Well, I’m not sure exactly. It depends a bit on your size, demographic, music team, etc. But it mostly isn’t determined by these things, because good songs transcend them all.
Not all hymns are great. The best hymns have survived through a process of natural selection from thousands of hymns written over hundreds of years.
Let’s take a look at what does make a hymn great.
- The melody is stirring and singable and memorable
- The music is timeless and can be adapted to different contexts
- The lyrics are rich and powerful
- The lyrics say something that is not said a million times elsewhere, or they say it better
- The lyrics are understandable and relatable (even if it takes a few readings)
If you’re not able to assess using these criteria, then take a listen to how well a congregation sings a hymn. They will assess it for you.
(By the way, these things also make a contemporary song great. Just putting it out there.)
Here’s my top 10 pick (not in order), based on how enthusiastically the people of God sing them in my experience. I’ve also tried to get a range of styles and themes.
And Can It Be
Be Thou My Vision
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
How Great Thou Art
I Cannot Tell
It Is Well
Jesus Paid It All
My Hope is Built
When I Survey
And some strong contenders that I can’t bear to leave out;
Be Still My Soul
Come Thou Fount
Crown Him with Many Crowns
O for a Thousand Tongues
Take My Life
The Old Rugged Cross
What a Friend we have in Jesus
PS If your music director is of the “we-only-have-room-for-40-songs-in-the-repertoire” variety, then reassure them that hymns don’t count in the quota! Most people already know the tunes of hymns and will never forget them, regardless of how many new tunes they are fed. These can stay permanently on the playlist, whether you do them regularly or intermittently.
My current project is to create versions of all of these hymns that keep the melody the same, but are adapted to a contemporary context. There will be an opportunity to be a website member, so you can access lead sheets, chord sheets, vocal harmonies, piano scores and instrumental parts that all go together.
#hymns #songselection #hymnarrangements #contemporaryhymns