Do Churches Still Sing Hymns?

I grew up in a Baptist Church in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Did I just type that out loud?? The 60’s and 70’s??? Damn, that’s a long time ago. No wonder my teenager thinks I am weird. But anyway… where was I? Oh yeah, church.

Growing up in church one thing I definitely had a love/hate relationship with was the music. Back in those days, our church sang hymns. Pure and simple hymns. No praise music. No contemporary worship service for the younger people and traditional style for the older people. We sang hymns on Sunday morning and that was that.

Now in our youth group we were able to sing praise music. But not in “big church” as we called it. I think a little later, around the late 70’s maybe a little praise music crept into our services, but usually not. When it did it was in the form of the “special music” or choir performances.

I was thinking about these hymns this morning. Don’t ask me why I just was. I looked a few up and I was amazed that every time I saw the title of a hymn, I could almost always recall the tune and the chorus. It’s been nearly 30 years since I regularly sang any of these songs but here they were, rattling around in the back of my brain.

Have Thine Own Way Lord
Blessed Assurance
Blessed Be The Name
Just A Closer Walk With Thee
All Hail The Power of Jesus’ Name
Christ Our Lord Has Risen Today
Faith Is The Victory
To God Be The Glory
I Love To Tell The Story
He Lifted Me
O, How I Love Jesus
Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus
‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus
The Old Rugged Cross
I Surrender All
Standing On The Promises
Nothing But The Blood
Love Lifted Me
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Amazing! I can sing at least a good portion of each of those songs and many more. I didn’t even mention the ones I take for granted like “Just As I Am”, “Amazing Grace” and of course “How Great Thou Art”.

For some reason, I love these old hymns. Most of my youth was spent loathing hearing these “dumb old songs” each and every Sunday, but no doubt there is something very comforting about hearing the tunes and remembering the melodies now. For centuries these hymns have been sung in churches of all denominations, but I would like to think us Southern Baptist sang them with just a little more conviction than most.

Remembering all of these songs says something for repetition and longevity. Do something often enough and long enough and you will never forget it, even if you didn’t like it at the time.

Would I go back? No way. Not now, not ever. Do I miss it? Yeah, sometimes.

20 thoughts on “Do Churches Still Sing Hymns?”

  1. I see contemporary christian music as the “fast food” of church music. Most of it, be it slow or fast has the same chord and rhythm formulas. It is easier for musicians who don’t read music, so it is dumbed down because the church has driven away trained musicians by not taking care of them and they went elsewhere to be able to make a decent living. Many singers think “lyric sheets” are the actual music and that a pianist should be happy with that. They don’t understand even what a lead sheet, a score, notation with rhythm is. Playing for a mega church I’m given words with chords scratched out above them and a CD, so I have to spend hours listening to the songs, making corrections in what few chords are there, and all of it has to be done last minute because they have not planned the services far enough in advance. Give me the ACTUAL music, and I can play it in seconds flat. I’m trying not to be a diva, or high maintenence, but I don’t care if it’s traditional or contemporary – I can play anything. If the church would just stop disrespecting real musicians and give the tools we need – music notation and some prep time so that I can come in on Sunday mornings and just PLAY. Deciding before the service whether they want 6 verses and 5 choruses, changing chords and mistakes in the “charts” and spending time fixing arrangements and verse formats should all be done in advance before the “music” is given to the musicians. It is a HUGE misuse of rehearsal time. With professional musicians playing from a score there wouldn’t be all of the miscommunication and discrepancies in the music. With hymns – it’s on the page – in black and white. With contemporary, I have to be a mind reader to singers or worship leaders who are musically illiterate. Where was I when written music was banned from the church? Did trained musicians just disappear or did they leave the church? Why am I given the stink eye everytime I ask for a lead sheet or a score? They just dismiss me and say “Oh you’re so good you can play anything and we’re blessed to have you.” I’m tired of being shushed with Godspeak and my pleas for some organization and something resembling music being ignored. I guess I should just be quiet and continue to play my 3 chords that I’ve studied and practiced 40 years for and wonder if I was suppose to repeat 8 times or 6? It doesn’t have to be Handel’s Messiah – it can be something funky or jazzy, just PLEAAAASE have the actual music for it if you are going to ask me to play it!

    1. I love the term, Fast Food of church music. There has been a lot of talk of having a blended service. I have seen little of that in my church. I miss the hymns, the meaty harmonized hymns. I try to go with the flo, but sometimes I just want a nice steak instead of a hamburger.

  2. I started attending church in 9th grade. yet, I can remember the old hymns better than contemporary p&w, but I don’t attribute that to frequency. I think that although modern lyrics are meaningful, I think modern worship is so experience oriented and emphasizes connecting emotional that it passes through us like fast food or the latest CNN headline. Can’t help by to think that because we use screens that it just puts our minds in entertainment mode. Unlike holding a hymnal or looking at someone’s handwriten words on a flip chart which seemed to emphasize “learn this”. And the other contribution to this I think is that modern worship is constantly looking for the new, that we are constantly going through different songs that we are in essence being trained to constantly lok for the newest in p&w. But I think there’s something comforting in finding something that is timeless, whether it’s a poem, a sentence, a truth, or a love.

  3. Sorry, change the first sentence of mine to read “shocking lack of <>literacy<> in the church when it comes to reading music as it has been annotated…”There, that makes more sense. πŸ™‚

  4. The power of music. And spaced repitition.That’s why 80 years on, most adults can recall word for word silly nonsense nursey rhymes but can’t recall what happened to them last week!The church was way ahead of it’s time in psychology and child development. That’s why evensong was done (and still is done) to music. Only problem is they haven’t changed the tune for several centuries. As with a lot of things in the church they pass on the “How we do things” from generation to generation but forget to pass on the “why we’re doing this”.I’ve got a whole seminar on the subject!!

  5. I didn’t grow up on hymns (my dad did, though; and he still likes them); I was raised on contemporary praise and worship. That said, I do know at least a little bit of some of the ones you listed; and I do own an old hymnal (given to me by…yep, my dad).* Blessed Assurance* All Hail The Power of Jesus’ Name* To God Be The Glory* O, How I Love Jesus* The Old Rugged Cross* I Surrender All* Nothing But The Blood* Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (this is the only one of the initial list that I actually did sing somewhat regularly when I was a kidlet)A while back I heard an upbeat, contemporary version of “All Creatures of Our God and King” (done by Mars Hill Church in Michigan…where they “worship in all directions”) and quite liked it. Before that I first heard it during an episode of <>Mr. Bean<>. There’s a scene where he ends up in church; they’re singing this song, and you can hear him drown out everyone singing “Alleluia! Alleluia!”. It’s gotta be up on Youtube somewhere.

  6. Oh my! I’ve just attended a wedding this weekend.Maybe it’s my age, but not a single hymn was sung but there was a chorus which included the line, <>“Heaven touches earth like a sloppy wet kiss”.<> I kid you not. God help us.

  7. Don’t forget Rich Mullins, Lowend.And yeah–there’s something about hymns that really surpasses most of the P&W dreck that’s out there today–and I should know, I wrote music for my church in the CCM style (although, most of it was better, that is to say, more complex and musically and theologically interesting, if I do say so myself)!I wonder–when did churches started catering to the Youth and 20’s something crowd (as if they have such great taste in music as a generation) compared to the older bunch–who have more life experience and have actually been exposed to more complex music forms as the norm?I also don’t like how switching from hymns to praise choruses up on a projection screen means church-goers are no longer exposed to actual sheet music and have, for the most part, missed out on learning how to read music and sing in harmony.

  8. the church i go to now has a pretty famous worship leader on staff, who is responsible for a number of modern worship standards like: “He knows my name” and “That’s why we praise Him”. And yet not a sunday goes by when he doesn’t include at least one hymn in his worhsip set. Granted, he tends to modify and hip them up a bit, but never destroys or looses the original spirit of those classis hymns.This also reminded me of my childhood, during which my parents where extremely strict regarding what music I could and could not listen to. At the time I was force fed “2nd Chapter of Acts”, “Phil Keaggy”, and “the Imperials”, just to name a few…Now I collect their stuff like a fiend… I actually believe those where the last greatest and authentic Christian recording artists. Most of the trash that passes for Christian today is completely worthless.good times.

  9. MissMeowsic–While I agree that there is a shocking lack of illiteracy in the church when it comes to reading music as it has been annotated, I think you’re equating written sheet music with “actual” music.Not to put too fine a point on it, but the ACTUAL music is the tones one creates by vocalizing or creating sounds out of an instrument. The written music is just the annotation of those tones so that they can be faithfully reproduced.If one has a good enough ear for actual music, they don’t need the written annotation, either. Please don’t equate “real” musicians with people who can read sheet music. It takes determination and practice, yes, but there are plenty of people who can read sheet music perfectly but are tone deaf. One chord or note out of place on the written music, and they would have no idea nor be able to adjust to play the song as it was “supposed” to go. And there are other people with perfect pitch, who can hear a song once and play it back perfectly (like Mozart), yet can’t really read sheet music at all. Which one is really “musically illiterate?” Both can produce music expertly if given the tools which suit them best.But I agree, musicians in church should be given whatever tools they need to play/sing the song correctly and with confidence. For some, that means the full sheet music, for others, it’s a chord chart, and for still others, it means just a recording of the song to listen to.I think the main problem, as you noted, is the overall lack of planning, organization, and preparedness. Oh, and worship teams don’t practice enough in general and don’t develop their talents and skills to the fullest.

  10. amen nn,Somehow I was spared the Rich Mullen types…chalk it up to God’s grace I guess.I completely agree with you in regards to how dumbed down church music has become. The worship leader at the church we now frequent is Tommy Walker, and besides being an amazing musician who in turn attracts other ridiculous player and singers, he actually takes time during P&W to teach the people new songs. And I mean choir rehearsal style teach, and it works, cuz they sing their butts off. it’s great!But i’ve also talked to him about this whole idea that church music has to be ‘relevant’ and ‘simplified’…bullshit I say. And he agreed…maybe not in exactly those words…good times.

  11. I recently became the pastor of a church that still sings all those hymns and more. I feel like I’ve stepped back in time. But, there is such a wonderful atmosphere of sincere worship. These older folks really have the conviction you were speaking of.

  12. Ninjanun,I see exactly what you’re saying. I in no way meant to put down muscians who do strictly play by ear, and yes those who are strictly classically trained can be very inflexible. Those who play by ear are limited to playing something only if they have heard it before or if there is another musician to play it for them first whereas I can play a piece of music never having heard it before. If they are going to want me to duplicate exactly what I’ve heard on the CD, why not just have the congregation sing to the CD? You are absolutely right as to giving the individual musicians the tools they need to learn the music. A church music director or worship planner should know the difference between a lead sheet, lyric sheet, chord chart, and an actual choir score or piano accompaniment. I guess I had a bee in my bonnet this week because I was told they were getting the “music” to me, when what I actually got was lyrics with chords scrawled above and no indication of rhythm, melody, etc. Many praise choruses are nothing but syncopation. I know that much of the music I could have gotten from CCLI for these songs which I had asked for their CCLI license so I could download what I need, but the music director insists on writing his own charts to this music in which the chords seem a bit odd at times. A good msuic director should respect ALL the musicians willing to put in their time, give the musicians what they need and make sure the charts or lead sheets are correct and clear before rehearsals. They should be competent musicians in their own right and be versatile. They should be organized and also able to set boundaries with the ministry positions in the church. Many times the music leader becomes the “whipping boy” of the minister expected to give a lot of his time to “God” is not offered any benefits, is expected to go on a wild goose chase for a new song, etc., while the minister goes home, shuts off his phone, gets full benefits and makes close to 100k a year with perks. The music leader may ask to buy a new piano every 10 years or so or asks to be promoted to part time to qualify for health insurance and is told there is no money. They can be easily micromanaged by both the congregation and minister alike if they are not careful and worship planning week after week can easily cut into one’s music career goals and personal life. I think I can be very good at the job, but I ask myself, “Is it worth it?” If I am going to volunteer for something, it’s not going to be for a church where the pastor is bringing in close to 100k, I’d rather take my harp and play for cancer patients and hospice.

  13. MissMeowsic–Welcome to Stupid Church People! πŸ™‚ I totally understand where you’re coming from regarding the way music ministry is done and the pastor making a healthy sum while the volunteer staff are micro-managed and asked to give too much of their time to the pastor’s whims and congregations (limited) taste. You seemed to have hit the nail on the head regarding the conundrum of stupid church people expecting quality and not willing to pay the price for it, and volunteers experiencing burnout because they’re not given enough autonomy and assistance to adequately serve in music (or any) ministry.It sounds like maybe you should play for cancer patients and hospice then. To me, it sounds like you’d get more fulfillment and integrity out of it than being frustrated every week by this “ministry.” No doubt, long-term care patients would appreciate it more, and you’d probably be doing more to heal the sick and comfort the wounded as Jesus and the book of James commanded.I only have one nitpicky thing about your last comment:<>Those who play by ear are limited to playing something only if they have heard it before or if there is another musician to play it for them first whereas I can play a piece of music never having heard it before.<>Yes, but you still need the sheet music to play it. So you are limited to needing the written version of the music, just as someone who plays by ear is limited to needing a sound recording. Unless you can look at a piece of sheet music and hear exactly how it’s going to sound in your head without playing an actual note, AND can play a piece of music only by ear, I’d recommend not patting yourself on the back too hard about your ability to read sheet music compared to someone who plays only by ear. You both have your limitations. As you noted, music directors are not getting paid (or are not paid enough to make a living wage) in the church, so the church can hardly expect the music director to be at the same level as a “professional” musician who received a thorough musical education and training and could probably make a living wage as a musician elsewhere. Rather, the church accepts volunteers who are willing to put in the time and have a passable (and sometimes raw) talent for music. You get what you pay for, and the music director and other volunteers probably don’t have time (since they’re working a real part- or full-time job) to put in all the organization, practice, and preparedness you seem to be expecting of him/her. Oh, and I’ve found that even the sheet music by the authorized publisher can be annotated incorrectly from the way the songwriter plays/sings it, so even expecting them to have correct and clear copies of the music is sometimes nigh impossible. I know, I was in almost the exact same boat four years ago (sans the pastor with the six figure salary, however). It’s a thankless gig, and I’m still amazed how many people put up with such treatment from the pastor and the congregation–all because they want to serve God by playing music. It took me awhile to figure out I didn’t need to put up with such treatment in order to serve God or play music.Good luck on your journey to freedom, Miss Meowsic! I truly hope you find contentment playing for people who can appreciate your talents and get more benefit from it! πŸ™‚

  14. the thing i like about hymns is that they had a lot more words to them and weren’t the now standard 5 phrases in various arrangements.the nun and i wrote different music for “Love lifted me”. i always thought that one started off oddly, sounding all happy with the words “i was sinking deep with sin”

  15. Somehow I was spared the Rich Mullen types…chalk it up to God’s grace I guess.Woops, I think you thought I was saying Rich Mullins was trash, too. but I was actually referring to your earlier comment: I actually believe those where the last greatest and authentic Christian recording artists. But I can see how it was unclear, because your next sentence is Most of the trash that passes for Christian today is completely worthless.Just to clarify, I think Rich Mullins is one of the greatest Christian Music songwriters in the history of CCM. And he’s a far cry from most Christian performers nowadays.

  16. I don’t like hymns or contemporary worship music. I have never understood why Christian worship songs have to be so cheesy.

    I understand our need to separate ourselves from the secular world. I just don’t understand why it has to suck in the process.

    I grew up singing the hymns and still know most of them. But, I have never been able to really enjoy them. I can appreciate the lyrics. It’s the actual music I just can’t seem to get over.

    I don’t understand why we have to submit ourselves to something that we just do not like in order to worship God. If i could, I would stuff socks down every singe pipe on that oversized, mundane pipe organ.

    Even right now, I am seriously considering skipping the first part of the service, so I don’t have to sit through 15 minutes of 14th century, repeatative ickness.

    Classical music is just as old. Why can’t we sing hymns to that or something?

  17. Joshua –
    Something tells me you are pretty young. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – lol.
    Many hymns were written by taking old drinking tunes that the general public in England were familiar with, and changing lyrics and using scripture. Most of the time the melodies are simple and uncomplicated so they are less complicated for everyone to sing as a group. I agree that it doesn’t have to played completely devoid of any creativity or emotion. There is something a little silly to me when I see people trying to be “cool” and sing songs about Jesus or God in the same manner or style you hear top 40 and rock sung about sex & romantic love. It almost gives a creepy sexual feel. The whole “cool” sandal-wearing, jesus t-shirt- hip java bar, sloppy agape, feel is just a culture I don’t fit into. Contemporary Christian Music is very jivey and synchopated, with trickier rhythms and long held out notes. To sing along with it, someone would have to listen to contemporary christian radio on regular basis, otherwise they are standing up with everyone feeling like an idiot because they don’t know how it goes. Many hymns ARE written based on classical, and many of the same tunes are used for different hymns only changing the words and lyrics. If you think that hymns are difficult, then you think Christmas Carols are too. They are meant to be simple for people to sing in groups. Contemporary Christian music is much more suitable for soloists or a rehearsed small group.

  18. Just happened upon the title of this blog-while looking for music staff paper…laugh!!!!! I am happy to say that stupidity crosses all races, all sexes, all ages and all HUMANKIND. Church people don’t have the corner on the market-it’s shared equally by humans in general πŸ™‚

    Do churches still sing hymns? Great topic, loved reading the comments. Baptist church…60’s…70’s…laugh…same here πŸ™‚ And, I still love the hymns. Youth always want to break new paths, was the same with me…the junk music came. And went. There truly IS nothing new under the sun, is there? I suppose I’m the odd one of “my” (and yours…laugh!) generation…I love the hynms and still sing them at church, and enjoy them tons of different ways on itunes/etc. Oh the joys of technology. Cracks me up to have folks (of any age) say they can’t stand how many verses hymns have, yet lovin’ the choruses where you sing the same ten words (not even different verses and often gushy, gooey words) three gazillion times in a row, in a row, in a row, in a row (laugh!)….

    I can see why some think the hymns boring. Some pianists don’t do hymns any favors. Not sure why some pianists play hymns funeral dirge style. I’ve had the pleasure of confident, beautiful, INCREDIBLY amazing hymn playing. I’d be fine with never a praise song again, personally. Though that’s personal preference πŸ™‚

    Would I raise my kids without ’em? No way. There are tons of good things to fill their pointy little heads with-might as well have this be some of the filling!

    ~evy
    fischfraubinich@yahoo.com

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