On the other hand in my church we almost always sing all the verses, mostly because as my wife now admits, they carry a message which is often not complete until the whole hymn is. The Church has understood for a long time that music is simply another medium for carrying its message. It is ideal in many ways because it is concise, easily memorized and easily repeated throughout life's other activities. It carries its message both in words and melody as well. Melody helps us reinforce memory as well as the message. As a matter of fact we know today that the melody gets stored on the opposite side of the brain from the words alone. In this way music is able to touch us more deeply and more wholly than words alone.
There was a fellow in the church I served as a student minister who said that he could not imagine going to heaven because heaven was supposed to be a place where we all floated around playing harps and singing. But he could not play any musical instrument much less the harp nor sing. So the idea that our everlasting reward should be to engage in these activities seemed rather queer and unappealing. I know this person was not and is not alone. You can see people in every congregation who can't or won't sing and worse yet sometimes you can hear them. Granted the image of heaven above is a little more than quaint -- still there are those for whom the music and making of it seem incidental and best left to others.
Nevertheless I doubt that what I have said about the way music affects people is untrue even of the tone deaf. I know of someone who had a stroke and lost the ability to communicate. When during therapy he was able to start to come back his first step was to sing a simple song. In his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Summit Books, 1985) neurologist Oliver Sacks relates a similar story in chapter 22, about a retarded patient who loses his retardedness completely when performing music. Even the unwilling and the unable can be touched by music. And then music can become a means of reconnection when all other channels are closed.
Some of the non-denominational, charismatic churches that have sprung up recently have abandoned traditional hymns for "follow the bouncing ball" songs projected on movie screens and sporting tunes that sound like they came from Sesame Street. There is no connection with the past and certainly no challenge in either lyric or tune. Real hymns lack for neither. And this is I think part of the secret of their longevity if not their appeal. In mainline Protestant Christian churches particularly hymnody has been important over centuries. If you go into one of these churches today you will find that hymn-books out-number Bibles in the pews. And wherever two or three are gathered together they are likely to sing hymns.
Which hymns appear in the hymn book and which of those get sung in a service have often been the subject of hot battle in churches for as long as there have been either. Such unseemly squabbling is likely to make some shake their heads and/or turn away. But to me such animated doings point to the significance of the music and its role in faith. "Where there is smoke there is fire." And strong feelings over music are a sign of strong feelings period. What else should we expect in Houses of God? If a hymn is portable faith then it does make a difference which hymns you carry in your kit. Those who opt out of all this controversy for easily sung, happy tunes would seem to me to be opting out of a whole lot more as well.