How to choose hymns for worship

Need some help in choosing hymns? Lets see if we can help!

Why is this important?

Hymns are not there just to enable the congregation to stretch their legs and exercise their voices – though people do need to do these things! Singing is the main way in which the congregation can express their feelings, so preventing the service from being a “one-man show”. So the hymns should not only provide them with opportunities for a hearty sing but also enable them to respond appropriately to the readings and sermon. Because they are written as poetry hymns can also be a means of tapping into truth which plain words cannot express. Merely choosing our personal favourites is not going to achieve these objectives!

So how could I go about choosing hymns?

Many hymn books (like Rejoice and Sing) arrange the hymns according to subject-matter – so you can easily find all the hymns appropriate to a particular time of year, or find hymns on particular subjects, such as “Pilgrimage” or “Unity”. That’s a good place to start, though the allocation to sections is inevitably a bit rough and ready. If you can possibly get access to a full music edition of the hymn book you are using, you will probably find some very helpful indexes at the back, such as a thematic index and an index of scriptural references.
If the hymn book you are using doesn’t have any of these, or if they are not very good, it can be worth consulting a different book to get ideas of suitable hymns and then checking whether those hymns are in your own book.

What if my book doesn’t seem to contain what I am looking for?

See if you can find something in a different book. You can reproduce the words, provided (in the case of texts covered by copyright) the church where you are using it gets permission – most churches have a CCL licence, which covers an enormous range of hymns.

But the congregation don’t like new tunes!

Then use one they do know! In many cases the organist is able to take responsibility for finding one that will fit. But if not, you may be able to find one yourself – even if you don’t read music. Once more, you do need to use a full music edition. First, look at the printed tune. Above it you will find the name of the tune, followed by either letters (perhaps CM) or figures (for example, 87 87). This indicates the metre of the tune. At the back of the book you will find a “Metrical Index”. Find the metre you will need, and look through the list of tunes in that metre. Sooner or later you will find one which is set to words you know, and singing the new words through to that tune you can decide whether it will be suitable (it may well be, but now and again it will just “sound wrong”, and sometimes the mood will clearly not suit the words.)

Where else could I look to find hymns on particular subjects?

Well, who knows what you might find in a good Christian bookshop! But do look at the website for HymnQuest, which is an amazing mine of information.

Also, check out our Resources pages for seasonal resources and for links to other websites that might be able to help.

Any other tips?

Yes! Look at the website for the Hymn Society. This contains a series of 14 really practical small booklets on all sorts of useful subjects. You will find lots of good ideas here.