Friday, June 15, 2012

Church Song Preferences - Help me out?

Before you read any further - think up your top 5 church songs. Write them down so you don't forget.

Have you done that?


Read on.


classifying congregational songs: creedal vs devotional

I'm trying to work out some robust ways to classify congregational songs. Not in order to dis or ditch... Just trying to understand better how they work and ultimately see if people have patterns of preference.

Here are two categories: Creedal and Devotional. Most hymns and contemporary church songs fit clearly into one category or the other. With a couple of songs, different verses work differently.

Creedal Songs primarily state truth. God's people are singing stuff about God. They may use either first person singular or first person plural pronouns (I, Me, My, Us, We, Our) but they always refer to God in third person terms: God, Jesus, the King, Him etc. because they are singing about God rather than directly to God. At best, a creedal song will be a powerful statement of the gospel that moves us and calls us to trust in and live for Jesus. At worst, a creedal song will feel like a stilted setting of the New Bible Dictionary.

Devotional Songs differ from creedal songs in that they are sung directly to God. They refer to God as 'you'. Devotional songs may be prayers, songs of response (stating how the singer feels about God) or aspiration (saying what the singer is going to do for God) or they may be songs that state truth about God - but declare it to God rather than to others. They tend to follow the form of the current day love song. At best, a devotional song will be a moving response to the gospel. At worst, it will be as wet and shallow as 1D.

Hymns fit into both categories. Creedal hymns include And Can It Be, Jesus the Name High Over All, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, My Song Is Love Unknown, Before the Throne of God Above, and When I Survey (except possibly v2). Devotional Hymns include Be Thou My Vision, Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah, and How Great Thou Art.

On the chart below I've categorised the top 20 or so CCLI songs.

Song Classification
How Great Is Our God
Song leader will often turn the bridge devotional ‘You’re the name above all names...” 
In Christ Alone
Mighty To Save
First verse and chorus possibly creedal, second verse devotional.
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
How Deep The Father's Love For Us
Blessed Be Your Name
Devotional - Prayer.
Here I Am To Worship
Shout To The Lord
For All You've Done
Lord I Lift Your Name On High
The Power Of Your Love
This Is Our God
Desert Song
Open The Eyes Of My Heart
Devotional - Prayer.
What The Lord Has Done In Me
My Redeemer Lives
Creedal. Bridge devotional.
Shine Jesus Shine
Happy Day
There Is A Redeemer
Verse creedal, Chorus devotional.
The Stand

You get the idea. So...

1. Go back to your top 5 songs. How many are creedal? How many are devotional?

2. Generally, do you prefer one type over another?

3. Try to remember what you sang in church on Sunday. What was the balance?


  1. My five:

    From Strength to Strength
    Jesus Your Blood and Righteousness
    My Hope
    Never Alone
    Perfect Lamb of God
    Take My Life
    You Are Our God.

    Yeah. I miscounted. But at least I didn't try to smuggle in any of those songs with totally unparseable lyrics by you-know-who!

    Creedal and devotional sound like good terms. But. The psalms?? Aren't they fairly strong on singing objective truths about God to God so that the congregation listens in?

    I'm not sure you can conflate the theology/response dimension and the Godward/churchward address dimension (but you knew I thought that already, right?)

    My score, fwiw:

    C: 4 D: 3

    And last Sunday

    C: 2 D: 3

    This Sunday reverses it - C 4 D 1. Maybe I'm just well adjusted.

    1. Yes. You are very well adjusted.

      Psalms can be either. I think good devotional songs will be full of objective truth about God. The divide I'm proposing isn't objective vs subjective. It is he vs you.

    2. Yes, I got that - my psalms comment was more trying to observe that psalms are often both types, in the one psalm. That is, the psalms that address God directly are meant to be heard by the congregation. So, although devotional, they serve a creedal purpose. Every time.

      I guess I'm not sure that the form of address is a distinction that's useful enough. It does help with balance, but not so much with weeding out crummy songs...

      (I should stop pontificating and get back to work!)

    3. At this stage my aim isn't to weed out crummy songs. I'm wondering, though, if there are groups of people who clearly prefer one type over the other. If the demographic that tends to go to charo churches on the whole prefers devotional songs, then that's something other types of churches can work on - ie. providing more devotional type songs than they otherwise might, and working on choosing those that cover all the same content as creedal ones.

    4. I'm happy that Anthony mentioned the Psalms. In my experience of church these days, they are very thin on the ground. A project for someone might be to put the 150 Psalms (NIV, or some other suitable translation?) to music that will enable people to sing them together.

  2. I like your division. In my church almost all of the songs fit your devotional category and it drives me nuts. My problem is that when we sing about what I think of God, or how I feel about God or what God has done to me, if it doesn't fit my thinking and emotions, I just feel isolated. When we sing creedal songs, they will always be true regardless of the thinking or emotions of the individual. I then feel uplifted and encouraged because I've sung about something that is enduringly true. I'm sure there must be a place for devotional songs, but they won't fit everybody every time.

  3. I am a creedal fan. My father reminded me the other day that I once I said there should be a 4:1 ratio in church for creedal to devotional. I think I'd probably go 3:1 now. The problem with a lot of devotional songs is that they are content weak. I don't have a problem with a devotional song that is content rich (like Be Thou My Vision). But I do have a problem with the Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs.... if you could just as easily insert "baby, baby" in the lyrics and still have the song work then you have a problem. Apart from the content weakness, which is the main issue, those songs are also so soppy that a lot of Aussie men feel quite awkward about singing them.

    1. I said "4:1 ration in church for creedal to devotional" to mirror your terms. At that stage, I think I used the terms "teaching songs to response songs".

  4. behold the throne (credal)
    Blessed be your name (dev)
    Mighty to Save (credal/dev)
    Jesus paid it all (credal)
    Your grace is enough (credal/dev)

    So both?? I am a fan of credal verses/dev bridges. Our church is definitely credal, though dabbles in devotional.

  5. I worked out something else that was bothering me. Lots of songs speak of God in the third person and speak absolute rot. I don't want to dignify them as creedal!!

    (Equally, the devotional songs probably exist on a spectrum between devotion to God and devotion to self...)

    1. Hold your horses! This classification system isn't about quality. Creedal is not nec. better! To fit the category, the songs don't need to be saying good stuff!

  6. Hmm. I'm struggling with the distinction but based purely on the second and third person criterion, here's a notional Top 5 from me.

    Come As You Are presents God addressing us (Come as you are, that's how I want you) so not sure how it fits the scheme.

    In the Kingdom of Friends is creedal.

    All Heaven Declares is creedal except for the final chorus but that seems counter-intuitive to me.

    Pentecost Prayer is has a creedal first verse and a devotional chorus and subsequent verses.

    God is our Strength and Refuge is creedal.

    I think the division between the two is rather arbitrary though - something that sounds creedal because it is in the third person may actually be intended as devotional and operate through a devotional "mind-set" or emotional orientation. Hence "All Heaven Declares", "How Great is Our God" and "Let the Weak..." seem to me to be essentially devotional in content despite being expressed in the third person.

    My personal view - all church songs are devotional. It's just that in some the devotion is centred on celebrating certain theological or ethical ideas, while for others the devotion is directly centred on God. Any song that expresses a theological or ethical truth without an emotional response is just a terrible song (they do exist, too!) because music is primarily a vehicle for expressing emotion.

    For me, both "idea" songs and "direct engagement" songs can feel flat if I can't identify with the emotions they express, but this is a very personal reaction.

  7. I'm not convinced of the distinction either.. as has been said, songs like 'How great is our God' is a mixture of both.

    Anyhow.. my five:

    In Christ Alone (C)
    It is finished (C)
    Lord I lift your name on high (this is both devotional and creedal but adressed with 'you' IMO)
    Mighty to Save (C)
    Jesus Thank-you (devotional based on creedal)