What hymns work best for children and young people?
Even that question has its difficulties. What age are the children? When is a “young person” a child, a teenager, or an adult?
What kind of worship are we talking about: worship that is “all-age” or specific to children and young people? What kind of accompaniment is available – praise band or organ?
Choosing hymns for children is not, we have to admit, entirely straightforward. Singing the Faith does list over 150 hymns “particularly suitable for children and all-age worship” in the indexes at the back of the book (pp. lvi – lix). These include the traditional (e.g. There is a green hill far away, StF 284, and We plough the fields and scatter, StF 130); the recent (e.g. You are the vine, we are the branches StF 258, and He became poor that we may be rich); and hymns with very simple language (e.g. God loves you, and I love you, StF 614; Our God is a great big God, StF 61)
What works for your young people and your congregation will become clear with trial and error. Here are six tips and specific suggestions that we hope will make your sharing of hymns with all ages a little easier.
Rhythm and melody Strong rhythms and accessible tunes stay in the mind and carry associations into older age. Try establishing a rhythm for the children to clap or bang out as the words are sung e.g. Come all you people (StF 22) and the marching songs below
Actions Songs Hymns with actions are always popular
Familiarity (e.g. if children have sung the hymn at school) and repetition (try singing the the same hymns Sunday by Sunday or drawing from a small number of hymns over a certain period of time)
Rounds Sing songs in parts / rounds (see below)
Echoes Hymns with an echo can be popular (see ‘Hymns with repetitions’ below)
Sung prayer Children may respond more to a prayer if it is sung e.g. Almighty God, we come to make confesson, StF 419. (The Liturgical Settings in Singing the Faith can be helpful for this also e.g. Jesus, remember me, StF 777, or Thuma mina (Send me, Lord), StF 782). Alternatively, use a sung response e.g.
Three of these suggestions are found in the Liturgical Settings of Singing the Faith (StF 752 and 790). A number of the short songs in this section are suitable for introducing with younger people.
Glory to God (StF 752)
Great is he who’s the King of kings (StF 321)
Jesus lead us to the Father (StF 29) (two verses and an Alleluia conclusion all knit nicely together)
Seek ye first the kingdom of God (StF 254) (verses and refrain can be sung together)
Shalom chaverim (Shalom. my friends) (StF 414) (teach the Hebrew words, as well as the English translation)
Songs for being ‘on the move’
Not all actions have to be done standing still. Processions (with or without waving flags, palms or musical instruments) can create a real sense of celebration and allow a break from having to sit still! Does your minister carry a newly-baptised baby around the church to introduce the newest member of the church family? If so, how about an accompanying procession of young people and some singing?
We are marching in the light of God (StF 483)
We walk his way (StF 775) (another suggestion from the Liturgical Settings section – with the refrain in the easy-to-learn Xhosa original and English translation)
We will walk with God, my brothers (StF 484)
Hymns with repetitions
Repetition is built into hymns in different ways and is often helpful for building the engagement of younger members of the congregation (and older ones with a shaky memory…).
Hymns with an echo e.g. I will worship (StF 54) (the echo can be shared out in different ways e.g. leader and congregation; adults and children; male and female etc.) and Holy, holy, holy Lord (StF 789)
Repeated phrases e.g. Empty, broken, here I stand (StF 421) (with a repeated “Kyrie eleison” that can be taught to the children)
Don’t dumb down
We shouldn’t underestimate what younger people can remember and enjoy in a hymn. Many texts have lines and language that are memorable at any age. Consider using:
language that is easy to understand but not just aimed specifically at children e.g. I was on your mind long bfore you formed the earth (StF468) – a hymn with comforting, clearly expressed sentiments that echoes the psalms and reflects the most profound theology
one verse that can be sung on its own or repeated, rather than singing an entire hymn e.g. “Oh Sabbath rest by Galilee!” – verse 3 of Dear Lord and Father of mankind (StF 495), which contains strong, memorable picture language
a hymn with an attached story: tell the story before singing e.g. Where shall my wondering soul begin? (StF 454) – a big hymn with older language but including the line “a brand plucked from eternal fire”. It’s a biblical phrase (Zechariah 3:2) that John Wesley used to refer to himself, recalling his rescue as a small child from the burning manse in Epworth