The Story of Worship Leader

The Worship Leader App began as a personal response to a local problem. During our 2 year period of learning the local language, we wanted to create a printed songbook of side-by-side English/Local language songs for our Middle East church-planting team. As a computer programmer, rather than producing a one-off as a document, I compiled a small database of English and local songs and wrote a program to generate a song book. This enabled us to easily add and remove songs, print different versions of the songbook (eg larger print, a chord edition etc) and also create a projection function to display chosen songs using the OpenSong software. The project remained at this level for a couple years.

However, over time I became aware that the project might be expanded to help solve issues faced more widely in our circle and community. When we moved to the Middle East around 2010, we had the opportunity to visit a number of local congregations during our language and culture training. Living in a technologically aware city, most services used projectors and PowerPoint. However, many churches entered new songs manually into their system, so typographical errors were relatively common. Although there was a good printed hymnal which collated hundreds of songs, chords and scores, it had been out of print for a while so groups relied on photocopies and scans of it for their meetings. A number of churches were translating songs from the West, however, because each church had written its own translation (of varying quality), when believers gathered together across fellowships, everyone knew a different version. In addition to this, a number of local believers were writing their own songs, but only those on professionally produced albums got known outside of their local church. Any MP3 recordings of worship songs available on the internet were scattered widely so you had to know exactly what you were looking for in order to find them.

Aware of these bigger issues, and after a number of people had shared different ideas to make local worship music more accessible, I decided to develop the initial project further. In October 2012, I wrote a small phone app (‘Worship Leader’) that downloaded my initial database, displayed song lyrics and (optionally) chords, and also linked and played any MP3s that we had found and added. The app allowed searching by many different criteria or terms, and it also allowed anyone to submit corrections or new songs which are then moderated. Over time I found a number of people with electronic records of a range of songs, various MP3 recordings, and more recently collections of sheet music that publishers were happy to allow us to import and add into our app database.

We now get hundreds of people a day using Worship Leader, the majority of believers in this country have it installed on their phones, computers or TVs. A number of groups of believers  in smaller towns and cities that do not have anyone who can play an instrument are using the recordings in the app in order to worship together. Previously unknown or new songwriters are sending in their songs and basic recordings done on a phone and they are now gaining exposure in many different churches throughout the country. Churches in the diaspora are also increasingly using these worship resources which were previously nearly impossible to get hold of. We also gather statistics of the number of times a song was viewed, printed and downloaded which allows us to find out which are the most popular songs and themes in different languages and encourage the people who wrote them.

Starting around 2016, a number of people from different contexts such as Mongolia, Burma and a number of Central Asian countries have got in touch with collections of songs in their own language that they want to add into the app. As a result of this the app has now grown from 4,000 to songs to having over 50,000 songs in 60 different languages. We’ve added in new interface languages such as Russian, Turkish and Kazakh. The app has gained features such as displaying sheet music, tagging songs, a basic projection mode and support for complex languages such as Inner Mongolian. Each language has its own group of editors who are able to update and add new songs and recordings via an interface.

A big issue that we see in our context is local believers preferring to translate Western songs into their language, rather than writing their own songs. Through the app we aim to help local believers to write and record their songs, put them out on the internet and get encouraged as they are used by different churches. By including many original songs from non-Western countries we hope that translations can also move from East- to West rather than purely the other way around.

We’re keen to continue developing the software so that it can bless even more people in different countries and people-groups. If you are interested in doing this and you have access to the text, scores or recordings of songs in your target language group please get in touch with us via the website. If you have suggestions for how to improve the app and make it more useful then we’d love to hear from you too!