Keith and Kristyn Getty have a vision.
Often credited with re-inventing the traditional hymn-form, they are passionate about the importance of congregational singing and how we learn truth through song. This year alone, their journey has taken them from the Global Hymn Sing to the UK Houses of Parliament and recently to their own Sing! Conference in Nashville. A few days before the conference, Keith shared more about Getty Music’s vision and why we must never stop singing.
CCLI: Keith, You’re about to host your ‘Sing’ worship conference, in Nashville, which looks like doubling in size from last year. Tell us about that…
KEITH: The Sing! Conference began last year as an initiative following the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. My hero was Martin Luther, and 500 years ago he looked at the history of the church, the Old Testament, the New Testament and the church fathers, and saw that we learn our faith in significant part through the songs that we sing. He wanted to bring congregational singing back into both the church and in the local homes as well, because he understood how it affects all of us.
So we began with a book and a conference last year, and it just seemed to connect strongly with many people. The three main values of the conference are rich theology, classic artistry, and helping families and churches sing. It’s been wonderful to see all the different people who have led in it and to watch it grow.
CCLI: You’ve recently been in London, leading worship at the UK’s National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast at the historic Westminster Hall, within the Parliamentary Estate. That seems like quite an honour! How was it?
KEITH: It was a huge honour in one summer to meet both the Prime Minister and the Queen. The Prime Minister and members of Parliament I got to conduct as we sang “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” which was a real treat. She was a pastor’s daughter, so she knew exactly when to watch and sang it very well. And then to be with our friend Tim Keller is a pleasure as well. It was an especially unique pleasure to be able to share hymns with the country’s leadership, and the Houses of Parliament is one of the most stunning buildings in the world.
CCLI: How do you prepare to lead worship in that context, in front of so many politicians and prominent figures, not all of whom are Christians? What are some of the challenges?
KEITH: In one sense, it’s no different than any other time. The holy act of Christian worship is higher and greater than anything else we do. At the same time, we are all human and we believe the value of helping one another sing is understanding your group. So for Parliament it was about establishing a love for British history.
We come from this beautiful culture that loves hymns, so we sang “Praise to the Lord God Almighty.” And with the Scottish Reformed Church being the host group this year, we did an accompanied Psalm called “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” which is sung for various events so everyone knows it. And then we picked a hymn called “Holy Spirit,” coming out of Tim Keller’s talk, and finishing off with “In Christ Alone,” so it was a huge honour. The singing was wonderful, and that was really special.
CCLI: In February, you led a Global Hymn Sing for the third year running. How did that go?
KEITH: The Global Hymn Sing is one of those just incredible things to be a part of. It’s reaching millions of people around the world. The idea was to get people singing, to get people singing truth, but especially to get people singing truth about mission. Much of the emphasis of Christianity in the west is about defending itself, even in one generation, as we are less excited about witnessing and sharing our faith. And if we tell about it less, then we sing about it less, so it’s this vicious circle.
We want people to sing about the importance of mission, and how the Gospel is a beautiful thing, but also how it forces us to tell other people. It’s pretty much to bolster missions. Many of my missionary heroes say they were sustained by the singing of hymns, and reflect on how they were propelled forward by the singing of hymns. So any generation that loses that loses both a backbone and a sense of compulsion by not singing.
CCLI: You and Kristyn have had a huge impact on the church in the 21st Century through your songs. Through these events and conferences Getty Music seems to be building on that impact with a real focus on encouraging congregational singing. Is that your vision? Why is that so important?
KEITH: It goes back to when you read the Bible, 20% of it is written in song. So to be a healthy Christian is to be somebody who sings. A Christian who sings shallow songs that last only a couple of years are more likely to be in a church of shallow believers for three years. Those who sing deeper, more meaningful songs will carry them on with them through life. What we sing has tremendous implications on who we are, and I believe that the modern worship movement has in some ways been a catapult for energizing new expressions of our faith, which is good. I think it needs a backbone and a depth to go alongside it.
We live in the 21st Century, one of the most exciting generations to be Christians, where there are more Christians in the world, the Bible is in more languages than ever before… However, the average young Christian in America today knows less about the Old Testament than an unbeliever in 1950. An unbeliever had school assembly or chapel, religious instruction or they sang hymns. They were at least members of a church. So in turn, what we have are Christians but ones that are extraordinarily shallow.
A generation ago, Christians were losing their faith with teenage temptation, whereas what’s happening now is Christians in their 20s and 30s are getting to a deeper point in life away from youth structures. In their actual faith there is nothing there. Relationships and circumstances change, experiences shape them often when something goes really wrong or really badly, opportunities come. We need to build deep believers, and the most important part of that is teaching and reading the Scriptures, but I believe that it’s singing the Scriptures as well.
CCLI: You have been credited as re-inventing the traditional hymn-form. How do you go about writing a ‘modern’ hymn? Given the enduring popularity of classic and modern hymns in sung worship, why don’t more people do so?
KEITH: A hymn is not a scientific term. It’s not characterized like animal, vegetable, or mineral; solid, liquid, or gas. A hymn is simply a style of song. I would say our values are much more in line with traditional hymns than modern worship songs. Our values are to teach deep theology, and to lean more into classic artistry, whether that’s through poetry or the classical music. We want songs to be written as unaccompanied melodies that every generation can sing. They’re not supposed to sound like now. For instance, when choosing a hymn for a hymnbook, the qualification is, “Can we sing this for the next 30 years?” versus, “Will this be relevant after two years?”
A hymn is not a scientific term. I have great friends who write wonderful modern worship songs, and are trying to write songs that appeal to a generation now. I believe the hymn is a harder thing to write. A hymn is less instantaneously commercial; the Christian labels are not demanding or calling for it. And frankly, I think too many churches are looking for a simple song about Jesus, rather than the vastness of the God of the Bible, the vastness of the God of the Psalms, who is infinitely more complex and deep and rich.
CCLI: CCLI has estimated that as many as 50 million people sing In Christ Alone in churches across the world each year. Add to that your other popular songs, and we’re talking about huge numbers. How important is CCLI to what you do? If a church was questioning the value of their licences, what would you say to them?
KEITH: As Christians, first of all we need to be legal. So CCLI is a necessity. But more than that, CCLI is continuing to try to integrate with churches. If any church is questioning their licence, they should contact CCLI with their questions or concerns, and they might find that CCLI is already helping them or can come up with new ideas.
As for working alongside CCLI, we’re so thankful for a mechanism through which churches can both obtain songs as well as support publishers and writers. It allows us this privilege to write songs for God’s people. I can’t think of any higher job we could ever want to do.
To find song resources from Keith and Kristyn Getty visit SongSelect.