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Learning from “Singing the Whole Story of God and God’s People”—the Hymnfest program

Encouraged by the positive response to our recent Psalmfest program, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship then launched the Hymnfest program, designed to promote learning about what it means to sing the whole of God’s story through vibrant congregational song by participants of all ages.

More than 70 worshiping communities from 26 provinces and states, and from many denominations and traditions, joined the Hymnfest program.

These worshiping communities formed local planning teams and crafted a public worship service (Hymnfest) following the overarching Biblical story, from creation through the life of Christ and the coming of the Spirit to the new creation.

The Worship Institute provided several planning resources, including the new songbook “Lift Up Your Hearts,” and in some cases Worship Institute staff traveled to participate in the Hymnfest. While all the teams worked from the common Hymnfest template, they had freedom to envision and plan a service that best fit their local context and people.

See several of these services on our website.

After the worship service, the Worship Institute provided several questions for the planning teams to reflect on what they experienced and learned.

What follows are key insights articulated by the planning team members. We pray that these insights might encourage and inform you in your weekly worship. And for those who plan and lead worship, we hope these insights also spark helpful worship planning ideas.

What did you learn about the mechanics of planning a Hymnfest?

  • We probably should have started a little earlier.
  • We had a specific section on our brainstorming whiteboard for kid-friendly songs.
  • It helped to have some musicians on the planning team.
  • Prayfully select a theme.
  • The planning group worked almost entirely by virtual communication—not ideal, but works for busy people.
  • In terms of the worship space, we ‘forced’ people to sit close together so they would be more apt to sing louder. Although this annoyed a few people, it really did improve the singing!
  • Know the talents of your congregation before you begin planning.

What did you learn about the format or style of your Hymnfest?

  • We realized how much our children love to sing.
  • I was surprised at how many people ‘got it’! We had much feedback about the design of the service and how it progressed through the story of God’s people.
  • While planning the service we realized we had omitted a song about the Fall into sin, so we included one. It made us realize that often we skip over the reality of our brokenness because it makes us uncomfortable.
  • We made our service intentionally intergenerational, and it has opened our eyes further to the contributions of our middle-school youth.
  • Discussing with both the pastor and worship leader where this event would best fit in our church year, we decided that singing through The Story would be a great way to begin Lent.
  • We found it helpful to meet as a team and read through scripture verses, go through the hymnal and bounce ideas off each other to form a diverse service that would speak to all generations using various forms of ‘worship language.’
  • We had spoken transitions between the segments of the hymn festival to help the participants sense the flow from our covenant beginnings through redemptive history and to our hope for the future.

What did you learn about singing familiar songs and/or trying new songs?

  • As we worshiped together, we also found a new love for the ‘tried and true.’ This is an affirmation of the church’s past and that it carries into the present and needs to be encouraged into the future.
  • What was interesting was that a few younger people told us that it was the first time that they actually paid attention to the words of the hymns.
  • The choir and the praise team ‘taught’ the songs by singing them first and then having the congregation join.
  • We tried to steer away from singing songs that were too familiar, and chose songs that were new, but not too difficult to make them work the first time around.
  • What was different for us was the use of piano and guitar.
  • We tried to keep a very blended feel and included songs from all genres such as Praise & Worship, traditional, spirituals, etc.

What did you learn about the deep meaning and purpose of singing (telling) the whole story of God and God’s people?

  • A few commented on how ‘seeker-sensitive’ and evangelistic telling the whole story was/is. YES and AMEN! Helping people expand their understanding of evangelism to this big-story approach is exciting to me.
  • It certainly brought our neighboring churches closer together and made everyone realize that we are all telling the same story.
  • Since worship is so formative for those that are participating in it, it is vital that we form our worship around the Gospel to make sure that our congregants are being formed by the Gospel rather than a misguided emotional experience.
  • Establishing deeper roots in linking our story with God’s story has the potential to be a more robust basis for living out that story.
  • It also broadened some views, allowing congregants to see worship as a double sided conversation between us and God, and God and the people.
  • Our main target was to help the worship participants view a worship service as not merely a list of ‘going through the motions,’ but rather a story that continues on beyond the service and carries out into our daily lives.

 These Hymnfests are a beautiful testimony to the grace of God in the lives of so many different types of congregations, whether large or small, newly formed or well-established, and in the city, suburbs, and rural areas. We pray these worshiping communities will continue to sing and tell the whole story of God and God’s people.