Memorizing Great Hymns

Last month my church started memorizing great hymns of the faith. We’ll be memorizing a hymn a month for ten months. Ken Boer, who oversees music at Covenant Life, explains on the church website why we’re doing this:

Memorizing hymns is one of the ways we can obey Scripture’s command to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).

We’re doing this project because we want to benefit not only from the songs written in our lifetime, but also from hymns that have served the people of God for generations and will endure long after we’re gone. They are time-tested and true. They speak to every circumstance of life and point us to the wisdom, love and power of our gracious God and Savior.

Here’s a list of the hymns we’ll be memorizing together:

November – Amazing Grace
December – Before the Throne
January – Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
February – Be Thou My Vision
March – And Can It Be
April – Crown Him with Many Crowns
May – A Mighty Fortress
June – Be Still My Soul
July – How Firm a Foundation
August – Great is Thy Faithfulness

To help us in the process of memorization, we’ll be singing the hymn for that particular month on each Sunday of that month. On the last Sunday of the month, we sing the hymn without the aid of projected lyrics.

At the end of October we had a “hymn night” during which we sang all ten hymns. We also produced a CD of the hymns which is available for download on a “pay what you want” basis. It was produced by my good friends Roger Hooper and Dave Campbell. Check it out.

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12 Responses to Memorizing Great Hymns

  1. Kyle December 2, 2008 at 3:29 PM #

    This is such a fantastic idea. How, practically, are you having the church memorize the hymns? Do you provide lyrics or an audio file via your website, and simply encourage people to work on it? I’m trying to figure out the logistics of making something like this happen. How insightful and pastoral.

  2. Kyle December 2, 2008 at 3:30 PM #

    I guess having a CD that your church members can download doesn’t hurt the effort. So for a church that doesn’t have that luxury, what suggestions would you make as to how to implement this practice?

  3. Bob Kauflin December 2, 2008 at 4:47 PM #

    Kyle,

    There are a number of ways you can introduce the songs to people. You can direct them to cyberhymnal.org, print up the lyrics and/or lead sheets, or perhaps make a budget recording of someone simply singing the hymns accompanied by a piano or guitar.

  4. Shawn Stinson December 2, 2008 at 5:12 PM #

    Interesting idea, I’m not sure how how I’d be able to keep a song fresh doing it week after week. But I definitely like the idea. Those are some great hymns you guys have chosen. They are all such great “hymns of the faith.” I will admit though I’m not as familiar with Before the Throne or How Firm a foundation as I should be. I might just have to memorize them too.

  5. Lindele December 2, 2008 at 5:20 PM #

    Every month after we have communion, we gather in a circle and sing “The Family of God”: “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God/ I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood/ Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod/ for I’m part of the family, the family of God.” Four lines, and the first and fourth have almost all the same words. We have done this for at least 8 years, every month. But there are still people who don’t sing it unless the words are up on the wall. They act like they’ve never heard it before in their lives. How do you motivate people to commit songs to memory?

  6. Bob Kauflin December 2, 2008 at 5:57 PM #

    Lindele,

    People can sing songs mindlessly or not participate at all if we don’t lead, encourage, and teach them. A few words of explanation or exhortation from your pastor might go a long way towards helping people more meaningfully involved. Also, maybe it’s time to try a new song!

  7. Nicki December 3, 2008 at 12:11 AM #

    What an excellent idea Bob! Thank you to everyone involved in making those hymns available for download..that is so awesome! It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.

  8. Marty December 5, 2008 at 7:11 PM #

    Bob,

    What a great idea. Thanks for sharing this with us. I know that the songs that are coming to mean the most to me are songs that are based on scripture, particularly the Psalms.

    Looking forward to hearing how your congregation does.

    Marty

  9. Eric Schumacher December 31, 2008 at 2:04 PM #

    Bob,

    Could you post some thoughts on practical steps in playing the same song 4-5 Sunday straight? Would their be some benefit to using different instruments each week (piano-guitar), a choir or soloist?

    I can already hear the complaint that 4 weeks in a row is too much repetition!!!

    I think this is a great idea–and we’re planning to start in February–that’s why I’d appreciate your input on ideas.

    Some ideas I’ve had: I, Lord willing, will be writing a short Q&A catechism on each hymn for the church members to use in teaching the meaning of the hymn to themselves and children.

    I’m also thinking of preaching a sermon at the beginning of each month on the theology of that month’s hymn, expositing an appropriate portion of Scripture highlighted by the hymn. I trust it would help our folks delve the depths of these great works.

    • Bob Kauflin December 31, 2008 at 2:13 PM #

      Eric,

      Sounds like you have some great ideas. Here’s how we’ve been teaching the hymns. The first Sunday we generally introduce the fact that we’re memorizing the hymn this month, and talk some about the theology of the hymn. (This past month we didn’t actually do that until the 4th Sunday, so plans are sometimes different from execution.) Around the third Sunday we’ll remind people that we’re memorizing the hymn as a church and turn off the lyrics after the first or second verse. We encourage guests to just listen to the words and be encouraged by the truths we’re singing. On the last Sunday, we sing the whole hymn with no projected lyrics.

      So far, no one’s complained about too much repetition, because our goal is to actually memorize the hymns. I think we’re starting to see the benefit of repetition, actually. People are able to sing rich theological truth from memory, which feeds their souls.

      As far as using different instrumentation, that happens naturally for us as we use about four different bands on Sundays. But if you don’t have that setup, it’s a good idea to vary instrumentation, keeping the focus on the voices of the congregation.

  10. Zac Hicks June 6, 2009 at 5:38 PM #

    What a fabulous idea! This will definitely edify. For me, this is one of the primary benefits of being a worship leader who utilizes great hymns of the faith (even ones I set to modern music!). The hymns are in my soul, speaking to me and dialoguing with me every day. That’s truly when we can, across time, speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Great idea. I’m going to keep this in the vault for our church.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Review of Covenant Life Church's self-produced album "How Sweet the Sound: Remembering Great Hymns of the Faith" | i am an offering - January 29, 2009

    [...] while back Bob Kauflin mentioned on Worship Matters that his church was working their way through memorizing se….  What an amazing idea!  Even more amazing is what the church did to help the congregation [...]

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