Sing a New Song
It has taken most of 50 years, but the transition from hymns to contemporary worship music in the church service is almost complete. Where did the hymns go and how did we get here? Does worship music affect spiritual growth or it is entertainment, an ice breaker for the sermon that follows?
Baby Boomers have especially been on-boarding the music bus whether they paid for a ticket or not. Some hold tight in the back of the bus with their opinion that hymns are the only music spiritual enough to have a place in the church. Others sit in the middle and allow a portion of the worship experience to include contemporary music. The group just behind the driver is all in with the contemporary style and is eager to unload the back seats as soon as possible.
In the book entitled A History of Contemporary Praise and Worship by Lester Ruth and Lim Swee Hong, the two authors report the roots of contemporary music in Canada when a Pastor experienced a new type of praise through music at a revival in 1946. The key to the music was to reveal and experience God’s presence. The style took root in many charismatic churches and was reborn again in the 1960s with The Jesus Movement. The so-called Hippie music was served up by musicians rather than the Pastor and was designed to reach the younger generation who would be responsible for the survival of the church. Church growth innovators such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren brought the next wave of contemporary music with the concept that God-inhabited praise.[i]
The attraction of God inhabiting our praise has kept the bus moving. Those in the front of the bus will experience more stops, as the average length of lifespan of a contemporary song is about 3-4 years. That is down from the 90s when a song would live a dozen years with a slow decline over 4-5 years. A few songs such as “In Christ Alone” have endured for a couple of decades.
The present driver of the contemporary music bus is the consumer who eats through everything at warp speed. Chris Walker, Pastor of worship arts at Covenant Life Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, suspects “the churn of worship music reflects the way Americans consume media in general, where everything is immediate and has a short shelf life.”[ii]
Hymns are not gone forever. The popularity of modernizing hymns is growing. A google search will pop out a playlist of modernized hymns. There are two general approaches to modernizing an old hymn. One is to change the melody and preserve the lyrics and the second is to preserve the basic structure of the melody and the words while changing the musical style.[iii] Many young artists are committed to keep the theological and inspirational messages of the hymns of past generations.
Wherever you sit on the bus, praise and worship through music can be a catalyst for finding God. “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Psalm 96:1 (NIV).
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[i] https://www.faithtoday.ca/Magazines/2022-Mar-Apr/A-History-of-Contemporary-Praise-Worship-Unders [ii] https://religionnews.com/2022/05/02/like-that-new-church-worship-song-chances-are-it-will-be-gone-soon/ [iii] https://www.reawakenhymns.com/modernizing-hymns