Whether you know it or not, you are now the beneficiary of what's been called the "hymn resurgence." Some would even say the resurgence has been completed - bringing hymns into equal standing and use alongside current-day worship songs. Maybe you've wondered this when you've been leading...why do people sing so loud on hymns? Why are so many churches coming back to the old songs?
I have a couple of theories on why hymns have "resurged" over the past ten years. They're not groundbreaking ideas or anything, but I do think these reasons teach us some lessons.
There are some specific elements that make most hymns easier to sing than other songs. The church suddenly just got "tired" of modern worship songs, but I think we started remembering that there were all these other beautiful aspects of the corporate worship experience that come by way of hymns. Let's look at some of the structure stuff
Melody - Hymns typically have much broader melodic range. "How Great Thou Art" or "In Christ Alone" don't worry themselves over a melody that strays over a C note. This works out because the broadness of these melodies never parks too long in one place. (Look at a hymnal and notice how far some of those notes are from each other!) Instead of harping on high notes, hymns hit and then go somewhere else. You remember a hymn melody because it's so vast. I once heard a worship leader say he wrote melodies as if a violin was playing them...big, sweeping movements rather than harping on one note for the whole verse. To our logic, though, this may seem problematic. How is it people are supposed to remember these big, sweeping, quickly-changing melodies? Glad you asked!
Phrasing - This is the secret sauce of what makes hymns awesome. The reason why people can easily sing hymns all comes down to syllables. Because hymns have consistent phrasing. From verse to verse to verse, the syllable count and emphasis is the same. Even if you don't know the hymn, you can start singing by the second verse, simply because you recognize the internal rhythm of the song by its phrasing. Yes, many hymns are beloved and recognizable, but if your church draws a lot of guests, you may find they sing better on hymns they've never heard before, simply based on the phrasing.
Narrative - One of my most controversial theories about hymns is that they are not, as some will say, more "theological" than worship choruses. I just don't believe that's true. I I believe that hymns are often more rich and meaningful than modern songs, but it's not because of theology...it's because of poetry. Hymns say the same things about God that most worship songs do...only better. Hymns are built on narrative - each verse propels a story or belief (journey, if you will.) Verse 1 leads to Chorus/Refrain. Verse 2 then takes that idea to the next logical place, Verse 3, Verse 4 etc. Compare this to many worship songs wherein the verses and bridge section are doing the exact same thing with no real narrative change.
A GOOD OLD FASHIONED FAD
Regardless of how it happened, hymns are BACK. Sadly, that means that hymns have become a bit of a fad for some. But that's okay with me. I have a lot of faith in hymns. They're just too good to be short-lived. I don't care how hymns became popular again...I'm just glad they are. And I think it will be a long time before they go away.
How man hymns do you lead a month in your church?
Are you doing them with the traditional melodies or retuning them?