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Reflections on 3 Non-Classic Christmas Songs

Blogger Shannan Baker is a postdoctoral fellow in music and digital humanities at Baylor University, where she recently finished her Ph.D. in Church Music (2022). She is a member of The Center for Congregational Song’s blog team.


Each year after Thanksgiving, Christmas songs inundate the ears of churchgoers and radio listeners. Some of these songs mention the “reason for the season,” and others sing about snow and other aspects of winter. A few songs have become the church Christmas staples, such as “Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing,” “Away in a Manger,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” or “Joy to the World.” A few advent songs may also be sung, such as “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” or “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

While I still love to sing the classics, a few other songs have established themselves in my regular Christmas listening. This post is to share some reflections on three of these songs from the artist Sovereign Grace Music. While this year’s services are likely already planned, maybe these reflections will provide you with some new options for the next Christmas season!


O Come All You Unfaithful

“O Come All You Unfaithful” is a riff on the Christmas classic “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Sovereign Grace has provided videos that discuss why they wrote the song and the depth of the lyrics that invite those who have not been faithful to come and behold what God has done for us. While each verse details different struggles and the brokenness and pain that go with them, the aspect of this song that is most powerful is the chorus. “Christ is born, Christ is born, Christ is born for you.” It’s a fairly simple chorus. One repeated phrase, but it leads to an ending that is a turn from other Christmas songs. Most Christmas songs focus on the different aspects of Christ’s birth: who was there, what was sung, where the birth happened. “O Come All You Unfaithful” shifts the focus. Why was Christ born?  He was born for you. This phrase is not often heard. More commonly, we say, “Christ died for you.” The aspect of this song that is most meaningful for me is that after detailing the struggles that people go through, the reminder is that Christ chose to come into this world, into our pain, into our struggles. The cross does not happen without the birth of Christ. As much as Christ died for you, Christ was born for you. When we have nothing to give, Christ becomes our offering, and we find our hope in Him.


Who Would Have Dreamed

“Who Would Have Dreamed” is more like a typical Christmas song. It begins with detailing where the birth took place and the anticipation that Israel had for their coming Messiah. Yet the song takes a spin and emphasizes the unexpected nature and hope of the coming of Christ. The chorus starts with the question: “Who would have dreamed or ever foreseen that we could hold God in our hands?” What a mystery that God became incarnate, that Jesus took on flesh and became like one of us. How often do we stop to think about how incredible it is that not only did God have a plan to pay for all our sins but that this plan involved God physically coming into our broken world? Jesus is a person who was held and hugged and would grow up to touch and heal people. Verse 3 of the song provides more depth to the purpose of Jesus’ coming: “He will carry our curse and death He’ll reverse,” which concludes with what this means for us, “So we can be daughters and sons.” Jesus was born for us, died for us, and rose for us to have eternal life and to be adopted into God’s family. God’s plan is “to save the world,” and He fulfills His promise in the most unexpected way: Immanuel.


He Who is Mighty

“He Who is Mighty” interweaves different Scripture phrases with Mary’s Song from Luke 1:46-55. While it references Christ’s birth and uses Mary’s words specifically, I first heard this song not during the Christmas season but in the middle of the summer. The first verse includes the phrase “Born was the Cornerstone,” and I remember thinking, is this a Christmas song?  Yet, as we continued singing the song, it provided a rich picture of the Gospel rooted in the beginning at Christmas with the birth of Christ. The chorus uses the words of Mary’s song, and it becomes our song: “He who is mighty has done a great thing / taken on flesh, conquered death’s sting.”  While Mary may not have known how God’s promise would unfold through her child, we can sing her words with the cross in mind. The bridge then becomes her song in a different light: “My soul magnifies the Lord / I rejoice in the God who saves / I will trust His unfailing love / I will sing His praises all my days.”  While we often only sing Christmas songs during the days leading up to Christmas, I wonder if Christmas would ring differently in our ears if we were reminded throughout the year of the incarnation. God’s plan of salvation in Christ begins at the birth of Jesus. God’s mighty acts are sung year-round, and Jesus coming into the world is one of those miraculous acts that led to the cross, the resurrection, and the hope we have while waiting for His return.

Maybe you already knew about these three songs, or perhaps they are new to you. Either way, I hope that through my reflections, you will find joy and hope in these non-classic Christmas songs. If you are interested in using these songs in your church, Sovereign Grace provides free music resources for all their songs on

Whether you use these songs in a worship service or cycle them into your regular listening, I pray that you will find peace and encouragement in the truths of the Gospel this Christmas season. Christ was born for you.




Blogger Shannan Baker is a postdoctoral fellow in music and digital humanities at Baylor University, where she recently finished her Ph.D. in Church Music (2022). She is a member of The Center for Congregational Song’s blog team.



How Little We Know

I recently became aware of how little we know of what the church sings though recent work with the Worship Leader Research (WLR) team.  WLR is a collaborative group that studies the contemporary worship music industry and church practice.  Some of the feedback to our findings largely focused on what was missing.  We identified the primary contributors of contemporary worship songs by looking at the Top lists from CCLI and PraiseCharts, but there were artists that are widely used that were not found on both lists.   Many churches that sing songs from other artists, such as Sovereign Grace, City Alight, the Gettys, etc., noted that our research didn’t include songs from those artists.  People commented on social media and in direct messages to our team about the songs that they sing regularly at their church that weren’t mentioned in our study because of our methodology for creating our list.

This made me wonder: what does the church sing?  I mean more broadly than contemporary worship.  Even what we know of the most used contemporary worship songs, there are gaps in the knowledge and powers at play that distort the data we do have.



Contemporary worship churches use songs that are under copyright.  Copyright allows songwriters to receive compensation for the use of their songs.  To streamline this process, companies like One License, CCLI (Christian Copyright License International), and (recently) MultiTracks provide licensing subscriptions.  This means that by churches signing up for their service they can use copyrighted songs in exchange for reporting the songs they use to those companies when asked.  CCLI is one such company that publishes a list of the songs that are most reported.  Many people, researchers especially, have wondered who those lists represent.  For example, what denominations, church sizes, geographic locations, etc., are these lists representing?  However, CCLI when asked will not provide demographic information about who reports.  Therefore, we do not truly know who is singing the songs that are represented on the CCLI lists.

But the lack of knowledge expands.  What hymns are being sung by the Church?  Many churches either exclusively or occasionally will sing a traditional hymn.  Many of these hymns are written before 1923 and are therefore no longer under copyright.  So, the hymns that are selected for congregational singing do not have to be reported to anyone.  Furthermore, the use of a hymnal instead of a projector instantly relieves the burden of any reporting since songs that are sung from a purchased book do not need to be reported.


The Hymnal

So how do we know what hymns are being sung by the Church? Well, the answer may seem simple—look at the hymnal.  But which hymnal?  There is a vast number of hymnals and many denominations have their own hymnals which contain a careful curated collection of songs that is different from other denominations. Even if one focused on a singular widely used hymnal, the Church does not simply start at #1 and go to the end of the book.  Specific hymns are selected each week for worship.  Again, churches are not required to report what hymns they are singing.  So how do we know what the church is singing?



Another common type of song used in church is gospel music.  Gospel music is often the primary type of music used in predominately black churches.  What gospel songs are sung every week?  While gospel music is copyrighted, much of it is missing from CCLI’s list (for various reasons that should be explored further). Since it is not on CCLI, there is no way to report the songs that are used.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a singular book that contains a collection of gospel songs from which to choose.  If there is no requirement to report, how do we know which gospel songs are being used the most? How do we know what the church is singing?


Questions Remain

The different types of songs used in churches could continue, but the point remains.  We do not know what the church sings.  The feedback given to Worship Leader Research (WLR) has prompted this new conversation related to the gap in our knowledge of the Church’s song.  While I’ve identified some of the problems about why we don’t know what the Church sings, the question remains:

So what does the church sing?

While we do not have the answers right now, Dr. Monique Ingalls and I are working to create a project that will discover what the church is singing.  What hymns are sung most?  What songs are sung in smaller churches that can’t afford a licensing subscription?  What service music is used in various liturgies?  The goal of this project is to provide people and researchers with a picture of what the church is actually singing across denominations and worship styles.  The collection of songs that are sung will continue to change and expand over time; however, what we hope is that over time we will discover the richness of the variety of songs that are sung by the church in worship.