A Philosophical Rationale for the Expansion of Congregational Hymn Repertoires -- By: H. Moran Whitley

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 16:1 (Fall 1998)
Article: A Philosophical Rationale for the Expansion of Congregational Hymn Repertoires
Author: H. Moran Whitley


A Philosophical Rationale for the Expansion
of Congregational Hymn Repertoires

H. Moran Whitley

Chair of the Music Department
Professor of Music Education
Campbell University
P.O. Box 70
Buies Creek, NC 27506

Are the congregational hymn repertoires of the typical Southern Baptist church narrow and limited? Many authorities in the field of Southern Baptist music ministry would concede the affirmative. Reynolds (1975) commented on the status of the typical congregational hymn repertoire and observed a general pattern in limited hymn selection. He noted that congregations prefer to sing familiar hymns because more people participate in congregational singing when hymns are thoroughly integrated and comfortable. The outcome of higher participation is more qualitative singing and exuberance in the corporate experience in worship. However, he noted an obvious flaw in this cycle of repetition; within this cycle there is the potential for a decreasing, impoverished repertoire of hymns known to the congregation which could lead to stagnation in worship. Reynolds called upon worship leaders to examine congregational hymns repertoires and consider ways to expand them to enrich worship and ministry.

Similarly Hustad (1993) commented on the same problem. Congregations are typically comfortable singing a group of limited, familiar hymns while resisting new songs and hymns for congregational worship. He cited two main reasons for the objection: 1) new hymns are not sung as well as old hymns, and 2) new hymns do not have the same nostalgic, extra-musical associations of familiar, favorite hymns. He challenged worship leaders to break this cycle of decreasing hymn repertoires by exploring ways to integrate new hymns effectively into the ministry of worship.

Mere access to new songs and hymns in new hymnals has apparently not been successful in breaking the cycle of familiar hymn repetition. Jones (1997) surveyed numerous churches to examine the effect of The Baptist Hymnal, 1991 on the hymn repertoires of Southern Baptist congregations. He concluded that despite the inclusion of new hymns and songs the new hymnal had little or no effect on the expansion of congregational hymn repertoires. Noting the same

cycle observed by Reynolds and Hustad, Jones further concluded that congregational hymn repertoires are decreasing because of the repetitious singing of the same narrow group of hymns. He expressed concern that this decreasing repertoire will inevitably impact worship negatively.

Mitchell (1993) termed the narrow hymn repertoire of the typical congregation as “the familiar liturgy.” Mitchell’s comment was based on the observe...

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