Seven/Eleven Songs

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
Average Hymn 111.38 64.75 2.88 1.72
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
Everlasting God 92 40 4 2.3
Your Grace Is Enough 173 54 2 3.2
Jesus Messiah 102 62 2 1.65
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.