The melody has become a favorite in churches across America, where instrumental versions are often played by organists and bell choirs. Musically, it fits right in with traditional hymns, but the lyrics, although filled with religious imagery (especially the title), are rarely appropriate in this setting, since it is definitely not a worship song.
You will sometimes hear versions of the song with the lyrics altered for church performance. One such rendition was recorded by The Osmonds in 2015. It begins: I heard about this baby boy
Who comes to Earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing my song to ya
Larry Holder, the composer of "More Than a Child
" and other worship songs, gave us his thoughts on the subject. Said Holder: "While there is Biblical imagery, it is not a worship song, in the common understanding. The music by itself is very moving, so I can understand someone wanting to use it instrumentally, although to me, it would tend bring to mind the lyrics (in my case, I'd start thinking about Shrek
) which would actually be a distraction from worship.
It is interesting how someone came up with alternate lyrics for what the Osmonds sang, and that would definitely fit within a musical program at church at Christmas time in particular. (I have to presume permissions were obtained for such a derivative work to be written for such public use). I have heard that many of the hymns that Martin Luther penned actually used common melodies heard in the pubs of his day, so setting worship lyrics to secular melodies already well known has some logic to it.
There has been a lot of change in worship style, just in the past decade or so. I am a bass player in a praise band, in a church that not so many years ago was pretty much just choir, piano, organ (we actually have two services now, one traditional, one contemporary, which is not uncommon). It is easy to see how something contemporary but not purely originally worship music can become adapted and adopted into a contemporary worship setting. We sometimes walk a fine line between leading true worship and merely providing entertainment."