How Singing Hymns Changed Our Church
My husband and I lead worship at a church plant south of Nashville, TN. You probably haven’t been to our church but you know our church. We’re the one that meets in a school cafeteria with folding chairs. The portable church that gets loaded in and out of trailers on the backs of selfless volunteers every week. The one where you may not quite know everyone’s name but you remember their face and you can definitely tell if there is a visitor but you try not to make it awkward. Yeah, that church.
We were not on staff when we started helping with the music. So, when we were eventually asked to lead, we had an interesting point of view. We had been the ones sitting in the aforementioned folding chairs and we had noticed a few things. We had noticed that no one really sang along. For one, it’s a bit awkward when you’re in a small setting so, that’s understandable. We noticed that they might sing along to a popular worship song but if a song was too new or too wordy or too artsy or in the wrong key people just didn’t sing much.
When we began to lead, we focused on introducing more options that would give the church confidence to join in the singing. We tried some simple, repetitive songs. We tried songs in “one size fits most” keys rather than catering to the optimal vocal range of the leader. We tried a lot of things and then one Sunday we tried a hymn. And you know what happened? They sang. They sang loud.
That changed everything. Surprisingly, as we sang that hymn together it felt like our church had found its voice. It paved the way for worship songs that have become anthems for our church. Songs that have guided us through series and seasons. Songs that comforted us through difficult situations. Songs that have steered us in new directions. All because we unlocked the power of our voice.
I wouldn’t call our church “a hymns kind of church”. We’re mostly people who wanted something different from a traditional setting. We stay pretty true to the top 100 CCLI list and even have some original worship songs. We don’t necessarily do a hymn every week but we do keep them in rotation. We started by adding familiar favorites like “Amazing Grace” and “Come Thou Fount”.
Not surprising, it has been difficult to find versions of hymns that fit well in our style of music. We struggled to find something to post in Planning Center for the band. Most versions were either too artistic or too traditional. We tackled this challenge by creating new arrangements that were easy enough for a band to play yet still recognizable enough for our church to sing along.
It has been humbling to watch an elderly face light up when they realize we are singing a hymn and equally humbling when they continue singing as we move into another worship song. I’ll never forget overhearing my 4 year old singing “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” the same way she would sing along with the radio.
Gauging by the popularity of hybrid worship songs, it seems clear The Church still has a soft spot for hymns. Songs like “Lord I Need You”, “My Chains Are Gone”, “It Is Well” and “This Is Amazing Grace” have drawn something fresh from the hymnal page. There’s no doubt we will lean on them along with the ancient psalms and scriptures to continue crafting the sound for the next generation of The Church.
How interesting that Ephesians 5:18-19 encourages different types of songs:
...be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.
While some moments call for familiarity, others need rich vocabulary and theology, still some need simplicity. What a great perspective for us as worship leaders to see a variety of purpose in songs and to consider how to use them to serve our people. The main point is that we find a way to sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts... together. As a worship leader, I love the moments where leading actually means stepping away from the microphone and hearing the church sing out. We get a taste of heaven as we reach across generations and look toward our future.
When we’ve been there 10,000 years Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we first begun
- John Newton “Amazing Grace”
How has your church found its voice in this season? Can you identify a particular song that engaged your people in worship?
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