Posted by: rcottrill | January 5, 2018


See 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Pastors and church leaders who have gone contemporary in their church music sometimes say, “But I love the old hymns…” I’m not sure what they mean by that. Perhaps, in actual practice, like the Ephesian Christians, they have “left [their] first love” (Rev. 2:4), because there seems to be little evidence of it in the services of the church

Hymn books may be stashed away in a cupboard, and services often use very few of the old songs. (And when they are used, it’s often only snatches of the original, tortured with a contemporary setting.) These church leaders may be thinking of two or three favourites they remember fondly from their childhood. But a sincere love for the traditional hymns and gospel songs will show itself day by day, and week by week. Here are a few of the ways this affection can reveal itself in the life of a pastor. (Some of them apply to other members of the congregation too.)

If I truly love the traditional hymns and gospel songs of the church…

1) I’ll use them in my personal devotions, and encourage others to do the same. If I never open a hymn book during the week, other than to pick a song or two for a service, then I don’t really love these songs.

2) I’ll see that good books on hymn history are place in the church library, and promoted. There are many of these that could help instill a broader awareness of the songs and their authors.

3) I’ll endeavour to expand my knowledge of our hymnody beyond the few that most people know. About a million have been written since Pentecost, and the Cyber Hymnal currently has over 12,000 available to read and study. (The present site has well over a thousand.)

4) I’ll see that hymns are regularly taught and used in the programs of the church that involve children and youth. The first stanza of many hymns can often stand alone, and be easily taught. (Others can be added later.) And if there’s an interesting story about the author or the writing of the hymn, this will help promote it with the young.

5) I won’t afraid to have music that is different in style and content from the world’s, but rather be glad of the distinction, and see it as spiritually healthy. The Bible calls us to a distinct separation from worldly ways and values. We’re not to sidle up as close as we possibly can to the fire without getting burned (II Cor. 6:14–7:1).

6) I’ll either choose the hymns myself, or guide the service leader in the choice, so that the hymns amplify and enhance my sermon of the day (or follow a particular theme or purpose). This practice will reinforce the basic teaching in the Bible message, and may leave folks singing and humming the truth through the week.

7) I’ll put articles in the weekly bulletin that teach about hymns and their authors. Often, the more we know about these things, the more we’re able to sing with understanding, something God’s Word exhorts us to do (Ps. 47:7; I Cor. 14:15).

8. I’ll have a service, from time to time, featuring the life of a hymn writer and his/her hymns, or hymns gathered around a particular theme (in addition to the obvious service themes of, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter). There is even a book of short dramas that can be used for this called, 52 Hymn Stories Dramatized.

9) I’ll limit the use of contemporary songs, showing the same reticence and caution some now have regarding the old hymns, with a view to helping the congregation feel more of a sense of unity with the historical church. Few in the congregation know much about church history, how we got to where we are. Knowing something of hymns drawn from the centuries since Pentecost will help with this.

10) Before each service I’ll pray not only for the impact of the sermon, but pray that those present will also grasp the meaning of the hymns (chosen for a purpose), sing them with sincerity, and learn from them. My guess is that few pastors and service leaders ever do this. But good hymns teach God’s truth, and God’s Spirit can make all more aware of what they are singing.

11) I’ll see that hymns sung in the services are not overwhelmed by loud accompaniment or a dominating beat. This is a style taken right from the world. The emphasized beat is either intended to be sensual for dancing, or at its extreme it often expresses rage and rebellion. The excessive volume is an attempt to create an overwhelming experience. Christ and the gospel of grace need none of this. In fact, it may be a distraction from the truth welcomed by the devil.

12) I’ll explore the tradition of a capella congregational singing (without instruments), and try to use it, at least once in awhile, encouraging parts singing. This can be very effective if you have enough people to support the singing, without instruments. Songs tend to be sung slower and more thoughtfully when this is done.

13) During the service I (or the service leader) will plan to point out things in the hymns we are about to sing that relate to the theme of the service, or are particularly instructive or a blessing. This should be done, not every time, but frequently. Let’s think about what we sing!

14) When I’m particularly moved by something in a hymn sung, I’ll feel compelled to speak about it in the service, tying it to a biblical truth or principle. Comments can also follow a hymn and remind the congregation of important truths.

15) I’ll occasionally ask (on the spot) for a hymn to be repeated, calling attention to key themes, so that it’s message will be made clearer and remembered better. Done occasionally, with an especially meaningful hymn, this can focus more attention on the words.

16) I’ll occasionally have a time for requests (favourites) to make sure hymns that are loved are used. Perhaps there are old hymns that are especially meaningful to members of the congregation–ones that haven’t been used for years. And if you think the person won’t mind, ask why it’s a favourite (or ask if the individual has a particular stanza that’s meaningful to them).

17) I will quote hymns in my sermons often (including ones used earlier in the service). This should be done regularly, if not every time. Many hymn texts make a wonderful way to emphasize the truth being taught.

18) I will tell relevant stories of how they were written, or stories about the authors in my sermons. These make fine sermon illustrations. Often, when preaching, I’ll tell the story of what is planned to be the closing hymn.

19) I’ll schedule occasional Hymn Sings and perhaps invite those from other churches to join us for those. (I’ve led these over the years, and they can be great times of fellowship.)

20) As I have opportunity, I’ll encourage Bible colleges to have courses on hymnology, and teach the students a significant number of the old hymns. This may be a hard sell, but it’s worth it to make the effort. To graduate pastoral students who have as little awareness of our hymnody as when they entered the school, that is a tragedy!

21) I’d check out the Wordwise Hymns link from time to time, especially 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing. A few of the ideas have been given above, but there are many more things you can try.

Please don’t tell me you “love” the old hymns if none of the above is ever true of you. All of these things and more can help to build a love for our traditional sacred music in a congregation, for their greater spiritual enrichment. Doing nothing will leave God’s people in ignorance of this great heritage. Don’t let that happen.


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