a writing for local church because I’m a Christian that’s what I should do capacity. We want to steward any song God gives us.”

  • A song given by God could go anywhere. 

  • “[...] we just want to live as an open hand to God, ‘what are You saying and where do I send that, what do I do with that?’” 

  • Love songs that are written by believers who know what real love looks like in its purest form could “carry the DNA of heaven in love.”

  • If you like writing love songs and those are what you are being given then write them. “There’s no wrong answer, there’s no right answer.”

  • Listen for the Holy Spirit and what He is saying.


Jenn’s Process  Time: 2:27- 3:40


  • Jenn is very busy and thinks that she should write songs more and she doesn’t take enough time for songwriting. She usually writes when they have an album coming up. 

  • Jenn’s process for writing for an album looks like sitting down and asking the Holy Spirit what He is saying, what He wants her to write.

  • The most important thing from this session is “[...] sit down with an open mind and your pen on a blank page and say, ‘Holy Spirit, what do You want me to write about?’”


Song Stories  Time: 3:40- 23:13


  • The song “You’re gonna be ok” is a message song. It does not say anything to Jesus. The presence of God can be felt on it. Jenn felt from the Lord that she was not to write it about or to the Lord, rather a message song that non-believers could listen to “and feel the Lord in it.” “You’re gonna be ok” was written while Jenn was in her car praying for Hunter Thompson. When she got home she could feel the presence of God on the song. When you hear a melody or song and you feel the presence of God on it then take note of that. There are melodies that we will hear in the presence of God “that will inspire you to write something.” Just when they were starting school there was a melody that stood out and Jenn though it should be recorded. When Jenn got home the time she started writing “You’re gonna be ok” she played around on the keyboard what she felt and then sent it to Hunter. This song didn’t turn into a song until later during Brian Johnson’s nervous breakdown. This song then became a life song for the family. Soon before they were going to produce the album that the song was on Jenn felt that the Lord gave her a promise “of ‘this song [...] is not to have Jesus in it. It’s to stay focused on the message and it’s going to prevent people from committing suicide.’ [...] And I can’t tell you [...] how many messages on Instagram I get of people that said, ‘I literally was about to kill myself and I heard this song and it prevented me from killing myself.’ [...] You’re gonna get those songs that God’s gonna give you and what’s amazing about the day we live in is you can post something and twenty years ago, five years ago even, you couldn’t.” It is a redemptive gift that the song you write today can go viral and get to who knows who. “So let's steward the songs and the messages that God gives us.”

  • Listen to where the Holy Spirit says to post your song.

  • “So don’t be pigeoned holed into writing only corporate songs. Be open to whatever song the Lord gives you always focusing on capturing what He says.”

  • An example of “catching a song” is when Jenn wrote, “God I look to You”. It started on a day that she was leading worship and she needed an attitude change. (On the Bethel worship teams they let everything that is going on in their own lives go and ask God for a clean slate so that they don’t drag people into what they are going through and so that they can lead them where God wants to go.) After rehearsal she sat down at the piano to play and sing. She started to sing the part of the song that goes like “I will love You Lord my strength. Forever all my days I will love You, God”. There was another part song that Jenn wrote that she would sing went she was in her car. I went like, “God I look to You, for I am overwhelmed, give me wisdom for You know just what to do”. (One time God had spoken to Jenn about changing the “for I am overwhelmed” line because if she didn’t then she would continue to be overwhelmed. Jenn changed this line to “I won’t be overwhelmed”. She prophesied the opposite of what she was feeling. This is a technique that can be used in spontaneous worship.) They were writing for an album and Brain suggested putting the two partial songs together and it worked. Then later in a worship set there was a spontaneous moment with the “hallelujah our God reigns” part, and that was added to the song. (A lot of songs that Bethel Music writes are from spontaneous worship. They also will test new songs in worship sets.) 

  • A tip for if you don’t feel good at creating chord progression is to find someone who is and write over what they created like a blank canvas. 

  • Another song that was a song that Jenn “caught” was “Come to Me”. When writing this song they were working on putting together an album and Jenn was on her floor ready to write and asked God what He wanted to say to the whole world. Jenn than felt the fear and confusion on all of the natural disasters that were happening, but she also felt the Father’s heart over the situation. This was a song that God used as a glove to show the world who He is. There are several songs that God has used in this way. “He loves us” was written by Mark McMillon and than sung by Kim Walker at the time that YouTube was coming it out. The song was posted and it went viral. A few other songs that have been introduced around the world are “What a beautiful name” and “Good, Good Father”. This song was not traditional in that it was sung in the third person. Brian and Jenn use an analogy called  "honor the point" for when they are leading. They honor where the other person leads even if it is not what they felt was happening. Brian chose to honor the point with the song being in the third person. They went that direction and it went viral because of what the Lord was doing needed to be in the third person. 

  • The song “Gravity” came to Jenn during WorshipU four years ago. Jenn was caught in “quicksand of a relational issue with someone very close to us and it was, it was a tough man.” Jenn was experiencing a lot of heartaches. She was standing on front row during worship when she had an encounter with God where while her eyes were closed “the Lord literally picked me up, shot me through this roof, I’ve never had anything like this happen before, all the way like into the clouds, all the way up into outer space, just like in this moment [...] like all the way up and I’m  looking down at [...] the orbit of all of these planets and just stars and [...] I’m literally like watching God orchestrate the universe in this moment and I’m just sobbing crying and the Lord said, “look down” and it [...] was the earth, He said “look down” and it was the situation that I was going through and He said, “can you even see this from up here?” And I went, “No.” And it wasn’t that the person didn’t matter. It wasn't that I didn’t matter. It just wasn’t the point. I wasn’t to get distracted by this situation that was going on because He had it. Like Beni said yesterday, “I’ve got this.” “So don’t be overwhelmed in [...] this quicksand of the fact that this situation in your life feels like everything, come up here cause its not and more importantly if I can coordinate and [...] put into orbit a galaxy, I think I’ve got this.” And it was this attitude corrector, it was a prospective change, and I literally came back down and from that place, you’re like “not only does this situation matter, but my God You are so incredible” and I was just caught up in the wonder and the majesty of God because that’s what mattered. And so coming back down it was this holy perspective of “I’m gonna get you through this, I’m gonna lead you, I’m gonna guide you, but this is not what we’re doing. This is not the bigger picture.” Jenn wrote this song with her friend Seth. She knew that she needed a “space vibe”. Jenn needed to feel like she was experiencing being in outer space. The music was written around this need. 

  • “So, whatever song you’re writing work with people to help you captivate the music that matches the experience of what you’re writing to.” 


Songwriting practices  Time: 23:13 - 24:17


  • One thing that is really good when you get a really good verse, chorus, etc. is to not let any other part of the song be of lesser quality than this. “Dig deeper. Dig deeper so that every part of your song is equally incredible. It’s gonna take work, it’s gonna take like Paul and Hannah’s session yesterday [...] it’s gonna take you being inoffensive, and try to write with somebody who's really good, like get around good songwriters whatever you can do to co-write together cause it will strengthen you and grow you, but don’t be offended if like something’s not working, let it go, move on, and maybe it’s for a different song somewhere else.”


Song Stories  Time: 24:19 - 29:22


  • One of Jenn’s most recent songs is “The Goodness of God.” She was in her car on the way to her physical therapist and they had recently bought Ryder home and started to sing this little song in her car. She wrote about 75% of this song on a twenty-minute car drive. Usually, songs take a lot more work but are open to this thing happening. There are some songs that are between you and God. Jenn recorded this moment on her phone and took it to two friends and they polished and finished it. 

  • “Comforter” was a specific song that Jenn wrote for a friend who was going through cancer. Jenn feels like God will give you songs of healing for people. These are message songs. 

  • When writing corporate worship songs it needs to be remembered that some people we are leading are new Christians. Write theology and the Father’s heart for these people. “... .we gotta have the heart to pastor people and to teach them as they’re coming in.” 

  • “Pain, and trauma, and sickness are surrounded by a lot of questions.” Jenn felt that the message of “Comforter” was “there are so many questions, but You know all the answers. And I don’t have to spend my time in the why, I just know who You are and that’s where I have to stay anchored, and this is who You are, You’re healer, You’re comforter, and I can’t [...] swirl or swell in the why’s and the questions. I have to go back to who You are. And that’s for anything in our life, [...] anything we struggle with we can’t swirl in the why we have to stay focused on who God is, what the Bible says is true of His nature.”

  • Songs can sometimes be like medicine. Different songs have different treatments. One time in worship Jenn saw these medicine pills over people’s heads and it was like they were getting the medicine from the song that was playing. 

  • “Who You Are” is a song that Jenn wrote with her oldest daughter. This song is a teaching song. This song was put on the new Bright One's album. The first verse talks about the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Jenn felt that she was to write a song that described the nature of God in a childlike way that was a teaching moment. 


Prayer  Time: 29:26 - 30:07

“So Father we just pray that You would just, like the Word says, give us the pen of a ready writer, that You would just give us Your words, You’d give us melodies from heaven to match the lyrics from Your heart Lord. That it would be like a seed planted deep in people’s hearts that would grow fruit Lord. That You would just give us the songs, that we’d steward them well, You’d give us the wisdom of who to connect with, who to write with, who to produce with, the whole shimbang of it Lord. That you would give us wisdom by Your Holy Spirit, and lead us, and guide us. And we just thank You for these people. I just bless them with the gift of songwriting Lord. You would just gift them. In Jesus’ beautiful name, and everyone said amen.”