What Are the Favorite Hymns of United Methodists? (2007)
The last published list of results was in 2000. You can see the list of the top twenty responses of 2000 by clicking here. In 2000, I made the following observations concerning the list:
- Three of the top six favorites were written within the previous twenty-five years. I wondered if they were truly favorites, or if they were temporarily favorite because of their currency of style.
- Significant by their absence were newly-written hymns in classical, liturgical, or traditional styles.
- Some of the favorites of past generations had begun to slip, but "Amazing Grace" continued to lead the list.
- "How Great Thou Art," controversial when both the 1966 and 1989 hymnals were published, remained popular.
- Charles Wesley is the most frequent contributor to our hymnal, and central to the theology and practice of our denomination, but only one of his hymns was on the list. Fanny Crosby, wildly popular in past years, was also represented by only one hymn.
- Also noteworthy by their near absence are the great historical, traditional hymns of the faith, such as "A Mighty Fortress," "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," "The Church's One Foundation," and others.
- The list was reflective of the diversity within the denomination. It had gospel songs, old hymns, new songs, pop and traditional styles, objective and subjective texts, and hymns of praise and of reflection. However, among the selections receiving more than one vote, only one hymn was written by a non-white, non-Western author and composer.
The 2000 listing was based on a large representative sampling of musical experts in the denomination, including music directors and leaders, pastors, bishops, seminary and university professors, and hymn writers. They were asked to respond with what they believed to be the favorite hymns of our denomination.
The latest results (2006) were based on actual polls of thousands of United Methodists, including the experts as well as the people in the pews, Sunday school classes, teachers, and participants in worship and music training events and conferences.
To see the list of the top twenty favorites in 2006, click here.
As with the 2000 favorites list, I offer some observations on the 2006 list:
- The top of the list is quite similar to the 2000 list, with four of the top five favorites remaining.
- A significant number of titles from the 2000 experts' list does not show up on the 2006 list. How do we account for the difference in the perception of the experts; that is, how they estimated the favorites of the people in 2000, and the actual people's favorites in 2006? Seven of the nine titles in question may be seen as being in a more popular style rather than a classical, traditional hymn style. Perhaps the experts' estimation of the peoples' tastes was more popular than it actually is.
- The 2000 list included three contemporary praise and worship titles and those, as with all titles on the list, were contained in the 1989 hymnal. The 2006 list included four contemporary praise and worship titles, three of which were not in the hymnal. This reflects the publication, popularity, and use of the supplemental songbook, The Faith We Sing, released in 2001.
- "In the Garden" and "Old Rugged Cross," often thought of as favorites of the oldest of our members, remain on both lists.
- The 2006 list includes more hymns in classical, liturgical, or traditional style.
- There are three Wesley hymns in 2006, one in 2000.
- The 2006 list is a more equal balance of head and heart songs, traditional and contemporary, historical/liturgical and emotional/experiential.
- "Amazing Grace," "Here I Am, Lord," and "How Great Thou Art" are the top three favorites on both lists.
- As with the 2000 list, the 2006 list was reflective of the diversity within the denomination. It had gospel songs, old hymns, new songs, pop and traditional styles, objective and subjective texts, and hymns of praise and of reflection. However, there were no hymns or songs on the list that were written by non-white, non-Western authors and composers. That is not to say, of course, that the different ethnic and cultural members of the church could not lay claim to these titles as favorites. Many of them are used by all constituencies of the church, by all cultures, races, and ages.
This research will continue and be expanded, collecting responses from many more United Methodists than were polled in 2000 and 2006. Inevitably, the results will be affected by the proliferation of hymnals and songbooks in our church. The trend is clearly away from an all-inclusive volume intended to serve the entire denomination. We have chosen to diversify music and worship song publication by providing resources for specific ethnic, language, geographical, generational, and cultural groups. And, of course, there is the ever-growing number and variety of song resources available on the Internet.
In the future it may be difficult to identify a list of denominational favorites. As The United Methodist Church grows in some parts of the world and declines in others, and as a single hymnal becomes less and less of a unifying and identity factor across the denomination, it is unlikely that we will share a list of favorite hymns. What is more likely is that we will need to consider multiple lists of favorites for multiple constituencies.