The future of sung worship

Where is contemporary worship headed? An easy question to pose, and yet almost impossible to answer.

The current fad for one thing or another in church worship is probably to be followed by a different fad, focussed on a different style, bias or preference.

What, then, of the hymn, which improves but dwindles with age? Musicians update the style, the setting, the tune and even modernise the lyrics, but what qualities keep some of the old hymns on their feet when music written only five years ago may now be found upon its knees?

I suspect that the secret lies in familiarity and simplicity. We are familiar with hymns and their lyrics because they were often sung in our youth. In the same way, my sons may grow up knowing “My Jesus, My Saviour” as an old classic. The other distinguishing mark must be the simplicity of ideas in older hymns. They might expend several verses on one event or theme. For as many examples as you like, take Christmas carols, or “Amazing Grace” which covers only one aspect of God’s character yet covers half a dozen verses at least.

Modern worship songs, especially the ones I dislike, seem to quote scripture as though the very act of singing it sanctifies the song; or else make references to concepts far removed from the ordinary life of most churchgoers. The successful modern hymnists are finding simple concepts or narratives, singable tunes, and accessible language. They weave them together into something my grandchildren may one day pull out of a book and say “I remember this, we haven’t sung it in years!”

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