Get Help Selecting Hymns for Worship – Review of Prepare!

October 21, 2022

Selecting hymns for worship is not something I enjoy.  I’m a perfectionist and it takes me hours to select hymns for a worship service.  I am never satisfied with what I select and constantly second guess myself.  It is an excruciating exercise!  Anytime I can I’ll palm the responsibility off to someone else—the pastor, the organist, even the janitor!  But there are times when I just can’t avoid the responsibility.  Several years ago a colleague at another local church introduced me to a resource that made the process of selecting hymns much easier.  Finding this resource was, no kidding, a live-changing experience!  I’d like to tell you about it, if you’ll listen!



This amazing resource is Prepare! An Ecumenical Music & Worship Planner by David L. Bone and Mary Scifres.  It is published annually by Abingdon Press.  The print version (which I HIGHLY recommend) is about ¼ inch thick, 8 ½ x 11 closed and opens up to 11 x 17.  It is spiral bound so it lays flat on your desk, a very handy binding!  So while I think the print version is the way to go, they do offer an ebook version from the publisher’s website.  You can also get it as a Kindle version on Amazon.  Both print and electronic versions sell for around $28 new, but you can probably find some discounts if you look hard enough.



Prepare! is based on the Revised Common Lectionary so if you use the lectionary it is perfectly suited to your worship planning.  But even if you don’t follow the lectionary, it is STILL an invaluable resource!  Each volume includes a scripture index in the back that lists all of the scripture passages and identifies the date a given passage is used.  I’ve used this in churches where the pastor followed the lectionary and churches where the pastor didn’t.  Prepare! worked perfectly in both situations.


When you open the resource (and I’m speaking specifically here about the print version but the same would be true for the electronic version) you’ll find all the information for a given Sunday (and special services too like Good Friday, Ash Wednesday, Thanksgiving, etc.) presented on two facing pages.  On the left-hand page, you’ll find the text of the scriptures assigned for that day—an Old Testament reading, a Psalm reading, an Epistle reading, and a Gospel reading.  The entire text of the scriptures is included, and you can order it in two different translations, the New Revised Standard Version, or the Common English Version.  On the right-hand page, the suggested hymns are listed, with each hymn suggestion keyed to the scripture or scriptures.


Prepare! ties directly into about 16 hymnals.  These hymnals represent a cross section of denominations ranging from Southern Baptist to Episcopal with Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and others in between.  There are some “non-denominational” hymnals as well by publishers ranging from Word to GIA.  This is a broad resource that pulls from a diverse spectrum of theological and musical thought.  If your hymnal is tied it, it will tell you the hymn number of the suggested hymn in your hymnal.  But even if your hymnal isn’t tied directly in, Prepare! is still useful.  “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds” or “In Christ Alone” are going to be in any hymnal of quality.



But Prepare! doesn’t just limit itself to traditional/historical hymnody.  It also keys contemporary worship songs to the scripture readings.  If you are in a church that offers traditional worship but wants to include new hymns of the church in its worship, Prepare! is THE resource for you!  But a caution about contemporary worship songs—many of them are NOT suited for congregational singing.  Yes, there may be popular, “top-40” contemporary worship songs but many, if not most of them are not good for corporate worship.  While the hymnal acts as a filter for us, blocking out (for the most part) the worst examples of traditional/historic hymnody, there is no current equivalent filter for contemporary worship songs.  Many of them have SERIOUS theological deficiencies not to mention musical impracticalities.  The filter for contemporary worship songs must be the intelligence and maturity of a well-trained church musician/theologian.  I’ve created a blog post on the practical considerations for selecting new hymns for traditional worship that may help you think through some criteria for selecting the BEST examples of contemporary worship music.  We NEED to sing new hymns, but we don’t need to sing bad new hymns!



But, back to the matter at hand: Prepare!  The right-hand page lists for you all the hymns that fit the scripture passages printed on the left-hand page.  Each hymn listed ties in directly to these readings by identifying the connection:


“In Remembrance of Me” (Ps., 1 Cor.)

B365, C405, S2254


In this example the hymn “In Remembrance of Me” ties in with the Psalm reading for that day, and the Epistle reading for that day (in this case from 1st Corinthians), and can be found in The Baptist Hymnal #365, the Chalice Hymnal #405, and The Faith We Sing #2254.  But Prepare! also makes suggestions for opening and closing hymns of a worship service.  Opening hymns should be hymns of praise and adoration like “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”  Closing hymns should be hymns of dedication and commission like “Here I Am, Lord.”


“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (Rom.) (O)

B208, C517, F21, N43, UM384 (PD)


“He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought” (1 Sam, Ps.) (C)

B52, C545, F606, L501, UM128 (PD)



In addition to this helpful information, the right-hand page is divided into several sections.  The first section is Primary Hymns and Songs for the Day.  This section, about ¼ of a column, contains hymns that tie most directly with the scriptures and are more well-known hymns that would be common across multiple denominations.  The second section is Additional Hymn Suggestions.  This section is more than twice the length of the Primary Hymns section, but its hymn suggestions are less obviously tied to the scripture selections and are less commonly known.  Here you would find hymns that are a bit more denominationally identified—still good fits scripturally but less well known.  The third section is the afore mentioned Additional Contemporary Suggestions.  Here would be listed the contemporary worship songs tied in with the scripture readings.



Prepare! is PRIMARILY a resource for selecting hymns for congregational singing.  But it also contains some additional music selection assistance.  Immediately below the Additional Contemporary Suggestions section is a brief listing of Vocal Solos that tie in with the scripture readings.  This is very helpful (although limited) since there aren’t a lot of resources that help a worship planner find solo literature that ties in with scripture readings.  Following this section Prepare! also provides limited suggestions of choral Anthems that tie in with the scripture readings.  I’ve not found this to be as helpful (I’ve got other resources that are more specific to choral literature) but their suggestions may be exactly what you are looking for.  At the very least their suggestions can give you some ideas to think through your choral libraries to find fitting anthems for worship.


But Prepare! also provides some non-musical worship preparation aids as well.  Immediately below the Anthem suggestions is a section labeled Other Suggestions.  Here they list various visual ideas (iconography for the bulletin or screens, etc.) and ideas for decorating the worship space, as well as resources for prayers, responses, introits, calls to worship, litanies, etc. all tied in with the scripture readings for the day.  It even lists for you the liturgical color appropriate for a given Sunday.



Now, certainly, purchasing Prepare! new each year would be a wise investment.  But “back issues” are also effective resources.  You can find older editions on eBay, and Amazon for example.  And, if you purchase three consecutive years, you’ll have a complete “set” for the Revised Common Lectionary—cycles A, B, and C.  While the newest edition will keep you abreast of new contemporary worship songs, vocal solos, and anthems, the traditional/historic hymns are going to remain fairly consistent (unless we “rediscover” some long-lost hymn by the Wesleys!).  New—current—is good, but old isn’t necessarily bad!



But, as with any resource, there are some areas for improvement.  Here are my critiques (hopefully helpful not harmful!):


1. For a resource that based on the Revised Common Lectionary Prepare! does not list anywhere—on the cover or in the text—the lectionary cycles covered in each volume. If you’re using this with a new edition each choir year that may not be as big of an issue.  But if you’re referring back to an older edition there is no provision for the identification of the RCL cycle.  I just simply wrote on the cover “A/B” for the volume that straddled cycle A and B.  But, as a dear friend once told me (quoting a line from a motion picture) “you have the handwriting of a serial killer.”  I’d prefer not writing anything for it exposes my poor penmanship!

2. And speaking of straddling two RCL cycles, while I understand Prepare! was designed to follow the school year (or the church choir year)—starting in September and concluding in August—again, for a resource that is based on the RCL, I would really have preferred it began with the first Sunday of Advent and concluded the following November. Again, if you’re using this with a new edition each year this isn’t so much of a problem.  But if you’re referring back to older versions it takes a bit of mental juggling to determine which volume you need.

3. And while we’re harping on the “based on the RCL” issue, it would be so very helpful if Prepare! listed the proper for each Sunday. While it does an expert job of addressing the Sunday’s during the festival part of the year (e.g. Third Sunday in Lent, Sixth Sunday of Easter, etc.) it doesn’t identify the proper for the non-festival part of the year.



In short, BUY THIS BOOK!  This is a huge help in thoughtfully and carefully selecting hymns for corporate worship.  Attempting to tie this recommendation in with our “brand identity” I would give this resource 5 out of 5 windows!  This is an EXCELLENT resource that will help you in your worship planning.


If you’d like to order a copy please click on the link below.  You’ll help us out tremendously by ordering it through this Amazon Affiliate link.


2022-2023 – NRSV

2022-2023 – CEB

2023-2024 – NRSV


2023-2024 – CEB



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