Five prominent song books used in the Church of Christ during the past half-century are Great Songs of the Church No. 2 (hereafter GS2); Songs of the Church (SoC); Great Songs of the Church, Revised (GSR); Praise for the Lord (PftL); and Songs of Faith and Praise (SFP). Of these, the former two were more commonly used from the 50s through the 70s, and the latter three are used more today.
I’m happy to report that the percentages of worship and praise content has risen dramatically through the latter half of the 20th century: in the first two books, the total direct worship/praise was approximately 9% and 4%, respectively. (The gospel song content was much stronger, perhaps meeting the felt needs of earlier generations.)
Still, in the later-published and more commonly used books today, the proportions are sad. While Songs of Faith and Praise has as much as 32% of the book given to worship and praise content, the other books lag significantly, and SFP is not nearly as well edited as GSR or PftL
A significant second category of song texts is indirect praise and worship. By “indirect,” I mean those lyrics that do not address God in worship but that instead a) speak about praising or worshipping, or b) exhort Christians to praise or worship. This indirect category is far stronger in all song books—accounting, in SFP, for instance, for approximately half of the book’s content. Indeed, for all the books I’m mentioning here, when one adds the indirect worship category to the direct, the proportion becomes more significant. While this is not in itself a bad thing, the fact that the indirect category dwarfs the direct indicates to me that the church overall has not been comfortable enough in intimate, relational expressions to God. We have needed closer relationship with our God.
Prayer songs are another significant contributor to worship in the assembly; admittedly, some prayer songs contain worshipful expressions, but when the primary thrust of a song is that of request or confession, I categorized it as “prayer” and not as “worship.”
Across the board, there were very few Holy Spirit songs. Songs that simply speak of the influence of the Spirit of God do seem to be few, but more important, there is no scriptural precedent for addressing the “Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost” in worship or prayer, so it’s a good thing, in my opinion, that it’s really only the tripartite camp songs that perfunctorily address, in order, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
Another category of note is the heaven songs. While each of the Church of Christ books I looked at (and there are a few more books that would account for less than 5% of the market) contained from 7-12% heaven songs, I found it interesting that one non-CofC book contained precisely zero heaven songs.
While this brief look at song books has only touched the surface, and while it has been rather heady, I sincerely hope that its impact will move into the heart regions for blog readers and their respective churches.
 It is my considered opinion that a fair amount of the newer worship material in SFP was ill-fated: its newness was faddish, and some of the older songs are more likely to be used than some of the ones written in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The new material, in other words, is somewhat dated already, while the older material, almost paradoxically, is not. Yet another way to say this might be that if you’re going to try to be stylish, well, then, be stylish … but it doesn’t serve anyone’s purposes or tastes to try to act like an 80s fad song or style (or descant!) is still in style today.