Posted by: rcottrill | May 5, 2010

Community Hymn Sings

Community Hymn Sing–the very phrase breathes warmth and fellowship. And this kind of program is something I have conducted many times over the years. Here is some information that could help you organize one. Note: The questionnaire below was used when I was asked to be the leader of the program in a distant town. That is why you will see “I” and “me” at various points. Simply substitute the name of the leader you have chosen where appropriate.

To begin with, there is merit in calling the event a “Community Hymn Sing.” It becomes an automatic invitation to the whole “community.” I have found there are many people all over who love to sing the old hymns!

1) What is the VENUE for the event (location, address)? Will folks need a map? And is there anything more we should know about this location (parking, etc.)?

2) What is the DATE and TIME for the event? Usually, I have planned on about a 90-minute program. No sermon. The emphasis is on singing, with about a half hour afterward for coffee and conversation. The latter, or course, is optional, and up to you.

3) What CHURCHES will be involved? In my experience, it is possible to draw in participants from about an hour’s radius, with good promotion, and the traditional hymns of the church seem to cross many denominational boundaries.

4) Is it possible to estimate the NUMBER OF PEOPLE that might attend? This is helpful in case you would like to provide a hand-out for certain songs, and provide a snack afterward, etc.

5) Who will the ACCOMPANIST(S) be? Simple piano accompaniment is good, or organ and piano. Some songs may be done a cappella (without instruments), if harmonization shows promise. (I have also conducted programs where a very fine violinist played along, sometimes supplying a beautiful obligato to the singing. Given the nature of the music, my personal preference is not to have drums and guitars used, but that’s up to you.)

6) Will an organized CHOIR be involved? My usual pattern is to sing all or part of as many hymns as possible, giving the background for some along the way. To vary congregational participation, we may have the instruments play a verse, or I could sing a verse as a solo, asking all to join me on the refrain. A choir could fit into this mix well. Even if they did not do much on their own, they would add support to the singing–valuable if a song is unfamiliar to some. (A mixed quartet could work the same way.)

7) What HYMNS will be used? I prefer to choose most of the hymns myself, or have a major input into the choice (though it is possible to set aside some time for requests during the event). One reason I do this is that not all songs have as interesting a story behind them as others do. Sometimes I also choose hymns to fit or develop a particular theme (Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s, etc.). If enough lead time is given, I can provide a list of songs in advance, so accompanists can get familiar with them.

8.) What about a PRACTICE? Would it be possible to meet with the accompanist(s) (and choir?) in advance (i.e. the evening before, or even the afternoon of the hymn sing date)? Though this is not usually necessary, a bit of discussion and a run-through of less familiar numbers could add to the effectiveness of the program.

9) What HYMN BOOK will be in the pews? (And could I borrow a copy in advance, if I do not already have one?) I have done this type of program with hand-outs, or using an overhead. But I’ve found it’s most helpful for people to turn to the hymn, have the music before them, and see the names of the author/composer that I will be telling them about.

10) Is there an OVERHEAD projector which could be used? (And do you have a spare bulb on hand?) Even if it is not used for song words, sometimes a photograph of the hymn writer is of interest. (Note that a choir would have to be positioned to be able to see what is projected.) I once tried having a hymn sing with folks sitting in a semicircle, and roughly divided into parts. It worked fairly well.

11) Will there be a LUNCH afterward? And if so, who will take care of arranging for this? Suggestion: Keep it simple. Tea, coffee or juice, and a cookie would do. The main idea is to give some time for visiting and conversation.

12) How will the event be ADVERTISED? Depending on your circumstances, such things as small posters and bulletin inserts for participating churches would be helpful. Or maybe a newspaper advertisement on the “Church Page.” (Who will take care of producing these?)

13) Are there local CONTACTS, individuals who can be phoned or e-mailed for further information?

14) How will the event be covered and REPORTED ON afterward? Will someone be taking pictures? A report in a local newspaper will likely be of interest to those involved. Also, denominational publications sometimes like to tell about such special events.

15) Are there local COSTS involved? For publicity? Rental of facilities? Etc. As for myself, I ask that you cover the expense of my travel (and accommodation, if needed). If you wish to give me an honorarium, that is up to you. I do not have a “fee,” but as the Bible says, “The labourer is worthy of his wages” (I Tim. 5:18).

16) MISCELLANEOUS. Anything else that needs consideration in your particular situation?


  1. […] 9. Plan a “Community Hymn Sing,” inviting other churches to join in a service of hymn singing. You’ll find instructions and tips for doing this here. […]

  2. Hello… and thank you for the tips on a “community hymn singing event.” Indeed, many of the old hymns are a little sermon in themselves and people who would not normally go to church may be interested in attending such an event if, for example, it features a hymn writer who is of local and historical interest in their community, as often is the case here in Ireland. I have arranged events in the past… but so far not a hymn singing one. For authors of books on the subject, you could display your books for people to view over light refreshments after the event. Thank you again for these ideas!

    • Glad you enjoyed the article. I’ve run these programs, and they’ve always proved a blessed. They pull Christians together across denominational lines, reminding us of what we have in common. And they provide an opportunity for us to sing some of the great old hymns that, sadly, some congregations are trying to leave behind.


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