I have heard a countless number of people refer to Praise and Worship songs as “Seven/Eleven” songs–“the same seven words sung eleven times” (ironically a seven-word statement). I thought it was witty the first time I heard it but, I’ve now heard it more than eleven times. The phrase tends to end conversations between members of a church who could be sharing spiritual journeys rather dismissing each other. So, I decided to do a little math.
The closest thing I could find to a list of the most frequently sung hymns was from a summary report concerning a Presbyterian Hymnal. I took the lyrics to these hymns and individually placed them in a text analysis tool that gave me the total number of words used, the total number of unique words (any word that’s repeated was only counted one time), and several other statistics. I also calculated the ratio of words to unique words—the lower the ratio, the less often any single word was repeated. So, the higher the ratio of words to unique words, the lower the density. I did the same thing with CCLI Top 8 songs. I removed one of the CCLI top songs because it was a contemporary arrangement of Amazing Grace.
Below are my findings.
|Hymn Name||Words||Unique Words||Hard Word||Ratio|
|Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound||99||72||2||1.38|
|Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow||25||19||1||1.32|
|Be Thou My Vision||134||71||3||1.89|
|Glory Be to the Father||31||22||1||1.41|
|Great Is Thy Faithfulness||123||83||6||1.48|
|Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!||127||68||7||1.87|
|Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee||185||116||3||1.59|
|Here I Am, Lord||167||67||0||2.49|
|Mighty to Save||166||72||8||2.31|
|How Great is Our God||135||59||1||2.29|
|Blessed Be Your Name||214||67||5||3.19|
|Here I Am to Worship||242||72||4||3.36|
|Your Grace Is Enough||173||54||2||3.2|
|Holy is the Lord||119||41||3||2.9|
|Average Praise Song||155.38||58.38||3.63||2.66|
You can see my work here:
As you can see, the hymns do have more unique words to total words—a lower ratio of unique words to total words. But the difference between 1.72 total words to 1 and 2.66 words to 1 unique word hardly warrants the claim of superiority. The average hymn used about 65 unique words while the average praise song used a little over 58 unique words–not that great a difference
Please understand that if I were forced to make a choice between singing only songs written before 1970—the year of my birth—or only songs written since 1970, I would choose to sing only songs written before I was born. I would do so sadly as there are many Christian contemporary songs that I treasure. Please also understand that I think the so-called worship wars of the 1980’s and 1990’s are not only done but completely irrelevant. Those who want to trumpet traditional hymns as essential to the preservation of the faith and those who want to trumpet contemporary praise music as essential for reaching today’s audience have both missed the point. The church is called to praise and make disciples. God receives both traditional hymns and contemporary praise songs as expressions of praise and both are useful ways of fostering faithfulness. Either must be acquired by those coming into the church–we can’t assume that either is inherently more useful for the church’s mission. It’s time to throw away the judgment line and start the conversation about what really matters—testifying to the capacity of diverse music and lyrics to aid our spiritual journeys.