Hymns allow modern worshipers to explore spiritual and musical roots of the past. The best hymns translate well into today’s musical style, while preserving the powerful messages and melodies that have made them classics.
Below is a list of today’s best hymns for worship. I’ve led worship using these songs, or know someone who has. I can attest that they work in a congregational setting. But whether you’re a worship leader or just want to find great songs for personal worship, these songs are perfect.
I’ve also included a few modern hymns, written within the last 20 or 30 years, that carry spiritual weight similar to that of older works.
For public domain songs, I’ve included a downloadable PDF chord sheet and even a Word document so you can change the key, add verses, or whatever. For copyrighted works, check out services like CCLI for sheet music.
1. Be Thou My Vision
Words by Eleanor Henrietta Hull. Translation by Mary Elizabeth Byrne. Music: Traditional Irish Tune. CCLI #30639. Public Domain.
I can’t remember a time I’ve lead worship with this song when everyone wasn’t fully engaged in worship. It’s such a powerful and time-proven song. You really can’t go wrong putting this song into your list. It goes well when the pastor is preaching on sacrifice for Jesus or staying devoted to the faith. It also speaks of keeping your eyes on Jesus when things seem to be going wrong in life. What an encouragement this song has been for so many in the church over the years and still today.
2. I Surrender All
Music by Winfield Scott Weeden. Words by Judson Wheeler Van Venter. CCLI #23189. Public Domain.
This song really puts life in perspective. We get consumed with things that don’t matter and forget the rock on which we stand. Jesus’ words were frighteningly ahead of their time when he spoke about the seeds that fall among the weeds in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13). The weeds represent the worries of life and deceitfulness of wealth. This song helps the church and us as individuals get out of the weeds and into fertile soil.
3. Before the Throne of God Above
Music by Vikki Cook. Words by Charitie Lees Bancroft CCLI #2306412.
My favorite version of this song is by Sojourn. The song could take a few weeks for your congregation to learn — it’s not the most recognizable hymn ever. But it is one of the best. Check out these lyrics:
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
That’s just one section of the song, and the rest of the song is just as packed with spiritual truth. Simply a masterpiece.
4. Amazing Grace
Words and Music by John Newton, John P. Rees and Edwin Othello Excell. CCLI #22025. Public Domain.
This song needs no introduction. You could go out on the street in just about any city in the world and sing it, and you would have 20 people joining in. (I remember playing it for 200 homeless gentlemen at a shelter in Seattle and to my surprise most of them were signing along by the second line.) There’s a reason it has saturated souls within and without the church walls. Its power and majesty combine with a very relatable idea that we are all in need of a Savior.
5. I’ll Fly Away
Words and Music by Albert E. Brumley. CCLI #26399.
Your worship team can really rock this one. It’s one of the few faster hymns that translate well into modern styles. Worship bands of any skill level can make this hymn sound great.
6. It is Well With My Soul
Words by Horatio Gates Spafford. Music by Philip Paul Bliss. Public Domain. CCLI #25376.
If you haven’t heard the story of this song, get ready to tear up. In short, Horatio Gates Spafford sent his family to Europe as he finished up business. On that trip, he lost his four young daughters in a shipwreck. Only his wife was saved. He made a journey across the Atlantic to be reunited with his wife after the tragedy and wrote this song as he passed over the depths that took his daughters. His was a faith so strong, it could see past tragedy into God’s loving eyes.
7. Jesus Paid it All
Words by Elvina Mabel Hall. Music by John Thomas Grape. Public Domain. CCLI #4689508.
8. In Christ Alone
Words and music by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty
This is one of my favorite modern hymns. Written in 2001, it has all the gravitas and impact of classics written a hundred years earlier. Stuart Townend is simply one of today’s most fabulous writers. He has really pulled off writing a modern hymn with this song. Check out traditional interpretations like this one or the more modern version by Kristian Stanfill.
9. Nothing but the Blood of Jesus
Words and music by Robert Lowery. Public domain.
This classic works well as a contemplative or upbeat tune. The congregation picks right up on it and loves it, whatever tempo you choose.
10. How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
Words and music by Stuart Townend
This is another masterpiece by Townend. He is one of the few writers today who can match the majesty and depth of the old hymns. Yet, his songs are still palatable for modern congregations. Here’s a popular rendition by Selah.
11. Amazing Love (My Lord, What Love is This).
Words and music by Graham Kendrick. CCLI #192553
This song falls into the modern hymn category. It’s a perfect example of a more recent artist demonstrating the lyrical and musical craft of his predecessors. It’s a truly powerful song — one that your church will be singing the rest of the week.
12. What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Words and music by Charles Crozat Converse, Joseph Medlicott Scriven, Kathryn Scott. CCLI #5064328
“What a Friend” is one of the most recognizable hymns in the world. My favorite version is by Kathryn Scott, who wrote a simple, singable chorus to accompany the classic lyrics. Her smooth piano and vocals round out this brilliant rendition.