Introducing Hymns to a Contemporary Congregation
I occasionally get questions about introducing hymns to congregations that do not sing them. Should a pastor introduce old hymns? And if so, how should we go about the process?
First, make sure to explain and teach to your people the importance of theological expression through music. Help them see the depth of a hymn like, “For All the Saints,” or another one listed below.
Second, help them see that as Christians, we have to lean against the “arrogance of the modern.” We are people who are connected with brothers and sisters from the history of our faith, and we should not ignore that. Learning hymns is a way to participate in the church universal and the communion of the saints.
Third, develop a practical method for introducing the hymns. I suggest you introduce a new hymn each month. I used this for introducing the Psalms, but it works just as well for a hymn. At significant points in the church year (Advent, Christmas, Easter) introduce a powerful hymn. If you start in March around the time of what some observe as Lent, you can introduce a hymn like “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” which is a hymn that emphasizes the passion of Jesus Christ. Then for Easter introduce a hymn like “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”
Fourth, develop a long-term plan. By this I mean you should know the main hymns you want to introduce over the course of the next few years. That means if you want to plan out two years, pick 24 hymns. Put the appropriate hymn in the month relative to the major event of the church year. Here’s my suggestion:
- January: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (New Year)
- February: “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” (Adoration)
- March: “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” (Passion)
- April: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (Easter)
- May: “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (Pentecost)
- June: “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Trinity)
- July: “And Can It Be” (Salvation)
- August: “Jesus Shall Reign” (Mission)
- September: “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord” (Church)
- October: “A Mighty Fortress” (Reformation)
- November: “For all the Saints” (All Saints)
- December: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (Advent)
Many of these tunes are easy to learn. I would strongly suggest this online resource by Terry Johnson: “The Case for Traditional Songs.” One of the benefits of this online pdf is that Johnson goes through the history of the church, discussing significant hymns and hymn writers. He suggests sixty Psalms and sixty hymns to learn. He also has a chart of a 10 year calender to learn these hymns and Psalms (which is in his book on family worship). Check out his “Annual Calendar of Classic Hymns and Metrical Psalms – 2008.”
- Church Triumphant, vol 1 & vol 2 (cd set of classic hymns)
- Terry Johnson, The Family Worship Book (I love this book. Not only does it provide great resources for worshiping as a family, it also provides resources for worshiping as a church. I mentioned this one above. You need to own this book if you are a pastor. You might also want to consider this one by him.)
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (You might be surprised to find this listed as a resource, but Grudem provides a hymn for each doctrinal topic. This is a very wise way to introduce hymns to your people as you preach on a certain doctrine.)
- Mouw & Noll, Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology (Great resource on the history of hymnody in the American Protestant church.)