The two primary criteria I use when choosing worship songs are “Is it theologically sound?” and “Is is singable for the congregation?”.
All other criteria are secondary, and that includes when it was written.
Despite what many internet commentators would have you believe, God probably doesn’t care which century a song was written in. There is, in fact, no such scripture that states all songs used in your church must be written in Europe or America between 1630 and 1907.
The “Blended” Worship Service
During the hymns vs contemporary “worship wars” of the past 2 decades, we saw rise to a hideous beast called “the blended service”. A blended service was used in place of a traditional or contemporary service and usually contained equal amounts of hymns, contemporary songs, and awkwardness.
It was created to appease, therefore it was destined to fail.
Blended services often turned into weird inauthentic karaoke services in which neither side was satisfied with how many of “their” songs they sang that week. Unfortunately, these service also led some to believe hymns and contemporary songs could never be worship buddies.
The blended service failed because it tried to have both. I would encourage you to have neither.
Focus on meaningful songs.
Stop trying to include hymns or contemporary songs, and instead try only to use good, meaningful songs.
If you don’t have many hymns in your worship repertoire because you found them lacking proper theology, singability, or because you had an abundance of modern songs which had these qualities in a greater degree, then you don’t need to include more hymns.
That is correct, don’t worry about hymns.
But 90% of those who don’t include hymns are not in the above situation. Their worship repertoire may be decent, but there is a good chance hymns could make it better.
Use hymns to improve your song list.
Christians have been writing worship songs for 2000 years, surely there must be some something of value in the works that have come before us. Not all hymns are worth consideration, but there are a few that are exceptionally valuable.
In fact I would say that there is not a single worship repertoire in America that should not include the hymn “Before the Throne of God Above”. If you don’t know that song take a moment and read the lyrics, not listen to it, just read it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Your congregation needs to sing those words. “Their names are graven on his hands”. “Their names are written on His heart”.
They need to sing those words because they are true, NOT because they are a hymn.
They need to hear those words because they are the gospel, NOT because they are a hymn.
Do hymns have a place in the modern church?
Yes. How much so is up to you.
You may find that the aging melody of some hymns makes them difficult for your congregation to sing. You may find that despite good theology the dated language of some hymns makes them inaccessible to the average person. These are valid reasons to exclude a song. That it wasn’t written in the past 20 years is not.
Whether a song was written in 1998 or 1798 doesn’t change whether or not it should be sung in the church.
Hymns can and should be a part of the modern church. But they should be so because they are good, theologically rich songs, not because they are hymns.
You might also enjoy: How to Be an Effective Worship Leader to All Generations