Here’s a research project for anyone curious about the theology that is being preached when the preacher isn’t in the pulpit. Go back through the orders of service for the last year and see what was being sung. What sorts of pictures of God were in those songs? What sorts of calls to action? What sorts of concerns for the world? What sorts of laments? And celebrations? What sorts of aspirations for how a person should live?
Then, if you’re still curious about your congregation’s sung theology, ask a few people to talk about their favorite songs to sing and why they like them. And don’t forget to ask your worship planners what they think is important and why? Lots of people have written about singing and worship, but they haven’t always paid attention to the experiences and ideas of the worshippers. See what you learn when you listen to both the planners and the worshippers.
Now you’re ready to reflect on what all that singing is doing. What sorts of people is it shaping, and what sort of congregation emerges as these people sing together?
If you are interested in reading more, check our bibliography, but you might start with the book edited by Richard Mouw and Mark Noll: Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004).
Dr. Nancy T. Ammerman is Professor Emerita of Sociology of Religion in the School of Theology and the Sociology Department at Boston University. A longtime member of the Congregational Studies Team, she is Project Director of StudyingCongregations.org