Webinar Follow-up: Questions About Using Contemporary Music

101068During the Webinars on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, I received MANY questions about using contemporary music in a catechetical setting as a way to engage a young audience. Allow me to address some thoughts about that here (and as always, I invite you to weigh in as well).

  • For young people, contemporary music is a huge part of their life. It speaks to them in a way that no other medium can.
  • I often use contemporary songs to get the attention of my group and to hook their interest.
  • Truth be told, I really don’t listen to the same music that kids listen to, but I’m aware of the names of the artists that they listen to: Linkin Park, Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Shakira, etc.
  • I start by knowing what the BIG idea of the lesson is and then and only then do I begin searching for a song to use. Let’s say that that the BIG idea of the lesson is: as a result of this session, the participants will be able to express their TRUST in God.
  • I often begin my search for a song by simply Googling. In this case, I Google: songs about trust; or trust songs, or trust lyrics, or variations thereof. I look for songs that speak about trust or the opposite: lack of trust.
  • As you search through songs and their lyrics, you need to wear “hip boots” because you will encounter a great deal of objectionable material. Look through the lyrics carefully…you need to be sure that you’re not bringing in anything that has objectionable words or suggestive ideas.
  • When I find a song, I go to ITunes and download it…usually 99 cents.
  • When I bring it to class, I either dock my IPod or I transfer the song to a CD and play it on a CD player.
  • The song is simply a “hook” to get their attention and to engage them. Rarely do I spend more than 10 minutes listening to and focusing on the song. From there, we transition to EXPLORE the content of the lesson: the teachings of the Gospel and the Church, which make up the bulk of the lesson. Throughout the lesson, however, we are able to refer back to the song to make the connection and reinforce the BIG idea.
  • A good resource that can help to cut down the amount of time you spend searching is a Website run by Anna Scally called Cornerstone Media Inc. They produce both print and audio materials to “help parents, teachers, youth ministers, pastors, and others to…use the music that young people listen to everyday as a tool to spark dialogue about values and relationships.”
  • I don’t hesitate to bring in church hymns to play later on in the session as a “response” to the contemporary song. For example, with the theme of trust, I used a song by Linkin Park called “From the Inside” that speaks of the difficulty of trusting others. At the end of the session, I led a reflection that ended with us listening to “On Eagles’ Wings” which, of course, is about absolute trust in God.

Many people asked if there are lists of contemporary songs that can be used for religious education purposes. I’m not aware of any such catalogue but Cornerstone Media is about as close as you can get. If anyone knows of other resources, please chime in!

Some months ago, I posted about a Confirmation Intensive session that we did at my parish in which we used contemporary music to introduce the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Virtues, and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. That post includes a chart of all the songs we used as well as links to the lyrics of those songs. Click here to access that post.

I look forward to hearing from you about your take on using contemporary music in religious education!

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.


  1. Dear Joe,
    Yes, “Music” is a very powerful tool we catechists could use in our class.
    In the Philippines, public high schools tend to have approximately 60 students (!!!) for each class. Imagine the chaotic atmosphere we usually have during the start of our once-a-week meet. After a brief prayer and a little ‘sermon’ (due to the noise), i ask them to sing a song, something that would be relevant for the week’s lesson.
    Recently i asked them a question: ” What is the secret to a joyful life, in the midst of trials and suffering?” And i told them the answer could be found in the song ( by Don Moen, a Christian singer-composer) ” Give Thanks”. The class suddenly becomes silent as they excitedly prepare singing – and oh how i could feel the Presence of the Holy Spirit filling the classroom.
    In future sessions, i would also try to bring in contempory/pop Fiipino songs that they could relate to, and yes, end the session with a pure spiritual song.
    Thanks so much for letting me share.
    This Journey with you, Joe and fellow catechists is just wonderful! Bless you and praise God.

  2. Having to rely on very limitted resources, we learned to tap into the creative spirits of my 1st graders & we

  3. Hi, Joe! This question hits me where I live! As a musician and a diocesan catechetical leader (and yes, I have done “youth music” on and off over the years) I tell catechists to listen to “Christian” radio – and pick out the songs that are strictly praise and worship, or based on Scripture. (Non-Catholic theological points like Pelagianism, God being “up there” etc, are sometimes a concern, so pick and choose carefully.)
    However, there is a lot of great Catholic contemporary music that is lively and in styles that kids love that never makes it to church. I highly recommend http://www.spiritandsong.com from Oregon Catholic Press – listen to the”jukebox” to see what you like. Also, http://www.giamusic.com (click “Sacred Music” and sample composers Paul Melley, Tony Alonso, Chris DeSilva and others). You can also find stuff by John Angotti, Meredith Augustin and others http://www.wlp.jspaluch.com – put “contemporary” in the search box. These publishers have great, young artists whose music will not only engage kids, but most adults can appreciate them too – and, best of all, they are “Catholic” to the core. In all cases, you can sample them on the web first.
    Also, if your parish uses some contemporary music, I recommend catechists talk to their musicians about what is good music for kids – not only will there be recommendations – possibly there are some CD’s around, or other sources they can borrow. (Many musicians who love the contemporary stuff know a great deal of it that is “too youth oriented” to be able to use in weekend liturgies, but they love it anyhow.)

  4. Hi Joe. Thanks again for a great seminar, and for all the assistance and support you share through your blog.

    I “borrowed” songs from your Confirmation Intensive list for my last 7th grade class of this past year. It was a great way to transition into what will be, for them, their Confirmation year this year (8th grade). I even made them each a CD to take with them over the summer. I can’t tell you how many parents contacted me to thank me for the CD! The songs apparently resonated even with them!

    Thanks again!

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