Why should you use hymns in your church? Why do they still matter? Hymns seem to be quickly falling by the wayside as churches move in the modern era of worship bands and praise songs. It hasn’t always been this way. Throughout the course of its existence, the church has evolved and adapted to reach many cultures of this world. Colossians 3:16 mentions singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. That’s one of many reasons to be using hymns alongside modern worship songs- the Bible says so! Who is actually using hymns in church today? Let’s take a quick look at who is… and who isn’t.
There are three basic categories of worship styles in churches today*:
They use a piano or organ and possibly a choir to sing exclusively out of a hymnal. Many consider this a “high-church” or traditional mainline approach, and just like the name says, it’s been around for quite a long time. Hymns are everything in this setting. Tomlin who?
They make small additions to the piano and organ in order to build a “worship band.” Many start with an acoustic guitar and then add drums and bass. Electric guitar is very rare in this setting. Many blended-worship churches do a mix of hymns and worship songs. The feel is soft and light as not to offend the traditional crowd, with the hope of gaining interest from the contemporary crowd with praise songs.
Contemporary / Modern (33%)
They have a full worship band with drums, bass, acoustic guitar and at least one electric guitar. Worship songs dominate the song rotation and hymns are very rarely used. Passion and Hillsong are the primary resources for new worship songs and material to use in worship services. The feel tends to be similar to a modern concert. This is, by far, the fastest growing segment of the three.
Which category does your church fit into? Are you doing the traditional thing? Does your church strive for the blended worship style? Or are you more interested in using a modern worship band with the current worship songs by Passion, Hillsong and the like? Many church-goers around the country are switching from a traditional church to a blended or contemporary church. Blended is currently the most popular with church-goers, but contemporary is rising fast while traditional (and even blended) slides lower and lower every year. If you put two and two together, you may think hymns are going to fall away with the traditional and blended styles, right? Wrong. Hymns still matter! And guess what? Hymns work in ALL worship settings. Here are the top reasons why hymns matter and should be used in every church:
Hymns Bridge the Generations
Many people who grew up in church have fond memories of singing the hymns as a kid. If you’re a worship leader, you may be getting requests to use more hymns in your worship sets (actually, they often feel like demands, right?). Using even just one hymn in your worship set gives you the huge advantage of connecting with those that are familiar with these time-tested melodies and lyrics. Anyone who doesn’t know the hymn will most likely be drawn in to sing along if the rest of your congregation is engaged. That’s a win in my book.
Hymns Contain Timeless & Rich Theology
Isaac Watts. Fanny Crosby. Charles Wesley. These amazing people lived well over 100 years ago in a different era, but the words they wrote still ring true because they take inspiration from the divine Word of God. Combined with wonderful melodies over the years, the most popular hymns are packed with great theology and truth.
Hymns Are Widely Known
Does your church stare with a deadpan expression during your worship? Try using a popular hymn and you will be surprised by how loud they can sing along! A church that sings together grows together. Using the familiar melodies and lyrics of hymns is a great way to encourage your congregation to sing.
What Should You Do?
What do you need to do to take the next step? Here’s what I would recommend:
Get some modern hymn arrangements and add them to your worship sets. The best arrangements are crafted with drums, bass, and guitars in mind. Worship bands really struggle to play out of a hymnal because it’s written for a piano or organ and it doesn’t have any chord symbols. Guitarists love chord charts! It’s a case of Charles Wesley meets Chris Tomlin & Passion. You reach the younger and older generations and everybody wins.
If you want to create your own hymn arrangement, here’s a tip: either keep the melody intact or write a completely new one from scratch. Jazzing up a hymn by adding syncopations and off-beat rhythms will only frustrate your congregation- they will all be singing something different. The underlying chord structure can be changed much more easily while keeping the melody intact. I prefer to keep the chord changes minimal and use guitar-friendly keys like D, G and E. Lots of new worship leaders are also using capos and singing in the keys of A and B.
Another great way to keep things fresh is to write a chorus to “tack on” to the verses of the hymn. This preserves the nature of the original hymn lyric and melody and gives the songwriter a chance to make it fresh for today’s church.
Fit The Culture Of Your Church
I had a chance to visit Mars Hill church in the Seattle area recently. I was expecting it to be loud and crazy with buzzing guitars and heavy beats. Being in Seattle, grunge is a massive part of the culture there. Naturally, a church in that area would have at least some similarities to a grunge rock band, right? Well, I was blown away by a worship set comprised of three hymns. Grunge guitars? Check. Heavy drum beats? Ditto. But they also sang with tight three part harmonies and even had a “fiddle” player and acoustic guitars. It certainly doesn’t seem like a recipe for success on paper, but WOW- I absolutely loved it! I greatly admire them for using hymns and filtering them through the cultural lens of the Seattle grunge rock scene, and doing it quite brilliantly. The point of sharing this story? Be true to yourself, do it with the highest levels of excellence, and connect with the culture of your congregation.
*Percentages taken from LifeWay Research article here.
Adam is a worship leader, producer, and songwriter with a passion for bringing hymns to today’s church. He released his debut full-length worship album, To God Be, on August 20th, 2014 on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and other online retailers. Listen to a free stream of the full album on his SoundCloud. For fresh arrangements of traditional hymns, please check out his sheet music website, Hymns4Bands.com. If you’d like to learn more about Adam, check out his personal blog: AdamLayneFisher.com