Why You Should Be Singing Old Songs

Fred McKinnon —  February 12, 2013 — 20 Comments

Old Songs Why can’t you just sing some of the older songs?

If you’ve been a worship leader for more than two weeks you’ve likely had this question.  It’s rarely asked in a sincere tone and usually comes with a sting of harsh judgment.

I’ve been involved in worship ministry since I was a teenager.  I watched the birth of what we would call the “modern worship music” and have seen it’s blessings over the years.  I’ve also been caught up in the cross fire of the arguments and wars over musical style and selection.

I love new songs.  I firmly believe in introducing new songs to our congregations.  The final “Amen” at the end of the Book of Revelation was not the final “Amen” for those of us who are crafting songs to tell the great story of the Kingdom.

There is also something stirring and powerful about singing the old songs. Many worship leaders just don’t want to hear this.   If that’s you and you feel a resistance building up as you read this, I hope you’ll take a deep breath and listen.

A few days ago I was driving my kid to school and we were playing around with Spotify on my iPhone.  He was playing some of his favorite songs for me.   I decided to have him search for some of my favorite songs from the past.  The conversation went something like this:

“Jon Michael, see if you can find this one … it’s called The Way It Is, and it will be by Bruce Hornsby & The Range”.
“Sure Dad, I found it … do you want me to play it?”
“Yes – you may recognize this.  It’s one of the most awesome piano tunes ever”.

As the opening piano riff started my 12-year old lit up and recognized it immediately.   I felt this overwhelming joy rise up in me as memories from the past flooded into my soul.  I’ve had so much fun not only listening to this tune, but also playing it.  I used to spend countless hours with that cassette tape (yes, cassette tape) rewinding it over and over and pausing it so I could learn the piano solo note by note.

I dropped JM off at Glynn Middle and enjoyed the song 3 more times at very high volume on the drive back to St. Simons Island.  I was elated.  I hadn’t enjoyed that tune in a while.  It set the mood for the day.

Now, I’ll transition to a Hillsong United concert I attended a while back.

I hadn’t listened to their newer albums as much as I’d done before so many of the songs were new to me.  I thoroughly enjoyed them and found myself worshiping and connecting with God through the music.

Then, it happened … about 3/4 way through the night … it started …

The opening riff to “From the Inside Out”.

The venue was packed with thousands of worshipers and there was this incredible surge of applause and response.  To most, this would be considered one of their “old songs”.  Yet, it was embraced and celebrated.

  • This song had history.
  • This song was celebrated because of it’s meaning.
  • This song was powerful because nobody had to stare at the screen for the words.  It was memorized by all.
  • This song was championed by the crowd as the voices of thousands rose to great levels.  It was familiar, yet special.

Worship Leaders, please listen … it’s not only OK to sing older songs, you SHOULD sing older songs.

Many of these older songs invoke memories of when a person was first drawn to the love of Christ.   They take the worshiper back to a place of significance in their spiritual journey.  They renew the passion and feelings of that moment and remind us of what God did.

Think about the Eucharist.  It’s a reminder.   We celebrate Communion “in remembrance”.   There is something about going back to a place and reminding ourselves of what God has done.   Old songs can help us do that.

Worship Leaders … It may be that the older songs can’t be done in the style that you prefer.  It may be that the song means NOTHING to you, but we have to remember that it’s not about us at all.

Would you consider this and be intentional about splashing some of the old in with the new?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

Fred McKinnon

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Fred McKinnon, Worship Artist, Pianist, Producer. Husband to Joy, Father of Jon Michael, Will, Rebekah, and Andrew. Lives on St. Simons Island, GA.

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  • Ken Mullis

    That is great Fred. Good insight. I visited a First Baptist Church not too long ago, and the Choir started singing the Doxology. I was deeply moved by it. I had forgotten that moment and sound, and many childhood memories flooded back and I felt a deep reverence to God. All great songs and anthems contain a ‘Glory’ and purpose.

    • http://www.fredmckinnon.com fmckinnon

      Ken, absolutely. I led worship for our men’s retreat this weekend and we did lots of newer (1-2 year old songs), one song that became our anthem that was practically brand new, but we included some timeless, older songs. They were warmly received and by far, were the “loudest” voices singing!

    • Wendytking

      Doxology–what a great example of a simple and moving song! We did this one awhile back and the response was amazing.

  • http://twitter.com/brianotte Brian Otte

    I completely agree that we should be singing old songs. The problem is WHICH old songs? I get requests to play the “classics” all the time, but when I ask what the “classics” are I get a different answer from each person. We don’t shy away from old songs, but when we present them we always present them as if they are new because, for a lot of people in the room, they are.

    • http://www.fredmckinnon.com fmckinnon

      Brian,
      Great insights — you really can’t classify them accurately for the very reason you mention. In the same way, when people say “the old hymns” they are often just as happy with an older chorus.
      The key is finding songs that resonate with your congregation. With probably at least 52+ services per year and potential of 3-5+ songs per service, we have plenty of room to experiment a bit!

  • Jimmy D

    I so agree, people need to feel comfortable and maybe even reverent!!! Its about bringing what we have to offer and allowing those that we are leading to recall what it is they have to offer as well!! I felt a tug today to do Holy Holy Holy in our church soon, so thanks for the Kingdom effect!!!

    • http://www.fredmckinnon.com fmckinnon

      Jimmy
      Great idea — and I’d add, sometimes making a medley of a more current song with a classic one can be powerful. WE often medley Jenni Lee Riddle’s “Revelation Song” with the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” … or the tag of “God of Wonders” with it … can be very powerful. You have a song that is somewhat newer (depending on who you ask and your music culture), with an older, classic one.

  • http://www.garydurbin.blogspot.com Gary Durbin

    Great post! I agree. I’ve seen such great benefits with using old songs. I think the best songs stand the test of time. The only thing I would say is, I don’t do them for sentimental reasons of people, but I’ve never been too popular with the crowd that wants them for that reason. I definitely do them as a result of God’s leading…in fact, I’m doing “I Surrender All” this Sunday. It’s unfortunate that worship leaders would disregard older songs. I’ve always said that God isn’t concerned with the date of a song, he’s looking for the heart behind it.

    Here’s a post I did a while back on it:http://www.garydurbinblog.com/2009/09/hymnosphere.html

    • http://www.fredmckinnon.com fmckinnon

      Gary,
      I concur … although I do believe there can be sentimental connections, that’s not the reason I’d use to do them, really … but it can have a strong benefit if that sentiment draws them nearer to God.

  • Wendytking

    I love this. I didn’t grow up in church, in fact I wasn’t even saved into I was 34 so hymns were completely unfamiliar to me. The older people kept pushing me to do the “old songs” and when I finally surrendered I was blown away by the response. You are so right, there is something about the sense memory of a song, especially one that takes you back to a previous connection with God. Wise words, for sure.

    • http://www.fredmckinnon.com fmckinnon

      Thanks, Wendy — I’m glad you surrendered! It rounds out the setlist and gives a diverse congregation something that resonates with them!

  • http://www.onevoiceworship.org Harold Forbis

    Great post and some excellent comments on the subject. Before Integrity, then Vineyard, then PDI, then Hillsongs, it was hard to find new music to sing in a time when the desire to offer new worship was creating great demand. I personally think I’ve gone from being appreciative of the growing availability of new music to taking it for granted to feeling pressured to do something new every time, just because it’s…there!

    I, too, really enjoy the sense of familiarity (not nostalgia) and remembrance of moments touching God with ‘old’ (done it more then 10 times?) songs, which in turn can really stir faith towards God. Also, I’m amazed at how often teenagers and twenty-something’s request older tunes that remind them of times when they were first stirred in their hearts to worship. I always assume they’re the ones making me feel pressured to do new stuff — my bad!

    • http://www.fredmckinnon.com fmckinnon

      Harold — oh man, it’s nice relating to someone else who can map out ‘Integrity, Vineyard, PDI, Hillsong, etc” … for sure, was in the middle of ALL that.

      It’s encouraging to hear of the younger people asking for some older songs, too. It’s all relative, I suppose, to what they call “old”.

  • http://rkblog.com/ Rich Kirkpatrick

    I love this, Fred. The context of new with a hint and tie the past is ideal for both new and older people in a church. My only question lies in the difference between sentiment and move of the Spirit. Both can exist together but sentiment does not equate to the Spirit moving just because it feels comfortable. In the right context older songs work!

    • http://www.fredmckinnon.com fmckinnon

      Rich, I totally agree. Sentiment/emotion can easily be confused with a move of the Spirit. Yet, I’m rarely (ever?) experienced a move or touch of the Holy Spirit that DIDN’T include emotion. It sort of ties up with what Gary mentioned earlier – you don’t use sentiment as your motive for using a song, but if the sentiment opens up someone’s heart and puts them in place where they are more open to God, it’s definitely a plus. Additionally, I think sentiment pretty much does that. I start recounting stories of awesome moments with my kids … JM and I looked at a picture of him when he was like 2 years old, and on my lap as I played guitar … and all of a sudden, I was smiling, feeling sentimental, but moreso, I felt my love for him just surge forth.

      • http://rkblog.com/ Rich Kirkpatrick

        My point is that sentiment does not equal either the same for all in the room nor proof of Gods move. I love Gungor’s idea that we work for “goosebumps” sometimes. It’s like spices. Some love curry others garlic. This is why older members need to become more mature and be willing to give up so new people to the faith have a worship language that they can relate to. But, I love what you are saying as well. Lets throw in a bit at least or we surely have gone too far.
        Rich Kirkpatrick
        http://rkblog.com
        951.595.7059
        sent from my iPhone…

  • http://www.robstill.com Rob Still

    Fred thanks so much for this post! It’s refreshing to hear.

    An “old song” is completely relative to the context.

    About 16 months ago I helped launch a contemporary service at a traditional denomination; we just introduced “From The Inside Out” last month! An old song (interpret “dated”) in my opinion would be something like “Shout to the Lord” (no, not gonna do it!)

    I think the more important point is to use songs that are spiritually formative, where the message fits what the Holy Spirit is trying to say at that point in time. Familiar songs have many benefits as you noted and are easier to worship with because there’s no learning curve.

    I would agree with Rich to be careful of “sentimentality” which IMO can be borderline manipulation. Besides that, the psychological associations of a song, “ah, that one takes me back to the good ol days” vary greatly, and are double edged sword. One person may love it and another hate it.

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  • clarkd

    Whats a Hillsong? And From the Inside Out?

  • Gp4Jesus

    You “struck a chord” w/that Bruce Hormsby album! It is part of modest vinyl collection I hope to resurrect one day. 
    “Many of these older songs invoke memories of when a person was first drawn to the love of Christ.   They take the worshiper back to a place of significance in their spiritual journey.  They renew the passion and feelings of that moment and remind us of what God did.”
    Strong reasoning behind why some churches have remained “traditional.” My barber loaned her pastor Third Day’s “Offerings.” He returned saying “It was OK, but no one in this church*  would like that kind of music” Middle-aged** Pam liked it…
    *50-60 middle aged members 
    ** late 40s; me-55
    So the worship war rages… 
    Tony