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How Churches Use Getty Songs

A look at how churches are using the Hymns from Keith and Kristyn Getty

In October 2005, after lecturing with Stuart Townend at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Keith and Kristyn Getty shared songs at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a natural connection because Carl “Chip” Stam teaches music at the seminary and leads worship at the church.

The following Sunday Stam included the Getty song “My Heart Is Filled with Thankfulness.” During the next 10 months, the congregation sang 18 different Getty hymns in worship, most of them on three or more Sundays.

“These hymns have changed me. They have deeply enriched the worship of Clifton Baptist Church,” he says.

Capturing truth

“Most of these songs capture the heart of the gospel in winsome, thoughtful, memorable ways. Some are celebrative, some are contemplative, but they’re all expositional.

“They’re put on your voice and in your lips in a way that affirms faith. The songs are deeply Trinitarian and have a high view of Scripture and the church. They don’t shy away from the wretchedness of sin or the grace of God,” Stam says.

He likes how songs fit specific parts of worship. “Merciful God” helps people confess sin, “Speak O Lord” prepares hearts to hear God, and “May the Peace of God” works well for a benediction.

“About half the tunes are in a flowing Celtic folk style, like ‘In Christ Alone’ and ‘Across the Lands.’ And half have strong hymnic harmonies and rhythms and bold chord changes, so can sound good on a pipe organ with trumpet descant, like ‘The Power of the Cross’ and ‘Jesus Is Lord,’” Stam says.

The normal instrumentation at Clifton Baptist is flutes, violins, and a rhythm section of guitar, drums, piano, and bass. Sometimes trumpets or sax join in. The organist plays both high steeple and folk styles. Worshipers have sung “Father, We Have Sinned” and “Joy Has Dawned” accompanied only by organ.

“What’s brilliant is that very few Getty songs require a contemporary band. But if you try to sing some Vineyard or Passion songs on the organ, it’s hard to pull off,” Stam says.

Changing focus

He notes that the Gettys’ style doesn’t necessarily fit with the Christian music industry. “Instead they’re creating hymns for churches to tell the stories of the Bible.”

“Are these songs easy to learn? Oh, yes. Oh, yes. But they are not filling into a pop music mold. You don’t hear a Keith Getty song and think ‘Cool, if this didn’t have Christian words it would be a Top 40s song.’

“Getty songs are theologically driven but stylistically set in way that doesn’t draw attention to itself. You sing these songs and focus on worship. At the end of a song like ‘Let the Earth Resound,’ I think not ‘What a great song’ but ‘What a great Savior.’

“’Holy Spirit, living breath of God’ draws all to Christ and elevates the Scriptures and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Kristyn Getty sang it at our church, the first time it was ever sung in public. She has a great voice and winsome personality. But you don’t think ‘What a pretty note…or beautiful voice.’ Instead you ask, ‘What is this song about? What is her radiance all about?’ ” Stam says.

Worth remembering

Across town at Highview Baptist Church, which has six campuses and multiple services per campus, worshipers also sing Getty songs.

“’In Christ Alone’ is perhaps the greatest song ever written for congregational worship. It’s so full of the gospel and encouraging to believers that it transforms any service in which we use it. We’ve seen it minister to people in many situations, especially to those who are hurting,” says Dan Odle, associate pastor for worship and music.

Odle says some Highview choir members display the words of “In Christ Alone” at work. One member got a chance to share Christ with a co-worker who found the words very moving.

Highview sang “See What a Morning” every week for five weeks leading up to their Easter celebration service. “Our people love how its triumphant tune marries perfectly with its victorious text,” Odle says.

Whether used at Good Friday or communion services, “The Power of the Cross” has “met with tremendous response from our congregation and pastor team,” Odle says.

There Is a Higher Throne” reminds worshipers to live out a Highview core value of honoring God above all.

And “Across the Lands” reinforces worshipers’ commitment to missions. “We take the Great Commission seriously, sending teams of missionaries all over the world. This song reminds us that ours is not an American religion, but that Christ came to save the world.

“The Gettys are giving us great songs with theologically rich texts, set in a contemporary style that appeals to a broad range of musical languages. I believe twenty years from now, church music will be different, largely because of the kind of music they are producing,” Odle says.