Beyond Shazam

Visitors at New Life often tell us that they don’t recognize our worship music. If you used Shazam on a typical Sunday at New Life you would probably get close to zero hits. That’s because we sing a lot of old hymns put to new music (with contemporary worship songs occasionally sprinkled in).

Some of our visitors don’t recognize our music because they are not familiar with hymns. Some of our visitors don’t recognize our music because they like their hymns just the way they are. We have a tendency of alienating both hymn haters and the hymn lovers. This is not a very effective church growth strategy.

So why do we sing so many unfamiliar songs at New Life?

1) The best worship songs last

Franky very little contemporary worship music has lasted. Worship songs that I loved in the 1980s sound cheesy today. Not all hymns have lasted the test of history either, but the ones that have are very good.

2) The best worship songs are richly Biblical

Hymns were written in an age with higher Biblical literacy. Not all hymns are Biblical, but the best hymns tend to use far more of the Bible’s own language than our best contemporary worship songs. In fact, songs from the Scottish Psalter are just Old Testament Psalms put to music.

3) The best worship songs have emotional bandwidth

Contemporary worship music tends to be optimistic, high energy, and sentimental. That’s why I actually love some contemporary worship music. But sometimes we need to be pensive, sad, or reverent when we worship our Creator and Redeemer.

4) The best worship songs are Christ centered

Worship music reflects its environment and right now the Christian landscape is not very Christ-centered. Many contemporary worship songs emphasize the things we want to do for Christ over the great things Christ has done for us. The best hymns focus on God’s faithfulness to us and remind us that our hope rests completely on Jesus.

5) The best worship songs are not culturally bound

Some really great hymns have been forgotten simply because they are too difficult to sing. The gospel is timeless but culture is not. Putting old gospel truth to new music is a natural and powerful way to live out our ancient faith in the present.

To learn more about the Hymn Renewal movement watch these discussions between some of the musicians who have rewritten our favorite hymns.

Old Hymns for Our Day from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

The Bono Effect and Corporate Worship from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.


About David Lee

I am the pastor of New Life Mission Church of Fremont meeting in Newark, CA. I live in Fremont with my wife and three children. In my former life I was a history teacher at Irvington High School in Fremont. I love watching and discussing movies (but not at the same time), playing board games, hiking, visiting local cafes, and watching and complaining about (at the same time) Bay Area sports.
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