In a 7-11 song, you might sing “Oh, thank heaven,” but hopefully you’re not praising a cherry-limeade Slurpee. The truth is that “7-11 songs” are contemporary worship songs with repetitive, simplistic lyrics.
If contemporary Christian music is like a 7-11 convenience store, then what are traditional hymns supposed to be like? A mom-and-pop soda shoppe? A sit-down restaurant? A mighty fortress with a firm foundation?
Previously on the Dictionary of Christianese I’ve explored terms like Jesus-is-my-boyfriend song and God-is-my-girlfriend song. The term 7-11 song falls into this same category of Christian slang about contemporary Christian music.
The idea behind 7-11 songs is that they are loud, rhythmic praise choruses that keep the congregation singing essentially the same 7 words for about 11 times in a row. Get it? 7 and 11. “7-11 song” is also a catchy play on words for the ubiquitous chain of 7-11 branded convenience stores with their slick appearance and standardized inventory. As you can guess, calling a piece of worship music a “7-11 song” is hardly a compliment.
An easy example of what a lot of people would call a 7-11 song is “Trading My Sorrows” by the talented songwriter Darrell Evans. The chorus of the song goes like this: “We say yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord. Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord amen.” As shown by this example, you don’t need to have exactly 7 words or exactly 11 repetitions to call a song a “7-11 song.” It’s a literary metaphor, folks! Not an algebra equation! Wiggle room is allowed.
For the record, I love Darrell Evans’s music and I love a lot of CCM music—and I’m not the only Christian who thinks that there is a place in Christian worship for these praise choruses and their repetitive refrains and bridges. But a lot of folks think the 7-11 songs are too simplistic to be worthy of use in our church services. Jerry Rankin tells it like it is in his 2009 book In the Secret Place: A Pilgrimage Through the Psalms:
Currently there is a great deal of controversy in churches over the style of music and worship. Those who have sung the traditional, well-known hymns in four-part harmony have been critical of the newer preference for praise choruses, many of which are sung repetitively. In a rather condescending way, these worship choruses, which are often faithful expressions of scriptural truth, are referred to as 7-11 songs, that is, seven words sung over and over eleven times. (302)
Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson, in their jointly authored 2011 book The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, go so far as to make the claim that this genre of Christian praise music has merit:
Church musical fare combines traditional hymns sung by virtually all evangelicals—classics like “Amazing Grace” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”—and praise choruses preferred by the younger generation. The latter combine catchy melodies with rudimentary lyrics and have been dubbed “7-11” music—seven words are sung eleven times. Many evangelicals have experienced the powerful bonding that comes through singing such choruses with thousands of their fellow Christians, eyes closed, hands in the air, and swaying gently back and forth. (206)
It’s my fervent hope that these “worship wars,” which is actually a thing people say, don’t escalate any further. The last thing we need is for us to start arguing over worship music the way we argue over versions of the Bible. (Have you heard Christians belittle the Bible versions they don’t like by calling them the Newly Incorrect Version (NIV) and Not A Solid Bible (NASB)?)
Linguistically speaking, the terms 7-11 music and 7-11 song (and their minor variations such as 7-11 worship music and 7-11 praise song) all appeared around the same time in 2000 and 2001. I believe I’ve found the very first uses of these terms in print, but I’m always happy when someone is able to point me to an earlier example of the terms in use. If you can find an earlier example of these terms prior to 2000 in either a book, a magazine, or even on the Internet, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See below for the full definitions of these terms along with a bevy of interesting quotations showing these terms in actual use by Christians in a variety of sources.