The Top 27 Hymns: Why Don’t Evangelicals Know Them Well?

Zac HicksHistory of Worship and Church Music, Worship Theology & Thought5 Comments

HUGE CORRECTION TO MAKE, thanks to the helpful comment by Eric below.  Thank you, Eric.  My original title read, “The Top 27 Hymns and Why None of them Appear in a Current Major Evangelical Hymnal.”  I totally mis-read and mis-understood the chart with reference to the four evangelical hymnals surveyed.  I took the dots for blanks when they were quite the opposite!  Forgive me!  I’ve edited the below post to reflect those changes.  Ironically (and sadly), all my probing questions below still hold.

These data come from a 2011 article in Christianity Today.1  Several things should be clarified lest the title of my post spread myths:

  • the survey included 28 hymnals from mainline Protestant denominations: Anglican (4 editions), Baptist (4 editions), Congregational (5 editions), Lutheran (5 editions), Methodist (5 editions), and Presbyterian (5 editions)
  • the survey included 4,905 hymns
  • the hymns had to be written in the late 1800s or earlier
  • Christmas carols, choruses, and service music were excluded
  • the “current” evangelical hymnals surveyed were Christian Life Hymnal (Hendrickson, 2006), Hymnal of Worship and Celebration (Word, 1986), Hymns for the Family of God (Paragon, 1976), and The Covenant Hymnal (Covenant Press, 1973)
  • one of the criteria for the hymn being at the “top” involved frequency of appearance in the 28 hymnals mentioned above

Here are the top 27 hymns:

Appearing in all 28 hymnals, in alphabetical order:
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide (H. Lyte, 1847)
All hail the power of Jesus’ name (E. Perronet, 1779)
Come, ye thankful people come (H. Alford, 1844)
Crown him with many crowns (M. Bridges, 1851, alt. G. Thring)
Glorious things of thee are spoken (J. Newton, 1779)
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah (W. Williams, 1745)
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty (R. Heber, 1826)
How firm a foundation, ye saints (R. Keene, 1787)
In the cross of Christ I glory (J. Bowring, 1825)
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun (I. Watts, 1719)
Love divine, all loves excelling (C. Wesley, 1747)
O sacred Head, now wounded (Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th c.; tr. Gerhardt & J. W. Alexander)
When I survey the wondrous cross (I. Watts, 1707)

Appearing in 27 of the 28 hymnals, in alphabetical order:
A mighty fortress is our God (M. Luther, 1529; tr. F. H. Hedge)
All glory, laud, and honor (Theodulph, 1529; tr. J. M. Neale)
Come, thou almighty King (anon. and C. Wesley, 1757)
Just as I am, without one plea (C. Elliott, 1836)
Now thank we all our God (M. Rinkart, 1626; tr. C. Winkworth)
O, for a thousand tongues to sing (C. Wesley, 1757)
O God, our help in ages past (I. Watts, 1719)
O, worship the King all glorious above (R. Grant, 1833)
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord (S. Stone, 1866)

Appearing in 26 of the 28 hymnals, in alphabetical order:
Christ the Lord is risen today! (C. Wesley, 1739)
Jesus, the very thought of thee (Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th c.; tr. E. Caswall)
Saviour, like a shepherd lead us (attr. D. Thrupp, 1836)
The day of resurrection (John of Damascus, ca. 750; tr. J. M. Neale)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy (F. Faber, 1854) 

Several interesting questions to ponder:
(feel free to offer your answer to any or all of these questions in the comments)

  1. Are there any common themes in these hymns that help us understand why they have been so lasting?
  2. How many modern evangelicals know even three of these hymns?
  3. How does the theological content of these hymns match up against the current CCLI top 27?
  4. Why aren’t any of these on the current CCLI top 27?
  5. Where in the world is “Amazing Grace”? (actually, the author of this article answers that on p. 32…fascinating)
  6. Are these hymns worth restoring to the singing life of evangelicalism?
  7. If they are, how could we do this? (insert hymns movement plug here)
  8. Why in the world did “A Mighty Fortress” get left off one of the Anglican editions?


1Robert T. Coote, “The Hymns That Keep on Going,” Christianity Today (March 2011), 32.

5 Comments on “The Top 27 Hymns: Why Don’t Evangelicals Know Them Well?”

  1. Interesting list. I've actually brought several of these into worship for our church and have considering bringing others in as well. Our church actually has very few people raised in church culture, so many of the hymns are completely foreign to them. Oddly enough, it makes them way more receptive when we give them a modern retread. Funny, considering one of the arguments against hymns is often that those outside the church will be turned off by them.

  2. I just read this article last night. Someone from my congregation put this edition of CT in my mail slot.
    I'll answer a couple of these questions from my viewpoint.
    In the last 16 years I have served as the worship pastor for 2 different congregations. I am happy to say that I could pull out every single one of these on a Sunday morning and my congregation would know them better than any modern praise song I have introduced. These songs are woven into the very psyche of our people. Sometimes we do them with modern instrumentation and style, and sometimes I give the church organist the reins and let her pull out all the stops, and shake the rafters with a rendition of A Mighty Fortress that Luther would be proud of.
    As to a particular theme across the songs, I think you will find, not the presence of a certain theme, but the absence of certain themes to be the unifier.Despite our many denominational differences in Protestantism, there are some areas where we all, more or less, agree. These songs stay in those areas. You won't find songs speaking of pentecostal Holy Spirit power, you won't find the Phillip Bliss "Moody Evangelistic Crusade" songs, You won't find songs of anticipation of a pre-mil rapture, you won'f find songs of "bringing in the Kingdom".
    The songs in this list cut across denominational boundaries and are, for the most part, not averse to doctrinal statements of the majority.

  3. 1. They actually have some content.

    2. Call me a modern evangelical and I'll probably hit you (I'm 45, and have been involved with church music for all but the first eight years of my life). But I know over 20 of them.

    3. Tell me what the CCLI top 27 are, and I might venture an opinion…

    4. Why would you need a CCLI licence if you have a decent hymnbook?

    5. Probably hanging out with Carmen Sandiego? :-))

    6. Put them in your services, because people can sing them. The simple fact is that the vast majority of modern worship songs – the Chris Tomlin/Matt Redman generation stuff – is simply not designed for people to sing together.

    7. Rethink your theology of worship to include engaging brain before opening mouth. This may take some doing 🙂

    8. The reason "A mighty fortress" isn't there could be because it "A safe stronghold our God is still" (the same hymn with a different translation) is in the book.

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