15 Reasons We Should Still Be Using Hymnals

15 Reasons We Should Still Be Using Hymnals July 22, 2014
Old Choir Robes and Hymnals from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 Anthony Easton, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Unfortunately, many churches have done this with their hymnals, but I think they are important symbols for worshiping congregations. Here are some of the reasons why.

  1. Hymnals actually teach music. We’re making less music than ever before. Oh, to be sure, there’s lots of music going on around us, but very few people are actually making it. We’re just consuming it, or at the very most, singing along with music someone else made first. But even an untrained musician can look at the words and music in the hymnal and learn to follow melodic direction and rhythmic value.
  2. Hymnals set a performance standard. Contemporary worship music is based on recording instead of notation. This is endlessly confusing, and it opens each song up to individual interpretation. Without notation, it is exceedingly hard to sing well as a congregation. Hymnals fix that. Everybody has the same notation, so we all know how the song is supposed to go.
  3. Hymnals integrate the music and text. Words on a screen give no musical information. Hymnals fix that. Singers aren’t dependent upon learning the song by rote.
  4. Hymnals allow you to sing anywhere. When you depend on projection to display hymn texts, you’re bound to do your music making in a space outfitted with sufficient media.
  5. Hymnals allow people to take possession of the music. I know congregants that love to find out the next Sunday’s hymns during the previous week, so they can open up their hymnal, refresh the words, and work on their part so they’re prepared to lend their voices. Preparation like that is one of the ways music making becomes a worshipful activity. Hymnals make it possible for people to have easy access to the best songs.
  6. Hymnals don’t screw things up. Unless some kid has ripped the page out of your hymnal, you know the hymn you’re looking for is going to be there. Technology lets us down all the time, and if it happens in the middle of a song or hymn, you’re sunk.
  7. Hymnals are as helpful as the singer needs them to be. It’s hard to ignore a screen, no matter how well I know the song being sung. Its mere presence sends most people into a trance. There are times I must pay close attention to the hymnal. I recently sang the hymn “Ye watchers and ye holy ones” in a service. I know of the hymn, and I know LASST UNS ERFREUEN, but I didn’t grow up singing it. I had to follow the entire time. I needed the hymnal. Last Saturday, I sang in the choir for a funeral. It was a beautiful service; a reflection on a life well-lived in service of the kingdom. When it came time for the final hymn, “Blessed Assurance,” I rose, opened the hymnal, and held it out, but didn’t look at it once. I long ago internalized every note and word of this hymn. I was free to look out into the congregation, making eye contact, sharing the ethos of the experience with others.
  8. Hymnals are a theological textbook. There is no perfect hymnal, but well-crafted hymnals are reliable sources of theological information.
  9. Hymnals involve tactile action. Hymnals make the people work. Picking up the hymnal, finding the right page, and holding it up to sing grounds you in time and space. Feeling the weight in your hand engages you in the activity more than staring at a screen ever could.
  10. Hymnals are not particularly distracting. Screens are actually very difficult to follow. Whenever I’m forced to read a projected text, I am so easily lost in the colors, backgrounds, and movements. I find myself anticipating when the next slide will be advanced. When I’m using a hymnal, none of that comes into play. I have the words and music, and I don’t even have to worry about turning the page.
  11. Hymnals preserve the aesthetics of the Sanctuary. There is rarely a good place to hang a screen. Even worse, when installed into older spaces, the result can be a visual nightmare. Don’t be mistaken. It may be a secondary issue, but it’s also a theological one. Here is a particularly painful before and after example from Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. The beautiful organ pipe arrangement and the stained glass baptistry are now masked by three massive projection screens.  The en chamade were completely removed.Second Baptist Church, Houston, TX Second-Baptist-Church-2010-01
  12. Hymnals confront us with “new” songs. We tend to go back to our favorite songs too often. It’s easy to fall into a rut. I recently looked back at a year’s worth of bulletins, and was a little embarrassed at how much we had sung several hymns. Not that there was anything wrong with the hymns, but the congregation needs to be stretched to learn unfamiliar songs. When I was a kid, I enjoyed learning to play my favorite hymns on the piano from my mom’s 1975 Baptist Hymnal. Along the way, I would run into hymns that weren’t my favorites. After a while, while flipping through the book, I would run into these hymns again and again. Finally, I would stop and take a look. Often, these “new” hymns turned out to be great sources of encouragement to me, even though they were once unfamiliar and foreign.
  13. Hymnals give validity to new hymns. New hymns are often defined by the company they keep. When new hymnals are published, if they’re done well, they will introduce us to newer songs to be added to the ranks of hymnody. The fact that these songs are now sandwiched in between hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” adds to their validity.
  14. Hymnals make songs less disposable. Okay, obviously you can throw a hymnal away if you want, but text on a screen is there one second and gone the next. There’s no visible permanence. Hymnals are symbols of consistency. They give life and breath to the great songs. They demonstrate that what we sing is worth keeping around.
  15. Hymnals give congregational singing back to the people. Congregations watching screens are at the mercy of whoever is sitting behind the computer. Holding hymnals symbolizes the fact that the voice of the congregation is the primary instrument in corporate worship.
Orderly Hymnals from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Don DeBold, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

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  • Stan

    I would add one more reason why we should still be using hymnals under the “practical” category:

    children learn to sing hymns with help from their parents. This past Sunday I witnessed three different sets of families where one of the parents placed their hymnal low enough for the child next to them to sing and the parent’s finger was sliding along the text and music so the child could learn to use a hymnal. This parent/child worship teaching interaction cannot happen when only screens are used.

    I have laid out many of these same arguments with some of our worship leaders and they do not care to listen because they have one agenda and only one…to look like the church is keeping up with the latest technology.

    I especially applaud your mention of hymnals giving the congregational singing back to the people. As I see it, those churches who rely on screens for all the worship participation needs of the congregation (plus other items), are only reverting back to pre-Reformation worship, where the entire liturgy was “performed” for the congregation with no empowerment of the laity to “do” worship themselves. The “we know best” mentality from the front of the church would make Martin Luther roll over in his grave!

    • Emily

      Stan, I was going to say that exact thing. As a parent of a four year old who wants to be on the right page at the right time so she can sing along…even if the words she’s singing are virtually incoherent….it makes her feel apart of the service. Moreover, even if she can’t read the words, she catches on to the important parts and recognizes the hymns after a while and can sing the parts she remembers. She feels included in the service. She insists on holding her own hymnal. I have mine, she has hers.

      • Debra Brubaker

        Once, when holding my 4-yr-old’s finger and moving it along the hymnal page as we sang, I thought that perhaps I was interfering w/ him too much, so I removed my hand from his. Immediately, he picked my hand back up and placed it over his own so that he could continue to follow along and sing with the rest of the church. Talk about a life event! He is now 26 and a devoted lover of singing in general and hymns in particular.

    • George

      Stan – excellent point on teaching children and having them follow your finger.

    • Gail De Graaf

      I am a firm believer in using Hymnals for Worship. My children, now my grandchildren, follow the words, and are learning to read, even the notes. My one grandson notes the rhymes, and is fascinated with poetry of hymns. They have all learned to read music and sing in choirs, and actually sing in worship!!! I am an organist, and I select the hymns for each worship service. I find it a challenge, and am gratified when someone tells me they really enjoyed singing the hymns. When I can’t find a hymn that fits, I am able to find one in another hymnal, but definitely copy the whole thing, not just the words.

      Thank you for this article, and the opportunity to respond.

    • Julie

      I sang hymns growing up but it was my children’s choir teachers (in church & in school) that taught me how to sing. Neither of my parents read music (my dad can follow it, my mom just looks at the words). I appreciate having learned them because 30+ years later, I remember the full texts of hymns more than the songs I sang at church this past week.

    • Ann Wallace

      I agree with using Hymnals. I visit my daughter regularly in another state and have visited several churches there. I do not even feel a part of the service, because the words are on a screen, no written music and no hymnals, I just stand there; eventually get tired of standing for 30 minutes and then sit. I read music, but even if I didn’t, I could follow whether the next note was up or down.

      • Paul Uzel

        This comment reminded me that in a number of cultures and denominations standing is the Order of the Day. It has been some years ago, but when I took my confirmation class (Presbyterian USA) to visit a Greek Orthodox Church, they spent over 2/3s of the service standing in front of pews which were no more than sufficient inches deep enough on which to perch your bum. But standing to sing not only is physiologically more sound (opens the diaphragm to allow more air with which to sing), but standing while praising God just seems more approrpriate. IMHO

        • My Mom held the book for me to sing with her..we connected during the process and l remember to this day the feeling..

        • Mamaof6

          I understand that standing for some of the singing is nice and good, but I have physical disabilities and standing for a half hour or more is something I cannot do. So I sit down and feel very self conscious because I am the only one sitting. I do not know why we have to have a half hour of solid singing. When I grew up we intersperse singing with other activities like Bible reading, prayer, etc. and so we could sit down once in awhile.

    • Brilliant! That’s also totally true.

    • I totally agree! For children to learn the songs they need much more than the words on a screen. They also are at the mercy of all those tall people blocking their view. I have a child with very poor eyesight. Luckily we live in a very remote area so our church using a screen isn’t a worry but when we visit family in larger cities my child can’t even read the words on the screen.

    • Jan

      Stan, I am in total agreement. One of my first memories of church is my Daddy showing me how to follow the stanzas in the hymnal.

    • Linnea

      Another problem with singing from a screen is that it leaves out those who don’t know the songs. My husband and I brought a college student who reads music to church and he said he felt like he was at a private club where only members knew the songs. He said he had been looking forward to participating in the worship service, worship being a verb and all. He did not join us again.

      • Narda

        I very much agree with this article and the comments following. Especially this one. We brought some neighbors to our church on Easter Sunday and they were totally excluded from the worship, even though he has a degree in music, because there was no music for them to follow. They, as well, have never come back. When there is a new song on the screen, I feel disenfranchised from the worship portion of the service as I stand mutely waiting for the song to end. Would love to attend a church that uses hymnals.

      • gordon braun

        Those who praise inclusiveness fail to realize how much they exclude those of us who read music by limiting us to the lyrics. And in my experience don’t care that we’re left out and blame us for the “problems” we create.

        • Brent

          You’ve got to be kidding right? Church isn’t about catering to everyone’s personal preference. It cant because everyone has different ones. Someone will ALWAYS feel left out or their opinion unappreciated no matter where you fall on this issue. Such a silly thing to go to battle for , in my opinion.

          Not a hill in which I am willing to die on.

          The purity of the Gospel is …. Music preference isn’t.

          • Nancy Knowles

            Brent, forgive me, but I failed to make a connection between Gordon’s statement and your response. He didn’t introduce, nor did he comment on, “personal preference.” His comment was about inclusiveness. You pivoted, without any basis, to “personal preference.”

            I’d like to hear what you actually think about his challenge that those who preach “inclusiveness” may not be achieving their goal.

            All too often, I find that those who prefer the contemporary environment with its attendant preference in musical literature, instrumentation, leadership models (team vs. choir/conductor), aesthetics (architecture, staging, lighting, sound reinforcement, etc.) are sequestered in their own church or “contemporary” service. In short, they are not content to inhabit an inclusive environment with all others. Their “format”, much like a radio station, is so high on their scale of values that it precludes almost anything else.

        • Sue Beard

          I’m a retired music teacher and have been a church musician (singer/organist/pianist) for over 50 years. There’s probably nothing I dislike more than being confronted with an unfamiliar song that I’ve never heard before and being expected to sing it. Of course, someone can reasonably respond that I wouldn’t be expect to. And we wonder why our congregations don’t sing well. They’re also being drowned out by the amplified music.

    • Sarah

      Thank you for this thoughtful and considerate response to the growing trend of screen usage, or more specifically, replacing hymnals with screens. I agree completely. I also very much appreciated the comment left by a reader who mentioned how parents can guide their children (interacting with them and keeping them engaged) through the hymn, and through musical “lessons” by bringing the hymnal to their level and pointing out the words and music, and singing along themselves. This is the technique I used and enjoyed it very much, and this technique enjoyed much success 🙂

    • Heidi

      My husband and I simultaneously leaned down to trace the words to a hymn for our 3 year old granddaughter, and she had already taken a lighter hymnal, opened it (right side up!) and was running her finger left to right, singing right along! She’s a participant, not an observer- exactly what we want for her. Not to mention the boost in literacy skills…

    • Excellent! Children should learn to worship with their parents. I had never thought how hymnals aid in this important job.

    • Stan,

      What you mentioned, along with this article, is what I greatly attribute to my becoming a worship pastor. I grew up in services with my parents from a very early age. We didn’t have children’s church back then, and we sang right along with the rest of the family during worship. I remember standing on the pew next to my mother as she’d glide her finger along the hymnal as we sang. I began playing the piano when I was 3 and had taught myself to read music (using hymnals) by the time I was almost 7. It made transitioning into my classical training much easier. A lot of contemporary worship composers nowadays can produce some beautiful music, but they can’t tell you the how and why behind their creations. This makes it difficult for a lot of them to easily transition into new songs or to quickly discern what the correct chording or flow of the music should be when learning a new song. Sadly, I believe the loss of written worship materials is as tragic to congregations as the transition from Bibles to eBibles. Times have, unfortunately, changed!

    • Sylvia

      Stan, I love looking out from the choir loft to see parents guiding their children in the hymnal! To be sharing faith and helping children with the reading of the words of our religion is a superior reason to use hymnals! Thank you for your reflections

    • Ruth Lawrence


  • Jonathan

    Stan, so very well said. I remember my dad, who is not a trained musician in the least, teaching me how to follow the hymnal. It’s so very important. Thanks for reading.

  • Yes! Yes! A thousand times ten thousand yes!

    • Jonathan

      Glad you approve. Thanks for reading.

      • oldchurchesrock

        Am I the only one who is more upset at the architectural blasphemy that occured in those pictures? That right there is a sin to destroy such beauty in favor of insanely expensive huge flat screen monstrosity.

  • Susan

    What a wonderful article. Stans suggestion was spot on as well. As a child I learned to read music and pray with a hymnal. There is nothing better than to have one of my kids with me and point to the words and music so they can join in the worship and contribute to the music. And I know that it’s a great way for them to get a lesson in music making as well.

    • Jonathan

      Yes. To everything you said. Thank you.

  • Margaret Brack

    Not only were all of your comments valid, there is one more reason that having a hymnal is absolutely vital to an interactive liturgical experience- ability to add or change music if needed! There are so many times that more people than you plan for are there and you need another offertory or communion song or the minister needs some time added to an action and you need another song. I simply can say, “please turn to page__ and join in singing ___”. I have had to use powerpoint over the last decade and I have never been able to make these needed additions. Also, mechanical things break!!! (which you already noted – but cannot be reiterated enough!)

    • Jonathan

      Great points. Thanks for reading.

  • Maretta Hershberger

    In the words of the inimitable Marva Dawn: “Hymnals teach us that God doesn’t fade away when the screen goes dark.”

    • Becky

      I did not feel that the writer’s point was that a hymnal is ‘necessary’ for worship. But the hymnal does ground a person in the worship service. A few years back, I tried really hard to connect myself with a church whose song service consisted of words on the screen up front. I could not follow along; I felt I could not participate fully; and as I looked around the congregation, I would find I was not the only person just standing there, awkwardly, and not feeling connected to the music. A few months ago, I followed a friend’s suggestion and visited a church where the hymnal is an important part of the service. Everyone in the church looks involved! They are singing boldly. And my grandchildren do exactly as others here have described–they hold a book, they try to follow the words, and hallelujah! they are seeing a relationship between the notes and the tune! I think of the vocabulary they are learning, the richness of language, and I am blessed by the experience. So of course the hymnal is not necessary to worship, but it certainly contributes to a sense of community among worshipers in services where it is used. I am thankful that my grandchildren are sharing the experience.

    • Sarah

      I don’t think there is a “claim of superiority” so much as a sense that one can’t fully participate if one doesn’t know the tunes of the songs being projected. You start feeling lost after awhile if, in song after song, you don’t know whether your voice should go up or down on the next word. The heart can’t keep up.

      We have traveled and lived in foreign countries, one with a different language. Until we learned that language, we could only participate in a limited way in the song part of the worship services we attended. Some of the songs were translated from English, hence the tunes were familiar; but some were native to that language. The churches we attended did use hymnals (this was prior to the trend toward projection), but some of them were words only, no music printed. We found that when the musical notes were provided, we could follow and learn the song much more quickly, learn the parts, feel the sense of the song and add our voices to the congregational worship, even if we didn’t understand all the words.

  • Marjorie

    When you have a hymnal, you have the words to read, -they may speak to you in a very personal way, even as you are singing. One may read and re-read, as suits you. Many hymn texts have been written by famous poets; seeing the names and dates of the composers add to one’s knowledge of history as well. I’m always learning something of value in more ways than one, when using a much-loved hymnal!

    • Jonathan

      Excellent. Could we say another reason is that hymns (and hymnals as well) are good markers of the history of our faith tradition?

      • Not only do they “mark” our history, but they connect us to it … to the church universal and triumphant. These are the hymns that have stood the test of time, meeting the worship and experience needs of G-d’s people over the long haul … in some cases, over hundreds of years. When I sing from the hymnal, I’m not just singing with the people near me in “the big room” … I’m singing with a “congregation” stretching out over decades and centuries, backwards and forwards … the Bride.

        • Jonathan

          Very valuable comment. Thank you.

        • Arlys

          My dad parentsare in a care center. Many times hymns are sung from memory. It makes me wonder what connection there willbe in 20 or 30the years. Contempory songs come and go.

          • Luanne

            I used to voluntarily play the piano at an assisted nursing center. The elderly residents would sing along with favorite old hymns, children’s songs, and patriotic songs they had memorized [ by reading and singing from hymn books ] over their lifetimes. It was a small activity but enjoyable for those residents. Churches moving toward electronically projecting words to follow along songs, is the prescription for one less enjoyable activity for the elderly in an assisted living center. Pass the Kevorkian kit.

      • Gretchen

        I agree. I feel that new believers and young people today are being robbed of knowing their Christian heritage. Songs like “It is well with my soul” have a fantastic story behind them. “A mighty fortress is our God” teaches our ancient roots. All we are singing now are pretty much monotone “melodies”. We are missing so much!

      • Andrew Hildebrand

        I am a church pianist/organist and keyboard player for our worship team. I agree that hymnals should play a part in service. Learning to follow notation is a lost art in many churches. The screen is also important but I agree it sometimes takes away from the participatory worship of the congregation.

        One way I honor the hymn is to create modern arrangements and when I perform the new vocal and/or piano version I have the congregation turn to the page in the hymnal and follow along. My arrangements usually keep the melody of the original hymn and often have one verse that is singable. Some hymns or so wonderful as origianlly written I don’t mess with them. These are the hymns that I feel should be sung from the hymnal, but someone has to decide which ones.

    • Cheryl

      This is one of my most important reasons for using a hymnal. Just points out the timelessness of the faith experience. Also like the ones which note their scripture references. Love to check those out.

    • Andrew S

      I completely agree, Marjorie. One of the big problems with the hymns on screens is that the congregation can’t glance back at what they just sang to understand the progression of the hymn. I don’t know how many times Scriptural truths have come alive to me as I’ve pondered the progression of thought in the written words of a hymn. On the other hand I’ve been in services with the screens and been struck by a phrase in a hymn only to have it disappear from the screen (and my memory) before I can ponder it!

      • Nancy

        I have always felt that the music prepares my soul for the service. If I have a hymnal in my hand I can read the words of the other verses too, and it too can prepare me for the service. Where as if it’s on a screen and they do take it off and may or may not continue the song I have missed out on seeing the rest of the song. I have been at church and don’t know a song and being able to read it helps me a lot better then if it’s on a screen. Besides I have had brain surgery and even some of the old songs I can’t remember the words to anymore and being able to see them and not go off the screen helps me a lot.

        • Sally

          I also have had brain surgery, Nancy, and also have sometimes forgotten the words to hymns and songs I’ve known for a long time. Some of the liturgical prayers I’ve said for years, as well.

          Having a prayer book, or in our case, a folder, w/ hymns for the day at the end of the booklet, is such a gift!

          We’re at a church that has never had an in-house minister in > 50 yrs, if ever; we share a pastor with our joint island. We’re looking at hymnals – not only are the ones in the churches old, they’re also falling apart. The choice of hymnals is frustrating! The prayers used in the services are from prayer books of different sorts: some Lutheran, some Anglican, etc.

          Before this minister came to the islands, my family went off -island to a church that went to the overhead projected service. New songs were wonderful for people who listened to specific music on the radio, but that assumed everyone listened to modern music on a Christian radio station. I ended up singing very little at church.

    • Keith

      I agree, Margaret. Many times as I’ve sung hymns from the hymnal, I have looked back at a previously sung verse to see how the words contextually fit with the current verse being sung.

  • Laura

    As a church musician for the last 35-40 years I have seen much change in American church worship. I have conducted and played in churches with hymnals and screens and can say, without reservation, that hymnals are all this article says and more. I believe the worship we bring to God needs to be our very best work and I have seen too many services that appear unorganized and chaotic because of some need to have a casual service or a “worship lite” experience. I have taught many children and teens about hymnody and I dare say most of the would agree that hymns serve as theological enrichment for our souls.

    • Jonathan

      This is a good point. In fact, in my experience, most kids are moveable on this issue if they’re taught to think for themselves. The most static I’ve gotten on this issue has been from baby boomers.

      • Roxann

        Isn’t that so true and so sad, we, the baby boomers, who should know better seem to be the ones “fighting” for the changes in the music ministry.

        It breaks my heart when I hear a young person who has grown up in the church make comment about hymns, such as they don’t know it (because the church doesn’t sing hymns) or when a modern song is written with some words from an old hymn and the young person says, wow, great words and are surprised to hear that those words were in an old hymn long before the modern “artist” ever created the song.

    • Jan

      Wouldn’t it be neat if our worship leaders would start a campaign to sing through our hymnals that sit in the pew racks. One different hymn a week, sung using the hymnal and AS WRITTEN, not to some different beat or tempo. Just think of how many old “new” songs would be learned. And those of us who grew up singing these wonderful hymns would have a renewed worship experience.

      • Mary

        Jan, What an excellent idea and one I’ll have to share with the priests and organists I know. Thanks! Jonathan, this is a TERRIFIC article and spot on! Thank you!

      • Norman Blowers

        Jan, Great Point.

        In churches I have been pastor, we have gone through the hymnal as described. What a rich experience! Everyone learned some new favorites that were previously unknown.

        Some songs did not reverberate and we did not return to them.

        Our people learn their theology by the songs they sing. Great songs provide great doctrine in poetical form.

  • Thank you! I have been a church musician for many years. The church where I play now uses projection screens with lyrics only. No one sings parts anymore. Children are not learning to read music. Participation is lazy, at best. I would not have the gifts I share today if I had not had access to hymnals, and piano teachers who were amazing church musicians.

    • Jonathan

      Thank you. At some point, you’d think the evidence you mentioned would cause congregations to stop and think. Sad.

      • Mary

        I believe congregations have not stopped thinking about the cause and effect of removing hymnals and using screens, but the problem I have noticed, in churches I have attended, where a screen is used instead of hymnals, is that “the people up front” are more like “performers” who have their own “agenda” and have instrumental bands to accompany them, that play so loudly you can’t even hear yourself singing, let alone what God might be trying to get through to you. (On second thought, maybe it’s because they play so loudly that God is making it clear to me that this is not “my kind of worship”.) They don’t pay any attention to what the congregation wants or needs. One of the “worship” songs we sang when I was a kid says, “The Lord is in His Holy Temple. Keep silence, keep silence before Him.” I have difficulty finding a “House of Worship” that keeps silence before God in order to hear what He might have to say to them during their “worship service”.

        • Elizabeth

          AMEN!! the upfront teams and screens create a performance atmosphere, rather than a worshipping together atmosphere.

    • Kathy Simmons

      This is exactly how I feel. I feel like I am actually worshiping when I can hold the hymnal, read the words AND THE MUSIC, and sing harmony!

  • Hala

    I totally agree! Thank you! Thank you for writing this article! I miss our traditional music and hymns! We don’t have hymnals in the church we now attend and having words on the screen makes them, just that, words! I would add that people who are petite in stature can’t see the screens when taller people are in front of them.

    God Bless You and keep writing and singing!!!

    • I find the screens uncomfortably high because they tried to be considerate of folks in your situation, Hala. They’re almost on the ceiling and require me to bend my neck way back to see them. Unfortunately, anyone who has ever studied voice will tell you NOT to stretch your neck out like that when you sing. It strains the neck, throat and vocal cords. Ideally, you should be tucking your chin ever so slightly to open up the back of the throat and lower sinuses — and that works just great for holding a hymnal!!

  • Melanie

    Great article! Another plus for hymnals is the opportunity to sing harmony, which Nancy touched on above. Also, as a music educator and church pianist, it has always bothered me that no one seems interested in projecting even the melody line on screens. No one has an opportunity to TRY to read music if they only have the words.

    • Terry

      The music is not projected because that is illegal. Only the text is covered by CCLI. And if the church is not getting this license, they are criminals.

      • I just called CCLI and they just confirmed that this is not true. Melody lines and lyrics are equally covered under their license.

        • Jonathan

          The harmonic structure is integral to the hymn. I agree that melody line is better than nothing, but still.

    • Greg Kasler

      It is illegal to put the music on the screen. Copyright licenses only give the approval to put up words.

      • Kathryn

        If you are displaying traditional hymns, it seems as though most of them would be in the public domain at this point. Copyright licenses for musical notes would be irrelevant unless you are using contemporary Christian tunes.

    • Nancy Leet

      I whole-heartedly agree…..I MISS having the printed music when learning a new song….and with the modern instrumentation and sound control, I can’t hear the melody line being sung for all of the drums and other things……and I desperately miss singing parts, which is done very little anymore since you would have to be a fairly high level musician in order to provide your own harmony line…..

    • Lon Oliver

      I would need to disagree on this point. There is a very long history of unison hymnody and many wonderful hymns of the last 50 years, often used in Catholic congregations, use cantor and unison congregation. Many hymns are not meant to be sung in harmony, but in unison.

  • Renee

    Interesting thoughts. Wondering if you could expound upon your opinion regarding the church remodel? I myself didn’t notice anything painful. Thanks.

    • Ashley

      You didn’t miss all of those beautiful columns that were removed? The screens are ugly.

      • Grace

        Not to speak against you,because I miss hymnals too(we do still fortunately use ours often),but the columns in that church were not removed. they are still there,most likely they are weight bearing. They are behind the screens, which may even be retractable and retract back up after they are done using them,we use to have a retractable one at my church,but now just project the lyrics onto the walls.

      • Gina

        The organ was completely covered up, as well as the violence done to the rest of the aesthetics of the once-beautiful room. What a monstrosity…..

    • Williaim

      The whole “church” smacks of a convention hall. Not a spiritual looking place at all. Cold and uninteresting.

      • George Burgstiner

        I totally agree with you Williaim. I have been discussing with people the auditorium feel of so many churches these days. To me they are not ‘sanctuaries’ that reflect the awesomeness of our Creator. The builders of hundreds of years ago were onto something with their great cathedrals. Granted, you can worship God anywhere and in any building but the reasons churches were built in ‘church’ style are numerous and you just can’t get that feeling in a convention hall or auditorium.

  • sarah mckibben

    Children learn more from the hymnal than they learn from projections…words and music! Sad to hear that you prefer the singular style of worship you describe.

    • Sandy

      It is a beautiful thing, but unless you’ve experienced the full sound of 4 part harmony in a Sunday morning worship service it’s hard to go back to the 1 dimensional melody that everyone sings corporately from text on a screen. I do understand that some may think that sound is beautiful, but I like to believe that when we all get to heaven we’ll enjoy the full sound of the angels singing all parts and not just the melody. And if you sing regularly from a hymnal then you will be familiar with the hymns enough that you won’t need to hold one if you really feel led to raise your hands. I certainly don’t let a hymnal keep me from raising my hands or clapping. But most projection songs are usually praise songs, which are a “feel good” kind of music for me that lets me clap and raise my hands. You don’t usually sing songs of redemption or songs about the cross or Jesus’ suffering from a screen like you would get from the hymnal….. which is a much more completed form of worship. Praise is good, but it’s not the only form of worship.

  • Georgianna Miller

    I totally agree with the article. I come from a family that led much of the singing in the one room church my grandparents, mother and 2 of my siblings were members of. My grandfather, especially. It was on the Sunday’s we were there that I noticed that the hymnal, or “songbook” as they called it, was used for things other than singing. and I don’t think I have ever seen it since. There were readings, from scripture in a back section of the hymnal. People were encouraged to read one of those passages or even just a verse, if the felt lead. Mama would encourage us to say or read things like, “Jesus wept”. Teaching us about participation in worship.

    I spent a lot of time going through those hymnals when I was at my grandparents. My parents got so tired pf me singing! I would go through and sing everything I knew, from front to back…eventually I began to teach myself ones didn’t know.

    I go to a church that values congregational singing. One newer member stated that the church is “projection screen phobic”, but I wouldn’t change I thing. I love to see my son belt out those hymns he has heard all his life. When I sang in the choir, I used to watch him teach my granddaughter, just like you mentioned. Thank you for your words!

  • Lynne Sisk

    Totally agree with comments about harmony especially. I’ve been a church pianist for many years and seen the demise of congregational singing. I often joke about electricity not being necessary for me to play. It is a shame to not use the talent in the congregation, in favor of “canned” music.

  • Stephen Morris

    In addition to giving validity to new hymns, hymnal help develop a body of common hymnody. With projections, every week can be new songs. Few people learn them (for lots of reasons mentioned above and..) because they appear and never come back — or don’t for a long time. When church doesn’t feel permanent, it is often difficult to develop a sense of returning to a familiar place.

  • Stephen Morris

    Both are extremely personal – to the extent of shutting out everyone else — “In the Garden” is much worse in this regard. These hymns are about ME — corporate worship is not.

    • Wayne

      “These hymns are about ME — corporate worship is not.”

      I heard the same complaint about “In the Garden” from a worship professor in class. His illustration of it was to cite the chorus in this manner:

      And He walks with “ME” and He talks with “ME” and He tells “ME” that “I” am His own.

      I quickly raised my hand and replied that one could as easily take the hymn quite the opposite, depending upon where the emphasis is put, and cited the same chorus back to him in this manner:

      And “HE” walks with me and “HE” talks with me and “HE” tells me that I am “HIS” own.

      And “shutting out everyone else?” Really? Some of the most popular hymns of the church utilized the first person singular: Blessed Assurance, I Love Thy Kingdom Lord, It is Well With My Soul, Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.

      As I see it, your objections are therefore not valid. You simply echo the same response given by the church forever, to anything new or different, which is, resist any change at all costs.

  • Jane McCoy Knight

    Thank you for this article. After many years as church pianist, I can say that it is very hard to play music for choruses entirely. If you don’t have the notes and see the harmony progression, you miss out on a lot of beautiful chord progressions. If you sing repetition over and over, you are just using a few words and just chanting them to the beat of the music. I learned to read music at an early age because my father taught singing school in little rural churches in the summers, and I had to go with him. I love to get a new book and play it cover to cover and learn the new songs as well as the old hymns. Remember Amazing Grace was a new song at one time. Some have very special meaning and stay around longer than others. I worked hard to learn what I know about music, and I will not back down and change my style of playing to accomodate the songs on the screen.

  • Terri

    I agree that hymnals are needed & I will not be found in a church that uses a projected bouncing ball instead.

    And although I understand the objection to those 2 hymns, “In The Garden” is probably the most requested hymn at funerals. As a singer, IMHO a song that brings tears to the listeners’ eyes must have some merit. (Not tears of agony, LOL)

    And some of us are just fine with the notion of a personal, rather than congregate, relationship with God.

    I have fond memories of my dad singing his own version of “The Old Rugged Cross,” in his beautiful bass voice: “On a hill far away, stood an old Chevrolet, its fenders all tattered and torn…”

  • LucyGraceNote

    Insightful comments on an issue that may seem insignificant, but has so much to do with how we remember the poetry that expresses (whether well or poorly) our faith.

    The comments in favor of hymnals seem to come mostly from folks who have at least a little music-training. As a professional singer and music teacher, I try to observe closely how non-music-readers respond, and to be sensitive to their difficulties/needs. It may be hard for us to go back and remember what it felt like before – when those dots on the page were meaningless to us. These dear ones generally just look at the words. ;/

    Whichever choice a church makes – books or projection or both – may not be the primary consideration. We need to closely examine how singer-friendly our service is in general. Is the print readable for all – even those with vision issues? Do newcomers have the option to see the notation? I often visit churches where they are singing songs that they know, but some are not in any hymnal/supplement. So I can sing enthusiastically on the ones I know, but have to stop and listen on those which are projeted with no notation. Perhaps this is how those without music-training have felt for years…while us “choir-trained” folks sing away – perhaps attempting to lead…but in reality leaving them behind. There was a movement in the 70’s where hymns/songs were taught 15 minutes prior to the service. I like that as a spiritual preparation, and a positive, practical action.

    Another matter is lighting. Recently I attended a “Contemorary” service where it was all dark except the stage. No one welcomed anybody, because the lighting did not encourage any eye contact. It was a Sunday morning Christian concert, that felt like night.

    An expert worship artist in our region makes sure that all the tunes – melody only – are printed in the bulletin/worship folder. Most folks can harmonize if they wish, tuning to the accompanying instrument(s). Since they are a new church, this practice has eliminated the need for hymnals. They use that money toward outreach/education for the disadvantaged.

    Another consideration is vocal gender/ range. I have noticed that many men find it difficult to locate their octave when a woman is leading. The same is sometimes true for women when a male leads. (I can only imagine what difficulty our transgender saints are having!) I recommend two leaders – one singing each octave. If there is only one staff musician, or main volunteer singer, then choir personnel, confident members, or local music students, can take turns being the leading couple.

    All that we do, whatever that may be, can [ should!?] point to everyone making a “..joyful noise to the Lord” … or in the case of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” and suchlike, a sad noise to the Lord – but appropriate and appreciated as much as “Awesome God” or “How Great Thou Art”.

  • Another aspect I love about the hymnal is the way it connects us with our ancestors in the faith, the ‘great cloud of witnesses’, the Church Universal throughout time and unto the ages of ages.

    Every hymn has a backstory, which can uplift our spirits, ground our faith, and give us strength and courage to meet the challenges of our own time.

    Here’s an example of an inspiring backstory for a typical projected worship song:

    ‘God gave me this song just after He told my boyfriend to dump me…’

    Here’s an example from the Episcopal “Hymnal 1982” (and just about every other major denominational hymnal currently in print):

    Philipp Nicholai was the pastor of a church in Westphalia, 1597, when, over a six-month period, a plague killed over 1,300 of his parishioners — 190 in a single week.

    As a way of comforting his parish, he wrote a series of meditations, “The Mirror of Joy.” To this, according to the writer on Justus.Anglican.org, “he appended two hymns, both of which have become world-famous.

    “The first hymn was, “Wake, awake, for night is flying” (Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme). It uses the image of the watchman on a city wall (Isaiah 52:8), and of the Parable of the Bridesmaids welcoming the Bridegroom to the Marriage Feast (Matthew 25:1-13), and of the Song of Triumph in Heaven (Revelation 19:6-9). It is a favorite Advent hymn.

    “The second hymn was, “How bright appears the morning star” (Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern). This also, with a wealth of imagery, hails Christ as our deliverer, and celebrates his triumph.”

    That he was able to write “The Mirror of Joy” and two of the greatest hymns ever composed, while burying his parishioners, day after day, week after week, for over six months shows us a ‘love as strong as death’ and puts our ‘first-world problems’ (with our first world technological glitches) into perspective.

    This is just a single inspiring example of hundreds to be found in the backstories of hymns found in any good hymnal.

    I rather doubt our well-meaning little worship songs will still be inspiring Christians in the year 2415… But I am convinced that there are Brothers and Sisters in Christ who are writing hymns in our time which will inspire future generations as Philipp Nicholai’s hymns have done for over 400 years, now.

    And I always look forward to singing them…from a hymnal. Because that’s the only place you’ll find them.

  • Hailey

    Using hymnals exclusively is terrible for 2 reasons:

    1. It is not guest-friendly. As clear by many of the comments, a major reason individuals cling to hymnals is because of memories or tradition. That’s great if you grew up in the church. If you’re new to the church scene, using the hymnals can be intimidating and confusing, and no one likes to look stupid. I grew up in a VERY conservative church where my dad was the minister, my mom played the organ, and my siblings & I were incredibly involved. We had the option of using hymnals with bulletins. I, personally, rarely used the hymnal. When I visited a new church in college for the first time that used only hymnals, I felt like I was constantly worrying about opening to the next hymn before it started so I wouldn’t miss the whole first verse trying to flip to the right page. It was very distracting. I felt like an idiot, and I definitely wasn’t new to church!! My roommate, an Atheist to that point, was beyond confused. I kept having to guide her, too. I’ve witnessed countless other people forced to use hymnals who are also clearly uncomfortable with them. Is it really worth making guests feel uncomfortable for our own selfish pleasure?

    2. They are most definitely not mom-friendly. We have two children under 2. The screen allows my husband and me to follow worship while holding our kids and tending to them as necessary. It’s important to me that kids are present in church and learn from an early age how to behave. When we visits husband’s church that still uses hymnals, we are constantly juggling and choosing between holding the hymnal or a baby. Those suckers are not light. Again, why make young parents uncomfortable in church? And we wonder why millennials aren’t attending church.

    As a young mom in my late 20’s, I’m perplexed at all the comments about children learning from hymnals. Maybe that was true years ago, but in every church I’ve gone to lately, the majority of kids are being entertained with IPads, phones, etc. Hymnals are a sign of the old guard. To keep these young kids involved as they grow older, we as a church must adapt to their world of technology, as painful as that is for some.

    My current church uses a screen but also puts the hymn number for those who want to follow along that way (almost no one does). I think that’s a great compromise. But then again, I love “The Old Rugged Cross”, so what do I know?

    • Trey

      When I’ve visited churches that use projectors, I’ve felt completely lost because I don’t know the songs. I just stand there while folks put on a show.

      With hymnal in hand, I can participate, too. I reckon your church makes a good compromise, but what most “projector” churches use for music isn’t found in a hymnal.

      And what’s wrong with teaching kids to be patient and use books now and again, instead of instant electronic gratification?

    • jen

      Hailey, I agree with you. As a mom of a three and four year old, I can’t hold a hymnal and my child at the same time. My husband and I teach our kids many of the songs/hymns at home so at church when we are holding them we can sing together. If they don’t know the song while in worship I help them sing along. It’s interactive for us to sing to God together in this way.

    • Jeff

      I agree a hymnal can be heavy but I have to say that screens can be just as disorienting. I am an organist and have played in church for many years . I visited my cousin out of town and we attended her church. They flashed the words up, and I totally could not sing. They were all unfamiliar songs. That , to me, was more disconcerting than paging around in a book. I also do not find that arm waving particularly worshipful. Hymns and songs can be emotional grabbers, but is that the purpose ? I say then it becomes about me again. (That’s in response to an earlier post). It annoys me greatly when someone says “it just doesn’t do it for me”. I think both have their merits. I never thought about needing to change something on the fly. However, screens do reduce paper usage. We print everything except the hymns (although we do add them in sometimes), to the tune if 4 sheets per bulletin times 80. We recycle probably 1/3 of that each week. But we cannot put up screens because unlike that photo, we refuse to cover up our beautiful pipe organ. But if we could, I’d say why not meet in the middle? In this day and age, there are many easy and powerful music notation programs. Why not put in at least the melody line over the words? Yes it’d mean more work for the PowerPoint creator and musician but I can generate a song in minutes by using a midi keyboard.

      • Jeff

        PS: it doesn’t matter if people realize it or not, but even the most untrained musician does learn to read the music. It at least helps them see the direction a melody is going in pitch. They may not know the hymn is in the key of F Major and in 4/4 time, but they DO sense the where the melody goes. Words alone cannot.

    • Cathy

      I have to disagree, Hailey. We had three kids under the age of two at one point (multiples), and using hymnals was usually a non-issue. Like you, we felt that it was important for our young children to be in worship with us, but if it reached a point where we were having to tend to them to the degree that we couldn’t even hold a hymnal we simply removed the kids and went to the nursery. If they were that distracting to US, we assumed it would be distracting to others as well and out of common courtesy we removed the distraction. If we’re honest, we aren’t focusing on worship if we’re tending to our kids.

      It bothers me that kids are being “entertained” by iPods, etc. during worship, and I don’t think it’s a “good” thing or that churches need to “get with the times” and use technology because kids won’t pay attention without it. There’s value in teaching children how to be quiet, still, and meditative. It’s a process, for sure, but kids need to learn how to delay gratification and that life isn’t always about them. (As a teacher, I see this in a different venue as well.) My kids, who are now teens, learned to read music to some degree because of hymnals, so don’t toss us all out to pasture as “Old Guard.” People in their 40’s aren’t old! I think there’s a place for both hymnals and projection, personally, though I do prefer the sense of history that comes with hymns to modern, boring, theologically-dereft praise choruses.

    • Mary

      Regarding your comment: “I felt like I was constantly worrying about opening to the next hymn before it started so I wouldn’t miss the whole first verse trying to flip to the right page. It was very distracting.”

      I used to feel that way, too, years and years ago, but I learned that, if I arrived a few minutes before the service started, I could find all the songs in the hymnal, (as posted in the bulletin), and I would mark their places with a small piece of paper with the page number written on the top of it. As I preview the songs, I reflect on the words, which also helps me to prepare for worship.

      • George B

        Amen! And not to be insulting but any college student should be able to figure that out and handle a few hymns per Sunday.

    • Amber

      I respectfully disagree that it isn’t mom-friendly. My son only became truly engaged in the service when I handed him the song book and he started using it himself. We use projection almost exclusively, but the books are in the pew still. He was disengaged from the service until he had the words in his own hands. He felt connected and involved from the age of about 4 when we started making him use the book. I would also respectfully add that I disagree that corporate worship NEEDS to be mom-friendly. Or kid-friendly. Part of a child’s maturing process is realizing that he or she is part of a larger community and there are more important things than his of her personal entertainment. Our technology has eliminated the need for children to learn patience in this regard. It’s a pernicious attitude that underestimates both our children’s capacity to adapt and our own capacity to model good behavior that believes children need to be distracted or entertained from anything thru might find boring.

    • Philip

      I would agree with you if worship weren’t treated in most North American contexts as the first point of contact with a church. Worship, in the way many American congregations treat it, must have some sense of the one who is coming without being an insider to the movement since much of a congregation’s time and resources are focused on the Sunday morning worship experience and much less on training people to be a witness to the gospel Monday through Saturday.

  • dr lgs

    Hymnals are the only avenue worth gracing a church service. If they were good enough for Jesus and Paul, they’re good enough foe me (read sarcastically). But none of us really believe that, do we? Fact is hymnals can be dead and lifeless as can an overhead projection. The old hymns can be sung with all the vitality Wesley or other psalmists intended or they can be lifeless as a dirge. “Contempoary worship,” can be power-packed or simply a performance. So, what ever your device be it a bound volume, projection, or your Kindle, just do it with all your heart and don’t second guess others because they happen to worship differently.

    • Terry


    • john

      I’m not sure that he’s second guessing anyone but simply offering a counter-perspective and perhaps a bit of a warning about what we’ve chosen and what we’ve given up. Let the buyer beware of what technology has done and the ripple effect to our children.

  • Herman

    You’ve written a great article. One thing I’d like to add. In many hymns there are relations between verses. A line in verse one may connect to a sentence in verse three. These relations cannot be traced once a singer doesn’t have a hymnal. There’s no time to re-read.

  • David Roe

    Hymnals are wonderful devotional books. Many of my parishioners over the years have turned to the hymnal for meditation before worship. That with the pew Bible helps prepare for worship. I like to read the hymns that will be used in worship ahead of time so they will have more meaning when we sing them. Concentrating on singing parts sometimes distracts from the meaning of the words, but with preparation, I can do both. When I am visiting a church, I like to look through their hymnal and discover new hymns. A screen gives me few options.

    • Susan R

      David, I’m glad someone else pointed out this wonderful use of printed hymnals. “If it’s there, they will read it.” There is so much beautiful, worshipful poetry in our hymnody; even non music readers can spend 5 or 10 otherwise idle minutes before a service reading the hymns and centering themselves for the worship.

      PS: I love looking through other churches’ hymnals, too. There’s a lot of good music out there, some of it even new! 😉

  • Ernie

    While I agree with many parts of this discussion, as a worship leader I get tired of seeing the tops of people’s heads with their faces buried in the hymnal while singing “Amazing Grace”, a song they’ve sung hundreds, if not thousands, of times. With projected words, people’s faces are pointed to the front, and the sound of their voices is unmuted.

    • Terry


  • Dave Liles

    Good article. I taught hymnology for 35 years at a Christian University in Ohio and have a deep love and appreciation of hymns. We live in an age of instant gratification and expect a congregational song to have an immediate emotional impact. Just because a hymn does not ‘hit home’ the first time you sing it, does not mean it has no value or long term meaning. Also people complain about some of the antiquated language in hymns, such as “Here I raise my ebenezer’ and ask ‘what in the world is a ebenezer?’ Well…teach them, find it in the Bible. By the way, I have lots of favorites, but The Old Rugged Cross is still one of them. Very good article…keep up the good word.

    • Gina

      Exactly. If one is embarrassed not to know something, there is a quick remedy. Everybody was born knowing nothing, and avoiding hymnbooks or anything else because of such sensitivity is really self-destructive. Dive in and figure it out! That is a real accomplishment, and in this case leads to deeper appreciation and understanding of both the message and the music. And, it isn’t brain surgery, after all.

  • Paul

    Another advantage to hymnals that is often missed is that poets will often write patterns into their texts that can only be absorbed when the entire text appears on the page at once. Though it’s a contemporary example, the hymn “Wonderful Merciful Savior” begins each verse with the words Wonderful… Counselor… Almighty.” When stacked together as verses in a hymnal, we notice the allusion to the well-known Isaiah passage. Same is true for the older him “Thou art the way, to thee alone,” which begins each verse, Thou art the way… Thou art the truth… Thou art the life. These are not just clever gimmicks, but theologically rich aids to devotion we would only notice when all the text appears together in a hymnal, not when each verse or line flashes on the screen and then disappears.

  • Denise Newland

    I once returned to a church I had gone to and found the screen in place. I wanted to sing with the congregation but I didn’t know any of the songs sung that day. I am a music teacher but couldn’t sing because there were no notes to read. I did not go away joyful from the service but very saddened. I did not get to worship my Lord in song.

  • David Story

    Hymnals! YES! I took a hymnal with me in the military. Many a long night I would sit with my hymnal and sing hymns that have fed me all my life. Many of them now I can sing all the verse for memory because I had the hymnal with me during tough times. I know many may not agree, but if given the choice between two books to save, I would take the hymnal over the Bible any day. The words of scripture are contained in the hymns and I can sing with gusto.

  • Beccy

    Another practical point (and apologies if I have repeated something that is already in the many comments), is that screens can be a terrible trigger to those, like me, who suffer with migraine. Books don’t tend to do that!


    Consider – if a worshipper is able to close their eyes and hold up their hands during a song, they already know the words and melody. They don’t need the screen or the hymnal, therefore using hymnals is not a distraction or impediment to their singing. No one is forced to hold a hymnal.

    Our small church has both hymnals and screens. I find the screens distracting and prefer to use the hymnals so I can see the music. Even though I can’t read music well, I have a basic knowledge of notes that gives me an idea of how a new song is supposed to sound. Most of our congregation prefers the screen though – and when the technology fails, or when it’s an unfamiliar song, the only people singing are those holding hymnals. It’s a sad sound in worship to have 60 or 70 people present and only 10 or so are actually singing.

  • The PC(USA) hymnal is like a history book for the Reformed church. And the new one embraces Presbyterianism on every continent. Wow!

  • Warren

    As a musician train to read by sight through ten years from elementary school through college, it became quite frustrating to want to answer the call for needed musicians, and then only be given a sheet of “music” that had lyrics and occasional guitar tabs.

    I still like to hold a real book when I read, technology can’t duplicate everything paper and ink can. It would also be an economy booster for Christian printers if a congregation if a couple thousand here and there ordered contemporary hymnals.

    A point that I believe can be added to a future publication of this list, is that hymnals will take focus off of the worship band/leaders, and help put it where it belongs. Worship can be too much of a production.

    Finally, what’s the beef with The Old Rugged Cross ?!

  • Ann

    Many good points, but you did miss one of the reasons I love the hymnals. In our Methodist Hymnal, the origin of the hymn and the music is noted in the bottom left hand corner of the page. I do a lot of family history and enjoy seeing those dates. It tells me what hymn came about when a certain one of my ancestors was in Church singing hymns. When I see the dates, I know which family member was living at that time. It gives a continuity to my life. Granted, not all are genealogists, but I think many people like to see those details about the hymns we sing for various reasons.

  • Terry

    I agree with you. Our church uses hymnals and projection. Some of the comments I’ve read here come across as idolatry in their worship of the hymnal rather than the God of whom and to whom we sing. The same thing can be said of many in their idolatry of technology. There is a place for hymnals and technology. Neither is all good nor all bad.

  • Fine post, Jonathan (and great first name, too!) I would only add one point. Hymnals also keep people actively engaged in poetry; they preserve and extend literacy. You suggest this at a few points, but I think it deserves its own heading.

    A hymn is a more or less loose union of a text and a tune, and given the choice, one must identify the TEXT as the HYMN. In real life, of course, we have our beloved tunes, and it is sometimes hard to imagine singing a certain text to any but one tune.

    None of this is meant to detract from your valid and helpful article, just to add one additional dimension for consideration. A hymnal is a book of devotional poetry along with everything else, and can be a witness to the power of literature.

    Best of luck with your continued good work!

  • Chris Sharp

    I couldn’t agree more. After reading the comments from the young mother about how hymnals make guests feel “unwelcome” I have to respond by saying the other approach makes just as many of us feel just as unwelcome. Yeah, so maybe my wife and I fit into the “older” category, but having sung in church choirs most of our lives, we are both musically trained. Whenever we walk into a new church and see the giant screens, we cringe. To simply throw a bunch of words up onto the screen and somehow expect us to magically divine the melody is an insult. I personally have been troubled by the increasing numbers of church goers who simply stand silently during the congregational singing portions of services. With the “contemporary” approach, I am certainly not encouraged to sing along as I stupidly try to guess what the next note is. People have long decried the current state of pop music with its banal, repetitive melodies and mindless lyrics. That’s the LAST thing I want to hear when I come to church. Were are encouraging musical illiteracy by perpetuating this through the exclusive use of praise and worship tunes in our church services. Bring dignity back to the church – don’t just dumb it down to make it more “accessible.” If this trend continues, we will forever lose something that is precious and significant to a great many of us.

  • Ron Martin

    May I just say, as a person who now sings mostly non-hymnal songs, how much I appreciate the fact that you were able to articulate your appreciation for hymnals without feeling the need to bash the worship practices of other members in the body of Christ.

    Worship, for too many, has become a divisive word. Yet, how could a word that is so fundamental to our faith have ever taken on such a tone? While hymns are no longer the central part of my worship experience I appreciate the beauty in them for the simple fact God is a creative genius and as a creative being I believe he enjoys our differences. If he didn’t enjoy creative difference then I must take another look at why He would create so many types of plants, insects, animals, stars, peoples, etc. He is a creator and if he can make rocks and hills cry out in worship to Him surely He appreciates the beauty in our diverse styles of worship.

    In the end, worship is all about Him. So, whether I’m singing Handel’s Messiah, a Hymn, something more contemporary or something in my shower…if the primary motivation of our hearts is worshipping God then I think He receives it. Put another way, worship is about being fascinated with Jesus and all He has done for us and if that fascination is stirred by singing hymns then stir-away, every day, because it is our fascination with Him that intoxicates others to want to know Him more.

  • Gene

    Hymnals went out the back door about the same time the flip-flops and t-shirts walked into the front door……strange, huh??

    • Edward Anderson

      Oh my! I am definitely a dresser-upper for church. Suit, tie (half windsor, no sloppy four-in-hand for me!), hard shoes, the whole deal. But the day my church fails to embrace someone coming in the front door in flip-flops and a t-shirt is the day I start looking for a new church! James, the half-brother of Jesus, had a few choice words to say to people who made distinctions between people based on externalities.

      Back on topic, I appreciate the article. I do not fully agree with the author’s conclusions, but that’s OK. His heart is in the right place, and I appreciate that. I would point out, however, that his point was not that we should include hymns in the worship service, it was that whatever we sing, we should sing it out of a hymnal. At the risk of putting words into his mouth, he seems to be saying that even if we are singing hymns, if we are singing them off a screen instead of out a hymnal, our worship experience is diminished. I disagree, of course. I did not find a single one of Brother Jonathan’s reasons to be particularly compelling, but I recognize the faithful heart from which he wrote, and I honor that. Shalom.

  • Robin

    One of the reason to keep hymnals is to keep the old songs. We had an old brown hymnal for “opening exercises” for Sunday school when I was a kid. I still remember and treasure those songs. Our kids aren’t getting any of the old hymns and songs to mix with the contemporary music and are losing out. I’m afraid those old songs will eventually be lost forever. And it’s embarrassing when the projection equipment misses or is slow and the congregation goes from heartily singing a song to “mumble ,mumble, mumble” in an instant.

    The United Methodists have changed some songs in the hymnals to make them “politically correct”. I will confess that I sing them as they were written, not the “new and improved?” version.

    • Dan

      I also sing the songs as they were originally written (and as I learned them growing up), not the politically correct versions in the otherwise excellent United Methodist Hymnal.

      I think the assertion that the presence of hymnals is “unwelcoming” is a bit of a stretch, if not outright hyperbolic. A combination of hymnals and projection screens ought to accommodate everyone. The author and some commenters here raise very important points about the potential loss of an important part of our faith traditions. Just because something is old does not mean it is bad, just as something new is not always good.

  • Jeff

    We shouldn’t forget that centuries ago, hymnals only had words – no music. There are plenty of cultures that do learn music by rote. It’s a legitimate way of learning music. Hymnals are a hindrance to some…. elderly who can’t hold a hymnal, people with disabilities who benefit more from words on a screen than having a hymnal. Not everyone finds it easy to follow music and words in a hymnal and can actually fare better with words on a screen. we must remember to be inclusive of all people and all needs. Hymnals are great, as are words on the screen…. both can be used at the same time. Why isn’t anyone recognizing that someone else might not worship exactly the way you do….

  • Leslie

    The before and after photos of that beautiful church just makes me sad.

  • Zach

    The text of hymns vs the text of contemporary songs is also very different. Modern songs tend to talk about a relationship with the Lord as if he is your homeboy. I don’t see that with older hymns. Also, the focus on contemporary songs is more of an “I” aspect instead of “We”. As stated, the modern songs in church are often just covers of something on the radio where an artist is singing about themselves. In that context “I” is appropriate. However, in a congregation, “We” needs to be emphasized as everyone there is worshiping together.

  • Diana D. Goodwin

    Thank you. While I do enjoy learning new worship songs, I love hymns and hymnals. I heard it said over 20 years ago that we were a generation away from losing our hymnody. Hymnals contain our Christian music heritage. Churches who have tossed the hymnals lose one of the best ways that we Christians can grow spiritually through the doctrinal teachings of hymns. In Deuteronomy 31:19 God told Moses to write down His Words in a song and teach it to His people so that it would be on their lips always. God Himself, the creator of music, knew that it was the best way for His Word to be engraved on their hearts. Often, praise choruses, lack the theological depth that can be found in hymns.

    This being said, as a musician who is also an international missionary, there is a need to use not only the heart language but the heart music of any people group to reach them. We need to incorporate contemporary styles in our worship in order to reach this post-modern generation who are in effect oral learners, who prefer to learn by hearing.

    But for me, I love hymns and hymnals, and from time to time even sit for hours pouring through and singing hymns. I like to call it my own private hymn-sing!

    Should we deny others of this joy? If we toss the hymnals, we will have churches, in my opinion, who lack an element of spiritual depth that is found in the words of our hymns.

  • Janet

    I cannot even begin to tell you how much I loved this article. I would add that in addition to everything else mentioned, I learned a much broader vocabulary by singing hymns from a young age. I don’t know if anyone else is watching the HBO series “The Leftovers” but there was a scene in last week’s episode where a cult had taken possession of the Episcopal church and were boarding up the stained glass windows and tossing the hymnals in a garbage bag. It brought me to tears. This is all nearer and dearer to my heart than I realized. Thank you.

  • Stacey

    Love this! I’ve been to several churches that use screens, it drives me crazy trying to keep up with what the lead singer decides she or he wants to sing. Many times the person running the slides struggled to keep up and the song chorus or particular part would be repeated over and over and over. And the majority of the time I’d never heard the song and had no way to know the tune. I LOVE singing hymns, I memorized the majority of them as a kid, many times in a situation like I mentioned above I quit singing and sat down. Even after repeated Sundays of attendance I still didn’t recognize the songs though occasionally I would think,” I think we’ve sung this one before. …” hymns may seem old fashioned but they truly are better. Sometimes staying with what has always worked doesn’t need to be changed. Not that age has a whole lot to do with it but I just turned 30 and consider myself young lol maybe I’m behind the times though compared to today’s youth.

  • Janelle Templeton

    I am a CPA. I could count high and understand numbers because I learned from singing hymns and could grasp numbers before I could read. My family still can say let’s sing #84 and know that it is “Have a Little Talk with Jesus.” And yes let’s have a little talk with Jesus, because there’s spiritual richness and depth in hymns that is often lacking in the majority of contemporary praise music. Praise is excellent. We are commanded to do it. There is an element of “vain” repetition in heaven with the cherubim giving praise to God. But we are not cherubim, we are Saints. Saints that will sing in an heavenly choir. Saints who have the “Living WORD” in us. The Word-rich, deep, full, introspective, insightful, accountable, guiding, protecting, convicting us-which is what hymns with rich text do. Older songs continually remind us of our NEED for God. Of our NEED to trust Him. Contemporary music often presumes everyone realizes that, which in reality most don’t. We are a too self sufficient people, and need more Godly dependence. Finally, there is Col 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Sometimes contemporary music falls short of assisting in our “rich wisdom growth.”

    Hymns are often inspired through dark valleys in life when God’s strength and wisdom is the only avenue for surviving the pain of this world. (It Is Well and Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus are just two examples). We all need this reminder to focus and enrich our faith to persevere in life. We sang old hymns to my unconscious mom the last two weeks of dying from cancer. After a week of singing “without her awareness” she revives physically to tell us that “all those songs you sang to me were written years ago for this time and purpose. God has taken me through all the phases of death and allowed me to see how ALL things in my life are to be used for His purposes.” She continued to share great unimaginable goodness of God’s comfort and insight to her as she prepared emotionally to leave her family she loved to be eternally with the God she worships. She lived another week, but this time conscious and with almost no pain, and with joy and laughter. THAT is the power of worship with hymns!!!! A power that freed Paul and Silas from prison as they worshipped. A power that freed my mother from the agony of death. A power that sustains us all from the pain of living in a fallen world.

  • Compellingly direct and well-articulated. Thank you! This post is going to be read by my Music & Worship class this fall.

    • Jonathan

      I would be honored to get this comment from anyone, but it means much more coming from you. Thanks, Chuck.

  • C. A. Cooper

    I sometimes attend church with some new friends. Their church uses projection only. At first, I was very receptive to this new way of musical worship, but as time has gone on, I find the music melodies extremely repetitive, I suppose so individuals can predict where the song is going and arrive at the right note along with everyone else. The lyrics to the new songs are often quite inspiring, but I frequently find myself leaving worship a bit let down. I miss the musical notation so much. It’s occurred to me that I was served a rich and nourishing soup without a spoon. I really want it all.

  • Jeff

    Good article and we do need to keep hymnals. The one problem I have in these kinds of arguments is that there is no question like, “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” Music has been around a lot longer than notation. Is notation a barrier to music and singing being part of the culture? Since notation has been used, is the average person just leaving music up to the professionals? I find that the average person in the pew is too shy to sing out. It seems to me that cultures that don’t rely on musical notation are more robust and pure in their singing practices. I think a worship service is more worshipful when we can hear one another lifting our voices. As a pastor, I think the music should accompany the praises of the people, not the other way around. It seems to me that, whether the organ or the contemporary band, the music drowns out the people. I think the issue is, how can we get the average worshipper to singing robustly.

  • Paul Day

    Another practical reason: Some of us are visually impaired for distances and cannot read the words that are projected on a screen. We can hold a hymnal close enough to see words and music.

  • Jeff Cornelius

    I’m glad to have both, with hymn numbers and liturgy section page numbers in a bulletin. To have them available on the wall on a board, electronic or not, is helpful too.

    The references are indeed visitor-friendly, particularly for visitors from churches with different liturgies (which I’ve often been!). Likewise the words and musical notations, as many “familiar” hymns are slightly different from place to place!

    I appreciate the opportunity to enrich the singing with harmony. The lyric-only text display leaves harmony (and often melody) an improvisational exercise which is not always successful.

    To have the backstory to a hymn is a wonderful thing, and I’d like more.

    I’ve been in services with neither bulletin nor hymnal, and while the spirit was still present, the mind was confused!

    Jeff the visiting bass

  • colleen

    I agreed with your article, but have to disagree on this point. The focus of singing in a church should not be singing and focusing only on the act. Singing is a form of worship. You are meant to let the word penetrate your heart and use them to worship God, however that looks like.

  • Pam G

    Earlier this summer the power went out part way into the first hymn. No one missed a beat. We all kept singing and those that were looking at the screen picked up hymnals. The organist. Missed a verse or so before joining in on the piano. The power came back on during the closing prayer. Without hymnals the service would have been disrupted.

  • Sheila Hernandez

    Yes, yes, YES!

    While, I did not take the time to read all of the posts, almost all that I read, I agree with! As a child, I remember I HAD to have my own hymnal, turned to the correct page – even though at times mom told me later that I had it upside down! From a very early age, I was mesmerized by music and thought our church pianist was a goddess -if I managed to escape from mom’s hand, they didn’t have to wonder where I was, because I was going to be standing there by the piano, entranced by whatever the pianist was playing.

    Fast forward a few years, as a piano student, I diligently wrote down the number of every song that was played on Sunday so I could go home and work my way through them on the piano. From that, I began going from the front to the back, playing my way through hymnals. Playing from older discarded hymnals that found their way into our Sunday school classrooms taught me how to play for others to sing – even though I wasn’t quite sure what some of those funny looking symbols were (sharps, flats and naturals) and very out-of-tune pianos made for some pretty peculiar sounds! The psalmist said to “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord…”…and we meant well, even if it wasn’t melodious! At twelve, when I took the piano bench part-time, and fourteen, full-time, turning to a hymn was not a challenge – yet today, 45 years later, I can think of a couple of musicians with college degrees that will quickly duck out of the room if someone suggests a “hymn-sing” where people just call out a favorite number!

    I think it is a generational thing, and I’m SO glad I was of an age that grew up with a hymnal in my hand, it has helped to “hide His word in my heart,” for he who sings, prays twice!

    Sheila Miller Hernandez

  • Terry

    Jonathan, I appreciate your heart. As a 62 years old worship pastor, I have witnessed the evolution of worship. I have in my personal archives a letter from a gentleman who claims that it is a sin to not use hymnals and we’re all going to hell for not using them. I have been verbally berated because I don’t use all contemporary Christian worship. What I have learned is that this portion of our worship called music is generational. I refuse to throw away the hymns because in so doing I tell a generation they have no more value. I will fight to keep the modern worship songs because if I don’t I’m telling a generation they have no value. Both have there places, hymnals and projection. It’s time to quit fighting the war of preference.

    • Amber

      I agree that generation is less of an issue than people believe. I’m 30 and my son is 7. We both prefer the book.

  • Thomas Strode

    “In the Garden” is specifically written to convey Mary Magdalen’s thoughts and experience on the morning of Easter. It is therefore appropriate as a solo song, but not as a congregational hymn; and its use should be limited to times when the theme of a response to the Resurrection (e.g. the Easter season) is part of the service.

  • Georgia

    One of my favorite things to do when I visit another church is grab the hymnal, and see which songs I know. I can sing about half of the UMC hymnals without looking except for a word here or there, but I enjoy learning new music as well.

    I recently attended the contemporary service at my own church, where they do not use hymnals but have the words projected on the screen. I muddled along with the words to tunes I did not know. I was excited to see “It is Well with My Soul” at the closing, but I even had to muddle through that as the tune was changed. Still, I was comforted by familiar words.

    I taught a 2nd & 3rd grade choir for a couple of years at church. I did everything I could to introduce some of the older hymns to them, while keeping more current, familiar (to them) songs as well. It was a good mix.

  • RoseAnn Evans

    I learned to sing harmony using the old Baptist Hymnal and the Broadman Hymnal. Those predictable harmonies became a resource for my own free harmonizations. I don’t think I could gave done that with a screen.

  • Brooke Willson

    If this idea has already been expressed, forgive me: hymnals allow us to ponder the lyrics. Words on the screen are there for an instant — I can’t go back when the song is over and reflect on the lyrics. Many times during a sermon that never got off the ground I turned to the hymnal to read lyrics — either just sung or not. The UMC hymnal contains prayers, psalms, and liturgies to ponder. Lyrics on screen are ephemeral.

    Two, hymnals teach harmony — or at least allow us access to it. Many’s the time when I’ve moved from singing my usual tenor harmony to trying the bass line (especially early in the morning), or in a largely male gathering, to singing the little-represented alto line.

    To paraphrase Crash Davis in “Bull Durham,” lyrics on screen are fascist — they are imposed upon the congregation by unseen forces, and then removed without permission. Hymnals are inherently democratic — they are the liturgical “work of the people.”

    • Jonathan

      Yes. Fantastic comment. Thank you.

  • Moises Campos

    Greetings from Spain. I agree with all the points and with the comments.

  • Susan Wiggins

    Hymnals are user-friendly for all folk and thus do not discriminate or disenfranchise those who for a variety of reasons are unable to see screens, e.g. those short in stature, and those unable to stand (wheelchair or disabled). Also printed bulletins and hymns can be brailed for those who are sight-impaired.

  • So, are you saying you don’t like the re-design of 2nd Baptist Houston? It seems to me that you are saying adding the screen took away from the aesthetics of their sanctuary. It appears to me they did a total re-design. I think it looks fantastic!

  • Amanda

    2 things. One: hymnals allow the new Christian or someone new to church who has never attended a service the chance to follow the music. They can see where the song is going and this encourages participation. 2. With the decreased use of hymnals I seldom hear the “old standbys” I grew up with and still occasionally bust out with while I’m doing house work. Nothing gets me moving in my work like a good hymn.

    When I do hear an old hymn it is rarely set to the original music anymore. There are variations that people have attempted to make to bring the song more “current” with the times. While I really enjoy creativity in music when these songs pop up in service they just throw me off and take my focus off the worship and put it into figuring out what I’m supposed to be singing not on God.

    As a church we need to find a happy mix of screen and hymnal. There is value in both.

  • Linelle Robertson

    Not only do I think Hymnals should be used, I think we should use the Holy Bible. It helps to find the books in the Bible. And we are more apt to read along with the Pastor and also mark what is being preached that day. I like to make notes of who is preaching and the date. Also notes of his sermon. I have given my Grandchildren Bibles and they couldn’t wait to look up the Scripture the followering Sunday. We should use it more!

  • Marcus

    For some points, it appears you are preaching to the choir, both literally and figuratively. Anyone who has been in a choir and knows the fundamentals of reading music can learn the music included in a hymnal. But for many people who have never studied a note of music, those black dots on those five lines is as intimidating as reading the Bible in Greek. I love to sing, and I participate in our worship team. It sure helps to have the notes in front of me when I’m learning a new song–no question about it. But for the novice, asking them to learn to read music is like asking my 85 year old mother to learn how to develop websites. We’re lucky if she can open and read emails we send to her. I’d rather the novices focus on the lyrics and praising God then confuse them with a task that is so foreign to them. Bottom line, you can’t please everybody. You might not like something about the worship, but it’s not about pleasing you or me. It’s about pleasing (translate: praising) God.

  • Clay

    He covered it at the end of the article. Thoroughly.

  • Deborah

    Not to mention that guy who’s supposed to be in charge of the Powerpoint, not paying attention, doesn’t get the screens changed to keep up with the song, or completely missing slides, so you have to quit singing. You (well, “I”) then get very irritated, and more or less lose the message of the words.

  • sarah hollman

    I am going to add that not only do we need hymnals for the hymns but for the liturgy as well. My grandmother had dementia and even though she forgot all of us, she never forgot her hymnal. The pastor could come into her room and say “Please open to page xx.” and she still knew everything in that book by heart and we could all be there together in the room participating. That wouldn’t have happened with a different printed service each week or a projection on a screen.

    • Jonathan

      Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Dianne Smith

    Hymnals remind us that our faith is ‘Word-Centered’. The screens reinforce the visual aspect. I agree that the producers feel that they have to add ‘special effects’ but I think this undermines the text of the hymn/song. We should be grateful for each day that we have the printed Word of God. In the hymns, often the text was taken right out of Scripture or it was a well-developed Biblical theme. They were instructive and helped direct our thinking away from ourselves to the God we worship. I grew up in a country Mennonite church where virtually everyone could sing harmony. It was a rich musical heritage. Today many of the congregation are spectators rather than active participants. Our worship today should prepare us for heaven; it should look different than anything that happens in this world. The hymnals help us have continuity with Christians from every century before ours.

  • I think there is a tremendous middle ground here that allows for both. That is because one of the biggest problems with hymnals is that there is a finite number of hymns that can be used in a song, and many great hymns get forgotten over time. But because of sites like hymnary.org, one can have the freedom to rediscover some of the great songs of the past, some of which have been written by the great titans and great poets of the Christian faith. I would much rather prefer discovering the great hymns at home, and using these hymns (with melody line) on an overhead projection screen.

  • Teri

    I miss the hymns of my childhood and most of my adult life (up until about 10 years ago). I love how much scripture you find in hymns. While daily reading my Bible I almost always read something that I have sung in a hymn sometime in my past. For me, contemporary worship style is too watered down and lacks substance. I’ve heard the charge that you can get into a rut singing hymns. Well, maybe, but the same is true for any type of music, especially if you are singing the 7/11 variety.

  • Don Beachy

    I simply wish more people would engage this way before and after Sunday worship irrespective of whether they use hymnals or projection.

  • Wow… just want you to re-think “In the Garden”… YES the person has fallen in love with Jesus.. is there in the morning .. there in the middle of the day… BUT… have you not read the 3rd verse?

    “I’d stay in the garden with him, tho the night around me be falling, but HE bids me go, through the voice of woe, His voice to me is calling…. Matt 25:31-46… (V 40 And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’) I find this to be one of the most powerful “social activist” Songs in the hymnal… We’d like to just stay in the garden (in the church building) and enjoy personal intimacy with the Lord, but HE bids us go.. HOW? through the voice of those on the margins.. We can’t stay close to the Lord without hearing his call to leave our comfort zone and minister to him in the ugly disguise of the poor.

  • Janet

    Most of the hymns in the hymnals have deep meanings that glorifies Christ. Many times today, when I visit a church, I feel like I’m at a concert, being entertained. We sing the same words over and over, and because of the worship team, with their instruments and drums, you can’t hear the congregation singing together in harmony. I really miss feeling like the congregation is singing together. Instead I feel like I’m being entertained with songs that keep repeating the lyrics over and over. I love singing hymns out of the hymnals!

  • josh

    While there are many benefits to using hymnals, there are some drawbacks as well. I don’t mean to be argumentative, but would like to humbly raise a couple of points: 1) Most of the points made under the “musical” heading would be of limited benefit in any church I’ve ever attended since most church members do not read music. 2) While hymnals are very helpful in making old songs less disposable and lending validity to new songs, the exclusive use of hymnals would also greatly limit our access to new songs. There are great new songs coming out regularly (even for those who don’t like ccm music, the Sovereign Grace modern hymn movement is putting out some wonderful, theologically rich songs.) But the cost of purchasing hymnals means that most churches do not replace them regularly (about once every couple of decades has been my experience.) So if hymnals are the only source of congregational music, we may miss some wonderful songs of faith. (Granted, the author didn’t explicitly say that only hymnals should be used, but to me that seems to be his point.)

  • Patricia Anderson

    I would like to add a few very practical reasons why churches should continue to use hymnals:

    1) The use of screens and digital media frequently involves the necessity to dim the lights. Aside from the obvious theological associations with light and darkness, our 21st century culture automatically goes into “entertainment mentality” when the room is darkened because the dimming of the lights suggests “the show is about to begin.” This is not the “space” we want to put the congregation in when it comes to participating in the liturgy.

    2) As a person of short stature, I can tell you that struggling to see around the taller congregants in front of me becomes a bit of a “ballet” in terms of being able to see the words which are projected on a screen up in front.

    3) As a musician and vocal instructor, I have found that the posture one must assume to view the typically elevated screen is not conducive to good vocal production. When the head is tipped back, the relaxed airway/sinus resonance pathway becomes compromised and tone quality suffers as a result.

    • Meghan

      As a vocalist and vocal instructor myself, I am not sure what contortions you are concerned about. I am only 5’1 myself, but have never had to tip my head so far back to see a screen that I felt my tone was compromised. In fact, I have had to sing in many different postures and positions in my career and still manage “good vocal production.” However, proper vocal technique is not my first priority during worship.

  • Peggy

    Loved this, shared with me by a friend! I so agree on each point and find those who disagree vehemently very shallow – I love to look ahead in the hymnal as I sing; sometimes to the next verses and glean “the whole story” of the song as I begin. I love to harmonize and can’t do that with on screen words only – unless I’ve sung it a time or two before. I don’t read music well, but well enough to know to go up when the notes go up, down when the notes go down and rest if it says to – by the 3rd verse, I’m good to go – unless I’m just looking at a screen.

    Our church has on screen praise songs AND hymns from the hymnal where the words are also projected for those who are not able to or will not hold a hymnal.

  • Dale Pforr

    “On a Hill Far Away” is focused on not just the Cross. It is focused on “Me” rather than on “Us” and on a “reward system” for “Me” resulting in a “Crown” for “Me”.

    • Jonathan

      Good point. Thanks.

  • Mike

    Thoughtful article. I am married to a classically trained pianist who has led my worship music for more than 40 years. It saddens me to be in services where participants are only singing praise chorus and newer praise songs. I am convinced that their worship experiences are impoverished when centuries of church music and hymns are simply ignored.

    I would love to see this article and many of the insights from reader comments incorporated into a “manifesto” which churches could incorporate into evaluation of their music programs.

  • Mark

    This is a good commentary! When going to church is just like watching TV, we have a problem. How can you engage in worship when you are a passive TV watcher?

    • B. Barr

      The before and after pictures of 2nd Baptist Church, Houston, is a great example as to why we should continue to have hymnals. When I have been in a church that uses a screen for the words and I don’t know the music, how can I join in singing if the notes aren’t there? Thankfully we still use hymnals.

  • Janelle

    Jonathan, I’ve enjoyed this thread. To me it is not so much about to use books or screens (I understand both arguments and think a blend is best). To me, the issue is content. “Traditional Hymns” typically-but not 100% always- are richer in word and faith. They go beyond expressing praise to God, but expressing a need for God, and explaining the reason why we need God. I must differ in your “theological issue” with the text of “In the Garden” and “The Old Rugged Cross” and would add that your stance, from my perspective, is not uncommon yet reveals why some have a disconnect with many traditional hymns. My theological basis for these hymns is as follows:

    In The Garden- An earlier thread above by someone stated that this is symbolic to Mary Magdeline’s post-resurrection experience with Christ, and is therefore not suitable for congregational worship. It does describe Mary’s encounter, but I know many Christians who believe it describes their personal devotion time with the Father and Son, through His Spirit. “I come to the Garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses” – is this not indicative of God’s desire for us to commune with him at the beginning of our day? To “harvest the manna” of His word? As a corporate reminder, do we not need to recall the benefit, joy, and accountability of doing so? There are many points in scripture that examplify and call us to similar times of “being still before God” to begin our day. “The melody that He gave to me within my heart is ringing” This line speaks to my own personal walk with God-that is universally available to all. I have learned through time, testing, and revelation, that often “the melody that within my heart is ringing” is more than a beloved tune or context that gets “stuck” in my head. It usually is a prayer point of access sparked by God’s Spirit. I have learned to use these hymns as times of intercessory prayer. Sometimes I understand why or what I am praying for. Sometimes, I don’t understand until later. Some, I will not understand until heaven, but I know that it focuses my faith more to see God at work around and in me, and thus draws me closer to him (Just a Closer Walk with Thee- for another hymn that is very relevant) “I’d stay in the garden with Him, Though the night around me be falling, But He bids me go; through the voice of woe His voice to me is calling.” God has used remembrance of this particular line to call me out of my “holy huddle” and into a time of service and testing, and some of that path included difficult persecution. This verse reminds us all that “darkness” is falling on this earth and Jesus’ return is eminent, and we should be willing to go-even if that means fellowhip with Him must decrease so that we face a difficult path that furthers the Kingdom.

    Regarding “The Old Rugged Cross” I will be more brief. This song is a reminder that without the cross, the penalty for our sin would not have been paid. It is a reminder of Christ’s call in Luke that we are to “take up our cross DAILY and follow him.” We have a burden to bear, not to earn our salvation, but to transform us into an “ever increasing glory” of Christ-likeness (2 Cor 3:17-18) To help us “learn obedience” as Jesus examplified and was reiterated in Hebrews 5:8. We “cherish” the old rugged cross, where our sins were laid down. I do not believe this song is giving us a choice between focusing on the cross above Christ in an unhealthy way. It is acknowledging the place it served in our salvation and in our daily walk-to curcify OUR will so that we will surrender to to His will. The same surrender that Christ modeled by surrendering to God’s will and journey to the cross.(“To the old rugged cross I will ever be true; Its shame and reproach gladly bear;…”)

    If we are going to “limit” hymns to poetic symbolism with past biblical experiences (with the assumption they are of little relevance to us personally today-a point I take issue with), then I argue you cannot ignore the symbolic application of biblical prophecy and relevance to what is to come. Yes, the bible is a history book (and traditional hymns sometimes recount this history). But it is the LIVING Word of God, and serves as an example for us to follow, and as a light unto OUR path as Christains today. I think “In the Garden” falls into that category of a great example of the intimate fellowship that God desires with Christians today through the Spirit.

    To apply a phrase from a contemporary song, we should always say “open the eyes of my heart, Lord, open the eyes of my heart, I want to see you, I want to see you.” How do we see God high and lifted up while we are still on earth and He is in heaven? When His work and power become evident out of the pages of the bible, or hymnal, or screen and into our circumstances. Hymns or contemporary songs are not mere poetic spiritual words set to music. They are words of God, praise to God, prayers to God, surrender to God, meant to diminish focus on self to exalt a need of God. When sung corporately, with more than one voice raised in agreement, they become intercessory prayer inviting the spirit to inhabit the praise of His people. I am grateful for this article to give value to the use of traditional hymns, because of their richness of the Word in content. It is a worthy discussion to have in the church. But dogmatic stances on either side of this issue do more to grieve and quench the Spirit, than to invite the presence of God. Which I say is counter productive to true worship.

    • Jonathan

      This is a very congent, reasonable comment. Thank you.

  • rebel7254

    “12. Hymnals are frequently dropped as singers attempt to balance them on the back of the seat in front of them, causing a noise distraction in the service.”

    Frequently? Really? I’m 30 years old and I’ve faithfully attended churches where hymnals are used all my life, and I have zero memory of this ever happening. I’m sure it did, but it couldn’t have been “frequently” by any means.

    Most of the other points you made were reasonable though.

  • Janna

    Good article, but I would to clarify some facts for you about #4 under the Symbolic/Theological section (just so you know the reasoning behind things). I actually attend Second Baptist Church (for the past 9 years), and the reason for the remodel is because a hurricane destroyed that worship center. Economically and physically, the chairs (as opposed to pews) were less expensive and allowed more people to come in to worship. There are also many types of services, including ones that use hymnals still. The screens are only down during the contemporary service or during the sermon, for sermon notes.

    Growing up in choir, I absolutely love hymnals. I would just like to make sure it is remembered that whether or not hymnals are part of the worship service, the point of church is to worship and glorify God. It is not about us ever; it is only about Christ. Though hymnals might help us worship, the second we complain about them not being in a pew or chair back, that is when it becomes about us (I know your article does not intend at all to take away from that point). Some of the most beautiful moments that I have seen at SBC is when the hymnals are actually put down, and the music stops playing and all I see and hear are voices and hands being raised and people in a state of worship.

    Thank you for this article! I am glad to have read it!

  • Lisa R.

    I just want to add that some folks learn songs visually. I know it sounds weird and perhaps counter-intuitive…but I struggle so much with trying to learn a song from a projection. What is the rhythm? How long do you hold the note? Which of the several notes I hear with the unbalanced sound system is actually the melody? If no one is singing alto, how can I pick out the proper notes if I can’t SEE them?

    I LOVE hymnals! And while I totally agree that there are plenty of hymns with bad theology, I just have to say that not only are their modern projected songs with bad theology, they are just too hard to learn without the notes!

    I LOVE this article!!

  • Jeff

    The first couple lines of your comment were spot-on: worship is about God, not us. But the rest just went way off in the wrong direction.

    Do you honestly think God “gets tired” of anything? Even if this is just a figure of speech, such a figure of speech ought not to be attributed to God. God does not grow tired or weary, like the pagan “gods”. Moreover, He not only does not get tired of the same songs, but He has give us *specific* songs with which we are to worship Him. God is not to be worshiped by human imagination or will worship, but how he has revealed to us to worship Him. So, in this way, even the old hymnals are adding to what God has revealed to us for how we are to worship Him. Besides, do you honestly think we will run out of things to sing to Him, given that we have 150 inspired songs in His Word. That seems like more than enough, more than enough variety.

    Also, the “sing to Him a new song” reference is completely without exegetical context. It certainly does not mean to be constantly making up new songs to sing to Him. Try reading some of the old commentaries on what this means.

    • Thomas

      I actually think Sherry has a valid point, in her second paragraph, though I also believe that she may have been led to the wrong conclusion. God should get the glory, and we should be worshiping Him by actually considering the words that we are singing, and the Lord we are singing to please, instead of singing like like zombies trying to get through the song service and on to the preaching, so we can sit down. Emphasis placed on the importance of the message in the hymns needs to be conveyed by the Pastor/Preacher/Elder/Priest/Song Leader to the congregation. If people are not being taught WHY they’re singing then they won’t care HOW they sing.

      • Betsy Strother

        Personally, I’d much rather sing from hymnals. Touching and holding that beautiful music helps to give more of a connection to the worship process. I have never been a fan of “words on the wall”. Some folks really have a hard time seeing the words up on the screen, and in many cases they don’t have a book to which they can refer. And some of the oldert worshippers may not be able to stand at all or long enough to sing all of the song. If they can’t see the screen due to all the others folks standing, they’re disconnected from the rest of the worshippers. That’s why I’m so thankful that our congregation also projects the music along with the words, making it easier for all of us when there is a song we don’t know well. And we also have hymnals available for those who need them.

  • Bobby

    I have never seen a church that DIDN’T use hymnals. Of course I need them since I’m an organist at two of them, and have played at least three others. My first was a church with a terrible hymnal. Nearly every hymn was completely unfamiliar to me; the few that WERE familiar had 3/4 of the words changed for no discernible reason; and the tempo markings were slooooooooooooow.

  • Em

    This article!! Yes! I recently went back to my bitty home town for a reunion and very nearly cried as I held that same red hymnal in my hands that I grew up with (quite possibly the exact same book – they last way longer than any technology!), full of hundreds of beautiful songs that the modern church seems to want to forget. I’m a twentysomething and was taught how to sing, how to read music, and how to participate in worship through a hymnal, and I miss it badly. So many churches today don’t even have room in their stadium seating for bibles or hymnals :/ It’s more of a production than an act of humbly worshiping our God.

  • RWB

    Maybe other people have mentioned this, but some of us enjoy singing alto,tenor,

    or bass parts , and it’s often very hard to come up with those parts from just the words

    and the hymn book-less music.

  • Thomas

    There is another point that I do not see in any of the other comments. If I missed it, then I apologize.

    I think this would fall under “Theological.” As pointed out, well crafted hymnals provide important Theological information, but even more basic than that is this: With a hymnal in my hand, I can read the words to all of the verses of a hymn, not just the ones that the song leader wants the congregation to sing. We often have song leaders that do a 1st, 2nd, and last verse arrangement. There is so much doctrinal truth located in those skipped verses, and without a hymnal, many people would never see or hear it. Consider the 3rd verse of “It is Well With My Soul,” for example:

    My sin — oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! —

    My sin — not in part but the whole, —

    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

    How many people miss lyrics like this in congregational singing with screens/projectors, instead of hymnals?

  • Gail

    I agree for many reasons. One is that our sanctuary has very large wonderful windows that we face every Sunday. We have too much light for a screen to work. As music director, I have a few times incorporated lyrics for modern songs on screen but inevitably they are hard to see and follow, esp for those with poor vision, like many of our beloved elders. Another point is that our hymnals have wonderful readings in the back, and I use my hymnal for spiritual as well as musical inspiration. keep the hymnals!

  • Neva Cozart

    I did not read all of the comments, but a couple I skimmed referenced teaching children. I am a public school teacher and just this year I had a student who struggled to read because of breaking down the words to syllables and then putting them back together to say the word. It just so happened her family visited my church, which still uses hymnals, and her mother exclaimed she can read when it is set to music. The young girl had a great experience in church and encouragement for her reading ability. Hynmals and God to the rescue. Yes, she still struggles, but this was eye opening to her family and me. LOVE HYMNALS!

    • Amber

      I learned so much as a kid from using the hymnal. I never struggled with place value (turn to number 728), syllables, punctuation (comma? Big pause!), reading fluency, of vocabulary. I was reading by age 4, and I think a big part of that was three weekly services with song book in hand. My own son picked up our disused song books from the pew and only truly became engaged in the service when I showed him how to use it. He’s about to enter second grade but reads on a 6th grade level. That’s not the only reason, but it’s surely a contributing factor. And I realize that’s not a theological defense if the song book, but he became curious with the book in hand. I have fielded many theological questions that started because he read something new in a song.

  • K Arrick

    Reading from a hymnal also helps young readers, as the words are usually divided by syllables

  • Kevin Marsh

    I’ll offer two points while being careful not to add on personal bias from my upbringing or current church practices:

    1) I once heard a description of appropriate vs. inappropriate corporate worship. “Inappropriate worship is found where the leader is on a stage performing, the congregation is the audience, and God is somewhere off to the side observing. Appropriate worship is found where the leader is off to side to guide others into worship, the congregation is performing (an act of worship), and God is the audience.” No matter the style or method, we must be careful to fix our eyes on Jesus in our worshipping.

    2) Has anyone been in a church where modern worship songs are sung (with guitars, drums, keyboard accompaniment and the like) where the church offers a printed score? They could still provide words projected on a screen for those who can’t or choose not to read music, but they would get permission from the publisher to copy a printed score with lyrics is for those who woild like one. It would be a interesting experiment to see what would happen. Personally, I would sing with the score to learn the prescribed tenor part and this avoid embarrassment of singing solo when the leaders are singing in unison. However, those who already know how sing the song correctly might choose to ignore the score and screens entirely and worship from the heart.

    Let’s be careful not to confuse our preferences for musical styles (hymns vs. modern / contempory vs. Southern gospel vs. black gospel) with the method used to deliver musical information and enable the congregation to sing.

  • John Stowe

    I am 100% in agreement. Hymnals afford so much more communication and spirit of worship. I am not a fan of multiple iterations and repetition which often seem to be more of a chant than songs intended to give glory to God our Father.

  • Brian

    I don’t often hear what I have always thought to be a very important point: hymnals facilitate the entire congregation to participate. Many songs, and a larger percentage of worship songs that are only found on projectors have melodies above the comfortable, or even reachable range of lower voiced congregants (read: a lot of men). Hymnals solve this problem in several ways: they provide musical low parts, and they encourage accompaniments that are singer-supporting instead of performance oriented.

  • volknitter

    Easy answer, spend as much time learning the hymns as you do other worship songs. I spent a couple of years back in my 20s memorizing hymns, one at a time. Now I rarely need a hymnal to sing in worship service and can focus on the message of the text and the beauty of the music.

  • Robbie Thiele

    Hymnals often contain other aids to congregational participation: Responsive Scripture Readings; Creeds; Choral responses (The Doxology (ies), The Gloria Patri, even orders or worship for weddings and baptisms etc.) The modern service drastically cuts down on this participation, and loses an oppotunity to teach doctrine as a shared corporate consciousness.

  • Gary Williams

    Amen! Couple more points: Words flashed on a screen are in a sense exclusionary, because unless you’ve been at this church often enough to have learned the tune, you can’t really participate in the singing because you don’t have the notes in front of you –unless, of course, the tune is mindlessly simple.

    I learned to sing harmony as an 11-12 year-old primarily by following the harmony lines in my hymnal. Some people have learned to sing harmony by ear, but I could not possibly have learned to sing harmonies without being able to see the chord structures.

    But I did attend a worship service at one church where what to me was a somewhat reasonable compromise was in place: they projected onto a screen not just the text but also the music. It would have been more convenient to have had the words and music right in front of me in my own hands, but at least the music was there somewhere.

  • Heidi

    I especially agree with standardizing of the singing, it is hard to follow along when the new worship leader sings the song completely different from the last worship leader. and with giving the music back to the people. the other thing that would help give music back to the congregation is to turn down the volume. I come to bring a sacrifice of praise not of my sense of hearing.

    I don’t know if this has been said because I didn’t read all the comments, but hymnals can be held at a level which is comfortable for the singer. screens often force congregants, those in the front especially, to lift their heads beyond the proper singing position and stretch out their vocal cords, causing pain or even damage. Hymnals are multi-use good for weddings and funerals in addition to Sunday worship. and can be used to bridge denominational barriers, I once helped an organist of one denomination pick out hymns that would be comforting to a family from a traditionally opposing denomination for a converts funeral.

  • LAJ

    Totally agree about this hymn. It’s about the cross. We cling to Christ and his resurrection; not the cross.

  • Kevin

    I grew up in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which is fairly unique because we sing Psalms without any instruments. This used to be a fairly common practice years ago, but it has gone by the wayside. The words are adapted from the book of Psalms and are updated every 20 years or so…not as many thee and thou’s in today’s version!

    At any rate, singing acapella from a Psalter (hymnal) was a fantastic experience. I would sit next to my Dad and he would use his finger to help me not lose my place. I’m convinced that’s part of the reason music came so easily to me.

    Thanks for the well written and thought provoking article.

  • Barbara

    How about the fact that hymns teach vocabulary! As a teacher, I have so many students who don’t know words I actually learned from hymns. Words like “countenance,” “seraphim,” “abide,” “kindred,” and “host” are just a few examples.

  • Jonathan

    I can understand this dilemma. I imagine many people do face this. It might be a wonderful act of service and love for someone near you to hold the hymnal and sing alongside you.


    Just 2wks ago my whole family was at a cabin for a reunion. On the Sunday we were there, we had a small “worship service” which my brother-in-law led. At one point, after singing a hymn, he asked my boys (ages 6 & 10) if they had any songs they had learned in church or school that they’d like to sing. My boys kept suggesting hymns. They can’t remember the contemporary songs. But they know the tunes and words to a number of hymns and Christmas songs. If we don’t teach our young ones the value of the hymns, one day it will be gone.

    • SLVZH

      I forgot to add, my husband led a devotional on evening after dinner. He included a hymn, “Be Still My Soul”. When he was done with the devotion, we sang that hymn. Many of my family can read music and sing parts. This evening was no different, and I can say that I had a hard time reading the words due to the tears in my eyes, it was so beautiful. Even my teenage nieces were moved.

  • Greg

    I’ve pretty much given up on getting anyone to change their minds on this one. It seems as though this ship has already sailed … the clock can’t be turned back … whatever metaphor one wishes to employ.

    But I still think that, in this new approach to God and to worship, so much has been lost – and I lament it. I always seek to explain my position kindly and rationally, but feel like I’m basically ‘shouting into a hurricane,’ because ”it’s a generational thing” and I just don’t understand about being ”relevant” – or whatever.

    I know every generation laments what has been lost, but this last 10-15 years has constituted a truly seismic shift. It represents us moving to adapt to and accommodate the pop culture, which creates a loss of connection with those who have gone before us … and a sense of rootlessness reigns; again, unbeknownst to those who don’t even know what has been lost.

    Our approach increasingly mirrors the entertainment culture of our day, rather than the embodiment of a reverent and beautiful spirit.

    But a very nice piece here; thanks for sticking it out there! 🙂

  • How about the fact that hymns are simply very well written pieces of music. There is a reason music students have to study Bach’s chorales. Hymns contain so much more melodic and harmonic substance than most of the music that is often used to replace great hymns. People learn to: read music; sing; and train their ears. Keep the hymns!

  • Virginia Jolly

    I grew up in the Methodist Church, in the choir, so, yes, the first thing I did for a service was check the hymns in the bulletin and mark them in my hymnal. That was fun for me. It was prelude to my worship, because for me, my worship was music. In fact, for the sermon, the choir director would turn off the lights in the loft, leave the pipe organ, and sit in a chair, and it was a cue to me to rest.

    We had choir awards for the years we served there, and the first year award was a PURPLE hymnal (not red like the common ones in the pews) with my name goldleafed on it. What better gift for a church singer!

    And that becomes the beginning (or continuation!) of music sung in the home, for that hymnal went home with me. Forty years later, I still have it. And through it, I learned a lot about liturgy.

    Through our hymnals, my family stood around the piano while my mom played, and my sisters and I sang all the harmonies of hymns we loved. And it continued to enhance our musical education.

    There were several indecies, but the one I loved best was the “first lines” index where you could find a song by the first line. So handy!

    I love a lot of things about my hymnal, and I am grateful for it.

  • Peg Snyder

    It provides continuity, from one generation to the next, from one faith to another. While I was raised Lutheran, my grandparents were Methodist. I was able to sing the familiar hymns in church when we visited from their hymnal as I did at home. I learned different tunes and words as well as different liturgies. And hearing my grandmother’s voice in my head brings back lessons taught to me my her in her faith.

  • Jill White

    You might find it interesting to hear children’s views regarding hymnals. Five years ago I took a group of 50 or so sixth graders on an American history tour. On Sunday morning we visited an historical church which had retained much of its traditions and liturgies. When we left the service I asked the students what was the most interesting part. Their reply was a little unexpected. “It was cool!” they responded. “They sang WITH BOOKS!” These Midwestern boys and girls had grown up in church without any idea that one could sing in church without a screen. Singing in church “with books” was their favorite parts of worship and a highlight of their entire trip.

  • Heather Messer

    I am old school…..worship is praising our God, however one finds they best worship our Lord and Savior. I do not ever see myself going back to a Hymnal worship experience because my heart cries out best to my God by using the modern music. Let us be careful that we do not become legalistic and focus on the method, but rather on the why: worship of the ONE who made us.

    I am a product of hymns, and I love them, but fortunately we have choices in how and when we worship so we find the fit that helps each of us grow closer to our Lord & Savior.

    Please don’t box us all in to one way of worship….because just like I don’t think God cares if I wear panty hose to church, He doesn’t care if I can even carry a tune, He is attune to my heart.

    One last note….there is a skill to flipping words on the projector and I have sat in many services wanting to go train the person who is flashing the words on the screen. But I don’t, I just praise onward.

  • Amber

    I believe from your comment that our experiences are very similar. I too have sung hymns exclusively a capella my entire life. We still have our song books but ignore them and project the music. I think there’s been a subtle loss of untiy with the projectors. Not a deal-breaker, but it feels like less of a congregation-wide experience than it did when I was a child. Silly as it may seem the physical act of turning the pages to find the hymn seemed- to me- to anchor the congregation in a common activity. The leader would have a sense of when members were ready to start singing. Now it seems there is a lot of extraneous activity going on during the singing because people are hands-free. Again, not a deal breaker, but a subtle shift in the nature of our worship that I regret.

  • You’ve got tons of replies here. But I’d just add to your list that hymnals (esp. a collection of hymnals published over a century) gives us a written record of how we praise God in music. It ties us to our past (something we jettison to our peril) and allows us to look back and see how we’ve changed. Also, when we put our new praise songs into a hymnal (which is a good idea) it becomes a vetting of sorts — forcing us to evaluate the song by a musical standard. If the song is repetitive in text or in chord structure, it really shows on the page. A hymnal can weed out inferior music.

  • Denise

    The hymnal is filled with the hymns of a denomination, and, often, so much more. Ever since I was a child, I would explore the hymnal to read the prayers, services, and responsive readings, and learn more about the church I was attending. The hymnal helped me choose my current church because I agreed with what was in hymnal. In my grandmother’s and great-grandparents’ church, with its hymnal of old, gospel songs, I remember my family heritage, exploring and remembering the voices of my great-aunts, harmonizing to a tinny piano. Hymnals present our historical cultures to congregants and visitors alike, providing and teaching us and them context for who we are.

  • Doug Chamberlin

    I can walk into a empty church, pick up a hymnal and tell you with certain accuracy what kind of church it is. It speaks of what the church believes and what it teaches!

  • Janet

    One other consideration: the visually impaired. Many attending services simply cannot see projected screens because of poor vision. I’m not talking about needing a new prescription. My husband, for instance, is legally blind. While he can read printed text with special lenses, there is not way he can read projected text at those distances. He is not an exception, either. So many of our older congregants just cannot read those screens. We have visited a LOT of churches since he lost his vision nine years ago. How many churches offered printed hymns for the visually impaired? Exactly zero! I ask all the time, “Excuse me. My husband is visually impaired and cannot read the projected hymns. Do you by chance have any printed for the visually impaired?” Almost every time I get the response, “Oh, that’s a good idea. We should do that.” Yet, no one ever does.

  • Kim

    When we were kids, we would sometimes peruse the hymnals if we got bored. Dad would ask us to find the page for the ones we were going to sing. We practiced reading when we were learning to read. We had hymnals at home on our piano and with Mom practiced singing and playing there. I memorized all the Christmas songs at home, and some of the other favorites too. I think the big screens are an abomination in a sacred space. It feels like you are worshipping the screen instead of facing the altar.

  • Chris

    First, let me say that I found many points within Pastor Jonathan’s article to be very ‘thought provoking’ and true. Since my mom loved to sing and play the piano, we grew up loving to sing as well. However, I did not grow up in a Christian home, but God drew me to church despite of that. There, I did learn many hymns by heart. Because the home I grew up in was not a pleasant or ‘safe’ environment, those hymns were a source of encouragement for me on the days when I was NOT at church. Years later, those same hymns would ultimately lead me to serve in the choir of a church, where I would later give my life to Christ for salvation and healing.

    Like others who have made comments, I too have experienced the ‘musical learning’ aspect of having a hard copy hymnal. I also used the hymnal with my children, during church worship…to not only teach the reading of musical notes and following the words, but also to teach them how to ‘connect with God’ through musical worship.

    I also have seen instances where using words on a large screen and NO hymnals has put a damper on that part of corporate worship. This is what I have seen happening:

    1. Fewer men and small children join in the singing portion of the worship service.

    2. Fewer of the ‘older generation’ join in the singing.

    3. NONE of the ‘un-churched’ visitors join in the singing.

    4. When there is a power outage…even the “Praise and Worship Team” are at a loss in finding the correct notes to sing! *Last year, a storm took out the electricity in our area, but our pastor decided to have church service any way. During that ‘flash light lit service’, I learned that MOST of the congregation did NOT know how to sing the words of the songs, nor did they know the melody well enough to sing them. This was even true for the singers who were on the stage to ‘lead us’ in the songs!

    Now…I feel I must address the ‘opposing’ side…the ones who DO want and enjoy the modern way of song worship…words on a large screen. My children are of that ‘camp’, and we have talked about the ‘pros and cons’ many times. They have brought up some very valid points as to meeting the needs of the younger generation. Here are some things that they have pointed out to me:

    1. The music of the newer songs on Christian radio, is very complex in its notations. I am not sure that most people today could read its notations. Therefore, it would not be pertinent to put them in ‘hard copy’ form.

    2. Since today’s Christian music has a lot of repetition in words and melody, it is not that hard for people to ‘get the hang’ of the songs. I know this to be true, because we recently left a very small…old fashioned church (no words on the screen), and joined a larger…more modern church (no hymnals…only words on the screen). I encountered several ‘Praise & Worship’ songs that I had never heard…even though I DO listen to a contemporary Christian radio station. However, I was able (due to the repetition nature of the songs) to grasp the melody and wordage fairly quickly. Of course…I had to ‘work at it’…just as one would have to ‘work at’ learning new hymn in the hymnal! 🙂

    3. Since this modern way of ‘musical worship’ does not require hymnals in your hands, it leaves one free to express… with hands uplifted or clapping…their sincere praise to God. Ones eyes are not ‘buried’…with heads bent downward, in a hymnal. Therefore, one naturally looks up. As the people learn the words to the songs…assuming that the people CARE to learn, they will be just as free to truly ‘worship God’ during the singing.

    4. Those who truly wish to worship God through song…even if not through actual singing (if they can’t keep up with the ‘beat’, words, or melody), will do so in their hearts.

    With that said, I feel it important to point out that the debate over using hymnals as apposed to using words on a large screen…has become something that Satan is using to tear down corporate worship. In the end, God simply wants our pure…unfettered praise and adoration…He wants us to be totally absorbed in worshiping HIM. I think that the only boundaries God puts on musical worship are:

    1. That we be sincere in our worship singing.

    2. That we focus on HIM, as we sing.

    3. That we do NOT give Satan a ‘foot hold’ by arguing over HOW we sing praises to God!

  • Chris Quick


    Wow! I couldn’t agree with you more on several of your points, and I plan on taking the time to respond to each point. There are some great arguments for the use of the hymnal in congregational worship — but you definitely make some great points about the other side of the coin — namely that songs are taught through repetition. The first thing that came to my mind when I read this article is, “What did believers use BEFORE the printed hymnal?” The printed hymnal certainly was not in common usage in congregations for at least 1,500 years — and I’m sure they had “hymns and spiritual songs” they shared and knew by heart. My guess, through the repetition of singing together.

    What never ceases to amaze me as a musician is the vast variety of music our LORD enjoys — from tribal music of the Amazon jungle to “high” music of the middle ages. Where I live, I have been able to enjoy praise and worship songs set to Salsa and Latin beats and then turn around and enjoy Handel’s Messiah or the Rutter Requiem. However, not a single one of those musical pieces are contained in the Hymnal (excluding the Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah), yet all of these musical selections equally honor and bring worship to God.

    My biggest challenge with the hymnal is that it does place a constraint on the musical library used within the church. This does not mean that I am against the use of the hymnal as I have enjoyed services using the hymnal as well. As a musician who is trained to read music, it is especially helpful in learning an unfamiliar song. It is also a great tool for grounding in theological principles as some (but not all) of the CCM/P&W music is what I would call “fluff” and theologically vacant music.

    So, to go point by point (as much as I can):


    1. Hymns teach music: Agreed, they do teach music and are especially helpful for those who can read music. However, they can be equally frustrating to people that do not read music, which is a growing group thanks to the lack of musical training in primary schools.

    2. Set a performance standard: While a large portion of contemporary music is based on recording, not all of it is. There are still singer/songwriters taking the time to create music notation before recording the song. What IS happening are a large number of churches discarding notational music for cheat sheets and chord charts. This is probably where the “open to interpretation” starts leading to disconnected or even badly interpreted versions of the song. However, being open to interpretation can also be a good thing. This is what opens up the ability to perform a song with a Salsa beat when it was originally set to a rock or pop beat. This allows congregations to exhibit the extremely creative nature of our LORD.

    3. Integrate music and text: Absolutely true — however as Greg points out, most of the music is now available in a recorded format and can easily be learned via listening over and over to the song. This definately doesn’t replace being able to sit down behind a piano and pound out the tune or harmony to learn it note by note.


    1. Sing anywhere: If a hymnal is needed to sing anywhere, I would actually argue that it is more constrictive to worship anywhere. I don’t need a screen to pick up a guitar and teach a group of people how to sing Amazing Grace — the song is a heart song that I know from memory (as do many other believers in many countries). Throw out the guitar and I can still teach this song. However, a praise chorus is so much easier to teach in this case and can still allow those worshipping with me to express their adoration and love for God. I just recently went on a camping trip and we didn’t have any words on a screen or hymnals in hand yet we successfully sang Because He Lives and a praise song, Amazing Love. What is portable and allows us to sing anywhere is our voice — even the hymnal has limitations on where they can go.

    2. Take possession of the music: This is a planning and communication issue, not an access issue. Our church has been successfully doing this for years through publically available resources on the internet.

    3. Screw things up: True, technology lets us down and can lead to distractions in worship. There is nothing more frustrating than a computer running the screen that has locked up, or the lamp on a projector burning out during the middle of a worship service. This is why complete dependence on a screen should be avoided — but I will concede that this isn’t the reality of what is happening in the vast majority of worshippers.

    4. Helpful as the singer needs them to be: Screens are a tool, just as the hymnal is a tool. Either can be equally distracting and lead to people just standing aside in worship. This is where getting the song into the heart of the worshipper actually is the best route — which is what the author is discussing at the end of his point.


    1. Theological textbook: I absolutely agree with this. There are some incredible truths taught through hymns and we should never forsake singing hymns in our worship services or personal worship.

    2. Tactical action: This, for me, is where the hymnal has a huge weakness as it really constrains worship actions. I must stand there, holding a 3 to 4 lbs book in my hand. It makes it difficult to raise my hands in adoration and surrender or fall to my knees because a song has lead to conviction. Having my hands free of a book allows me to be much more connected to the worship service.

    3. Particularly distracting: See my point above, as I find them incredibly distracting and constraining during worship. Now, sing a song from the hymnal that I don’t know and I’ll be gladly holding the hymnal and reading the words and music — but as a musician I often find myself concentrating more on the mechanics of the song than actually just singing the song from my heart (even if the melody is completely out of place!)

    4. Preserve aesthetics: In the picture of Second Baptist, I agree that the majesty of the space was compromised (such a beautiful pipe organ hidden behind screens, not to mention having the sound of those pipes muted by material in front of them). However, there are many types of screens that can be installed which would not compromise the aesthetics while still allowing the function of the screen to be in place. Many congregations are using retractable screens that silently descend or ascend when needed. My congregation has integrated the screen into the walls of the worship center and are completely transparent if not in use.

    5. “New” songs: I would argue this is really unfamiliar songs. When I think of new songs, I think of songs that reflect our current cultural challenges or issues, like the praise and worship song “Still”. What a great expression for a point in time where we see floods and storms rising up all around us — it reminds us that though floods come, He is still Lord over any storm that comes into our lives. Or the song “Great Reward” by Tim Timmons which chronicles his challenges with cancer.

    6. Validity to new hymns: I would argue this is more a reflection of what the church is actually singing, not adding validity as much. In my opinion, validity comes through the acceptance of the song by the congregation. There are still several hymns that are not accepted by the congregation where I attend, and thus would not be considered “valid” in our worship service. It doesn’t necessarily mean the hymn is a bad hymn, it just doesn’t resonate with the congregation.

    7. Less disposable: I agree that it is harder to get a song out of the hymnal, but this doesn’t make the hymn any less disposable. How many hymns are contained in hymnals that are never sung, or haven’t been sung for years?

    8. Give congregational singing back to the people: As Greg points out, this is where having someone trained in how to move the song along with the screen is necessary. We have set a standard in our worship service that the next screen should be available as the last word on the screen is being sung. This consistency leads to less frustration and sets a reasonable expectation for all participants. The problem I see in most congregations that have this issue revolve around untrained people or putting too few words on the screen at a time.

    I agree, we shouldn’t toss out hymnals — but at the same time we should recognize them as what they are: Tools. Tools that God has given us. Tools that record our theological history and the journey of countless believers that have come before us. Tools that can teach us to be better musicians. Tools that can bind believers together across continents and time. Tools that can lead us to a deeper relationship with our LORD. But are they absolutely necessary for worship? I would conclude that they are not.

    (I’m not arguing that the author of this article indicates they are necessary for worship, nor do I think hymnals should be thrown out in favor of screens. I just wanted to offer a different view point.)

  • Vivian Goins

    As a teachet our kids need every opportunity to practice reading and following directions. Today our students are struggling readers and riding, the hymnal models strategies for successful reading, as well those strategies for kids who will one day be musicians and vocalist, composers.

  • Linda Smith

    Thoroughly enjoyed and agree with this article and many of the comments. Grew up using a hymnal, know many of the hymns by heart and continue to be a traditionalist. Am so blessed by the theology of the hymns. And do not like being in a situation where I cannot sing along, which is frequently the case in contemporary services where screens are used – feel left out.

  • Christy

    The use of hymnals also helps in a couple of other ways not mentioned. 1) Worship becomes a shared experience, as two people share a hymnal. It may be a couple, two friends, or a parent and child, but it allows the two to share in worship in a way they can’t, just singing side by side. 2) It helps children learn to read. That doesn’t sound theological, but it’s still true. The words are broken into syllables and children are able to “read” familiar text, see it broken into syllables, and learn the patterns of word structure as an adult points out the words. I desperately miss the use of hymnals in worship.

  • GirlMom

    Two other benefits of hymnals. They promote sharing, often between strangers.

    They can be seen by people who cannot stand up to sing such as the disabled. I try to sit on the aisle seat so I can see the screen but often I am left out unable to see anything but the posterior of the people standing in front of me and left out of the worship.

    I’m not opposed to updated songbooks that contain the newer songs but prefer a tactile collection and one that does not change quite as often.

  • Angela Reese

    Another thought from a musician. I didn’t read all of the comments and maybe someone has already said this, but I often worship with different churches and don’t know the songs that are projected. When I have the music in front of me, I feel that I can fully worship with the congregation I am visiting. I know that churches wish to invite visitors into their services, but projecting unknown songs doesn’t do it for me. I love new songs, but always wish I had the music in front of me when I am introduced to them. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

  • I’ve always been puzzled as to how one would determine how much true worship to God is going on. What would tell you that the people around you are truly worshipping? Can you tell what’s in their hearts?

  • judy

    I was told that songs on the power point could be learned if I would come back time and again. but as a visitor I didn’t feel very connected to the song service. and I didn’t go back there. I was also told that people don’t want to sing notes anymore, just simple words on a screen. however, I am a member of the church of Christ and we are acappella. we use books and we sing parts. our books have shaped notes that helps people find their part if they don’t read music. by having these aids, I feel I can sing with my heart to God as eph 5:19 instructs us.

  • Sylvia

    Hymnals are there even outside of a worship service. When I visit another church for a performance or lecture or ceremony, I always like to check out the hymnal to see what music we share and what might be different, and if the hymnal includes creeds and liturgical material, so much the better! There may also be times during those events – during intermission, for example – when I appreciate that there is a hymnal there to peruse. Also, I had to shout (or at least think) AMEN! when I saw your second point – having the musical notation provides a common interpretation, and that makes it easier for the congregation to participate in the singing and thus in the worship. Finally, I’d add that there are times when I want to re-visit or ponder a lyric after we’ve completed a song, whether it’s because a line is so beautifully written, or because it’s new to me and I didn’t catch all of its nuance during the singing. Projected songs, with or without the musical notation, don’t allow for this contemplation.

  • Julie Weston

    I actually haven’t read all the posts here, so I don’t know if anyone mentioned the fact that reading from a hymnal is vocally more healthy than singing from a screen. As a voice teacher, I’ve dealt with a lot of worship leaders who tend to look up, either at the screen or supposedly to God, and by raising the head, they cause tension and impede the vocal mechanism. Reading from a hymnal, with the head *slightly* lowered, is a much more healthy way of singing.

  • David Apol

    Trying to keep/savor the old precludes our kids will all continue to attend the same church with the same hymns. They don’t! IT loses meaning. It did for me. This is more a commentary on our old selves not changing with the culture. I also might mention, mere cost of old hymnbook technology: to find, arrange, produce, edit, chose/select then print , hype and sell…..on longer affordable by the small congregation.

    As we see, when it is printed, it is outdated! I remember with a “new hymnal” came out….same buzz as Aunt Hattie wearing a red dress. Half the congregation thought it was bold and the other half saw it as wrong. We are the people our parent warned us about.


    I have been a professional woodwind instrumentalist for over 30 years -40 years in music all together and have been in church choirs and orchestras/bands ever since I started in music.

    I agree that we should use the hymnal format, possibly a good mix of contemporary and traditional songs included in it.

    My biggest observation is that many (more and more all the time) of the musicians never learn to read music so it is very frustrating when trying to rehearse, asking to run a particular section and they only have the names of the chords and sometimes the lyrics on their page. The “road maps” are constantly changing and some of the folks don’t even notice and keep going (wrong) making it very difficult for everyone else, namely the leader/s. No, I’m not saying that everybody MUST learn to sight read at a professional level, but they should try to always get better at all aspects of the music so (as mentioned in your article) we can all focus on worship more, and less on “train wrecks” in the music. Before we can teach music to the congregations, we need to have skilled musicians on the worship teams.

    The ones who don’t want to do the work, treat us like we’re perfectionists when we want to make a section in the music better.

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  • I’m a violinist, and have accompanied singing in worship services since I first started playing – some 50 years ago! The music used has been hymnals, hymn orchestrations, praise songs from chorus books, and praise songs using a variety of overhead projection. My observations, briefly. The hymnals (of all denominations) provide a standardized set of notes and words, which make it easier for the Body of Christ to sing together regardless of denomination. I’ve encountered multiple praise songs using the same title, but that’s all that is the same – so going into a different setting what I thought would be a familiar song is something entirely different! Hymns CAN be used by a praise band IF those playing guitars, etc, would take time to figure out reasonable chord progressions – hymns typically use a greater variety of chords than much contemporary music. Many choruses list chord progressions, but the lead guitarist chooses not to use all those chords; similarly, I’ve been provided with printed copies of the praise song, where the melody on my page barely resembles what the leader does BECAUSE he/she heard it performed another way on the radio! I have encountered a perception among Hymn-loving worship leaders that Hymns must be sung as dirges – or as fast as possible – neither of which provides a worshipful experience! Praise/worship teams need to understand that if the people in the congregation can’t hear their own voices, they will not sing out. And just a personal pet peeve: whatever you’re singing, it’s a poem! If you’re projecting words on a screen, make the line on the screen ‘match’ the line of the poem – that way if I don’t know the song, I at least have a better idea of where to pause and where to forge ahead!

  • I enjoy Jeff’s comments about the reference “sing Him a New Song”. I read in Dr Henry M Morris (I.C.R.) commentary on The Revelation of Jesus Christ, entitled, “The Revelation Record”, page 260 paragraph 2 responding to Rev 14:3; “The scriptures tell of nine ‘new songs’, and each one speaks of a glorious theme specifically designed for the singer of the song. The first six are in the book of Psalms (33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1) and one in Isaiah 42:10. One of the new songs was that sung by the redeemed host at the throne of the Lamb when He received earth’s title deed (Rev 5:9). The last new song is here on this occasion. One other song is mentioned in Revelation, but it is not a ‘new song’, being identified rather as ‘the song of Moses, and of the Lamb’ (see Rev 15:3).

    Ps 33:3 first song of Creation; Ps 40:3 Song of the Lamb; Ps 96:1 Declaring Creator God above other man-made gods Ps 98:1 Shout for joy realizing God’s Victorious hand Ps 144:9 Song of deliverance Ps 149:1 All Saint & Jews together proclaim victory over the world Isa 42:10 the is a Millennial victory song that will be sung during the 1000 year reign. Words & Lyric are Powerful & possibly everlasting as we will answer for all that are idol. Our proclamations that are well thought out and studied, having been ordered as best we can, then cross our lips or are expressed by pen (or computer) have a Power to them that we are accountable for. Oh to be pleasing to our Creator & Honor Him in all that we do, especially when we communicate with HIS BRIDE. Father help us be ORDERED as You have given us the example in & of your WORD. May we praise you, in Jesus Name, representing all that He would have is to be, with our very best and honest and open redeemed heart.

  • Glenda

    I’m not a fan of screens myself, I prefer the songs to be copied into the bulletin. That way it is a true worship folder, which is easier than fumbling around with a hymnal. Since the use of a service folder wasn’t mentioned, let me just list a few points of my own.

    1. Visitors are not familiar with our hymnals, and service folders make their (and my) service easier to follow.

    2. Service folders help visitors not have to fumble with a hymnal while flipping back and forth with the order of service.

    3. The hymnals are heavy and my arthritic hands start to ache after a few minutes, making it hard to focus on the music and the service.

    4. And this is most important…Everything is provided for me in a service folder, I can concentrate on the service and the music, fully praising God and feeling God’s presence among the members and visitors of our congregation.

    5. The service folders can list the hymn number allowing anyone who prefers using the hymnal to do so.

  • Thank you, Jonathan, for this insightful post. I’ve seen it sparking important and meaningful conversation.

    I spent some time responding to each of your points under the “symbolic/theological” category from the perspective of Reformed worship, which has historically prioritized the singing of psalms. I’ll just share here my thoughts on your first point.

    “1. Hymnals are a theological textbook.”

    If the hymnal is good, this is true. But it’s just as easy to find a theologically bad hymnal as to find a theologically bad set of PowerPoint lyrics. Even the blue Psalter Hymnal [a very “orthodox” Reformed songbook] contains some lyrics that don’t make it an entirely sound “theological textbook.” The experiential focus of “This Is My Father’s World” comes to mind, in which God “speaks to me everywhere”; or the lyrics of “From Ocean unto Ocean,” which seem to confuse America with the new Israel; or especially “Whiter Than Snow” with its boldfacedly non-Reformed plea, “Lord Jesus, Thou seest I patiently wait.” No, hymnals aren’t reputable repositories of flawless and systematic doctrine, and treating one as a “theological textbook” will likely lead to trouble.

    A psalter, on the other hand, is a theological textbook. It proclaims the excellencies of God (Psalm 147), the beauty of creation (Psalm 8), the ramifications of the Fall (Psalm 14), the nature of God’s covenant (Psalm 78), the wonder of redemption (Psalm 130), the glory of God’s word (Psalm 119), the kingship of Christ (Psalm 110), and the life everlasting (Psalm 16)—just to mention a few themes of the psalms. And the text of a psalter is from the inspired Word of God itself, so (barring an unfaithful translation) all of its doctrine is true! What more “reliable sources of theological information” could there be?

    Again, thanks for this post. My further comments are at http://urcpsalmody.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/eight-reasons-why-we-should-still-be-using-psalters/

    Michael Kearney

    West Sayville URC

    Long Island, New York

  • john

    It is impossible to worship if you are lost. #2 doesn’t make sense.

  • Carolyn Weimer

    On those rare occasions when I am able to attend church with my grown daughter, we enjoy sharing a hymnal so we can sing in harmony. She sings alto and I try to sing tenor. With the hymn on a screen, there are no other parts to sing.

  • carol

    my church has a graded choir program, and I sang in one of the choirs until I reached college age. our minister of music once challenged us to notice, when our attentions were wandering from the sermon or some other occasion, how often the real core, the real heart, of a hymn is contained in the third verse. I’ve remembered that observation for many years, and I enjoy thumbing through the hymnal, which my church still uses, ever since, and I have to agree with him. I’d miss the hymnal if it were gone. I’m not sure but what I’d feel that my early training was being counted as unimportant.

  • Sue Ann Hopkins

    Thank you for the list of reasons why we should re-think “losing” our hymnals. My major stand has always been that people DO learn a great deal about music with hymnal use. I loved the comment about parents/grandparents making memories while helping their children follow the words in the hymnals. I have also noticed that children who are just beginning to learn to read will try to sing from the hymnals while those watching a screen will not attempt to sing and are more easily distracted.

  • David Libongen

    I agree, and we are in need of hymnals to be use in our church and missions here in the Philippines. Any body know of a group, church or individuals who will share thier old hymnals which they wont use to us?

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  • Dave Fillman

    Having published a hymnbook of original hymns myself, I fully agree with Jonathan’s points. When hymnals are discarded, music literacy decreases and musical accuracy wanes. When other music is substituted, praise and worship loses its vetting, theology often becomes muddled (or even lost), and “vertical” reverence at times gives way to “horizontal” banter. Hymns have existed for almost 2,000 years; hymnals, for 400 or so. The contemporary rush to replace hymns endangers the purity of worship and risks the loss of timeless treasures that focus on the adoration of our God and King.

    If anyone is interested in a set of new, theologically-vetted hymns, you may search for “Hymns for the Harvest” on the online bookstore at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. To God be the glory!

  • SKB

    I was raised in the Baptist church and became a Methodist after marriage. In both churches, standard hymns and hymnals were an important part of worship. We learned new hymns from the hymnals, and they became standards. My own Baptist Hymnal, Broadman’s, and American Hymnals are dog-eared and worn. Both churches now use the big screen for hymns, and it’s just not the same. The hymnals are still in the pews, but they are never used. The hymns on the screen are never ones I know. While I read music and used to sing in the choir as well as sometimes play the piano for service, I can’t stand trying to sing to something when I can’t see the music. As an educator I learned to embrace every new technology that came along, but this is more than technology. There is the practicality of trying to sing unknown tunes from a big screen. I don’t know a single person who prefers the direction church music has taken. (That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who do prefer it. I just don’t know any of them.) Many people only enjoy public singing in church. i see people who used to belt out hymns now struggling to try to pick out the tune and read from the screen. I long for the songs I grew up with; for me, the worship experience has been stripped of the enjoyment of music. Thank you for this article. I’m sharing it with everyone I know!

  • Carol O.

    Fascinating that this article comes up at this time. We have been going back and forth at our church about why worship is not as powerful or rewarding now. I grew up learning hymns and went through the transition to mostly choruses. Now we are into worship songs from professional performers that are almost unsingable to MANY members of the congregation. We are struggling to have meaningful worship because no one knows the songs or the tunes and we are just hoping to follow along. We have found that printing out the words is the best way to be sure that everyone can read and follow along as we DO have technical problems every week. I have mourned the loss of the amazing songs that we have allowed to expire and resented being pushed into repeating the same chorus over and over and over and over because the worship leader feels it. Hymns can become rote for some people, but for many of us, they were the time in the service when we felt closest to God and the most “together” in fellowship.

  • Jonathan,

    Great article. Several of my FB friends have shared it where it has gotten further discussion. I read a lot of the top listed comments, but have not read them all, so if someone has already written this, sorry to repeat.

    I am Methodist and our congregations sing from hymnals. One thing I always appreciated was seeing the names of the hymnists and when the hymn was written. Often, the hymns were written by people who were important in the early part of the Methodist Church. Of course, one of the most prolific hymnists was Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley and another Anglican priest.

  • Renee

    Hymns can also be used as prayers when you can’t think of the right words to say.

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  • Dawn

    In my small church, we often share hymnals. This means we must look around at our neighbors to make sure that they have a hymnal. This also gives us the opportunity to make sure that visitors have one as well. It is a great way to make new people feel included and welcome.

  • DeAnn Helinski

    Having grown up in church I feel that a hymnal is a precious connection between the printed words and our heart. How often have we rejoiced when we held our hymnal and felt that spirit swell with our voice? I think especially of the invitation time at the close of the service after our pastor has presented God’s message through His Word and I held that hymnal in my hand reading the words to Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior. Seeing those printed words and feeling God speak to me is a precious moment. Often as I have visited churches who have taken on this new form of worship I feel like an observer more than a participant. Technology lends itself to worship and is in some ways, beneficial. Whether it be God’s Word or a hymnal – give me the printed word for worship any day.

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  • Tom

    As an older adult, I would draw attention to the recent research which seems to indicate that things like playing games, doing math problems, and reading music can delay the onset of memory disorders. Although a trained choral musician, I generally don’t sing when just the words are available because I am not comfortable with “guessing” at the notes, but with a musical score in front of me I can read or “sight read” and be pretty accurate.

  • Charles Nestor

    Thank you, Stan, for your thoughtful statement on hymns. I still recall the numbers f the hymns from the hymnal of my childhood and youth. Another thing that I observe is that projection requires you to look at the screen. You have no choice of observing the leader, or others worshipping and bing inspired and blessed by brothers and sisters expressing their worship in song. Charles Wesley said that long after John’s sermons were forgotten that his hymns would be remembered. Every time I sing “And Can It Be” I think of that statement.

  • Don Fado

    I’m grateful that a friend sent me a like to this discussion.

    Some thoughts on advantage of screen:

    We had some elderly who could not see clearly enough to read the hymnal, but could make out every word on the screen.

    When we added the screen, people looked up while they sang. Improved the volume of the singing by at least 30%.

    You have expressed well the advantages of the hymnal. Doesn’t appear to always have to be one or the other.

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  • w. aardsma

    hymnals are not used in the church that i attend. they’re in the pews but only the musicians use them, and that’s a grand total of 4 (now reduced to 3) out of say 150 people in the sanctuary. when the church ordered the newest version, they only bought enough for the choir, musicians and worship leaders – for obvious reasons.

    i sing from memory and only use the hymnal to finish scribbling out a check before the offering plate arrives, for which they are very useful.

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  • vicki

    These are all wonderful reasons, truly…..if this were all what worship and praise of God is about. But I find nothing here that follows anything in scripture. Do we think David worshiped God with hymnals in the Tabernacle and Temple? Do we really think the early Christian who met in homes (gasp….not in church buildings) had hymnals? If you really look into scriptural worship and praise, you’ll find the bulk of it was prophetic in nature. And that’s because our God is about the new thing….the fresh thing….the thing that touches HIS heart (not ours). I truly appreciate the sentiments here, but we really need to rethink our motivation and allow spiritual things to define spiritual things, imho.

    • Jonathan

      All truth is God’s truth. The Bible doesn’t speak to every possible situation. I Think Hod wants us to think deeply about how we live out our faith, and corporate worship is part of that.

  • Ann Wallace

    I hate going to services that sing from a screen. This happens every time I visit my out-of-state child. I do not know the songs, so I stand 30 or so minutes while SOME others watch the screen & sing. I am not even a part of the service. If I had a hymnal, I read music, so I could join the worship. So thankful that my home church still uses hymnals.

  • vera reid

    My daughter learned to sign with my finger showing her in the hymnals. They are not what I call “7-11” songs. 7 verses sung 11 times.

  • Mark

    You make some very valid points. However, I’m going to disagree with #4, especially as it relates to 2nd Baptist in Houston. This particular sanctuary is often pointed to as one of the premier examples of how technology can be incorporated into a traditional worship venue in a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing manner. You call it a “painful example” and a “visual nightmare,” and then you go on to say it is a theological issue. I have very little patience with people who confuse their own personal taste with theological validity.

    • Jonathan

      Ah, but sanctuary aesthetics are a theological issue and have been since the days of the patriarchs. It’s not about taste, it’s about meaning. We can argue that it means different things, but in the end, my person taste isn’t what guides my decision, and I hope it’s always that way.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Kyle

        I’m still wanting to hear your explanation of how sanctuary aesthetics are a theological issue.

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  • Layma V

    I grew up in a church with hymnals and have always loved them. I taught myself how to sing the alto line by reading the music printed within.

    Screens are unpleasant – especially if you don’t know the tune – but printing out the text in the bulletin isn’t much better. You still lose out on the actual music.

  • Helen Dukes

    While I agree with the article, I would mention that I like to use a screen in a predominantly elderly congregation where the people know the melodies of most hymns. The elderly all too often are no longer able to read well and the screen gives them the opportunity to see the words. I would never use a screen and no hymnal though. I’m short and usually can’t see all of the screen. I think the use of screens with bands and singers too often rejects the input of congregational singing and becomes performance rather than worship. I love a good hymnal that gives liturgy as well as hymns and indexes of tunes, composers, topics, etc. They give us the sense of worship over concert and are great helps in planning cohesive biblically centered worship experiences.

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  • Grant

    Musical illiteracy is not ok. Music is easy to read, and if you are failing to learn it in school, church is a great place to get it done. Can you imagine a pastor who couldn’t read leading the service? How, then could a musician who doesn’t read music do the same? I am rather plugged in, I teach from an iPad, use computers extensively, and can’t stand screens. I’m 33, and have yet to have anything approaching an authentic experience in their presence.

    Songs you know ‘by heart’ were taught at some point by someone who reads music. Be part of the solution, not the problem. 5 year olds read music all the time, what is your excuse?

    Hymnals aren’t heavy. Sorry. I would be totally into having a digital copy of the hymnal in ForScore or equivalent, but you may need to mix in some push ups.

    You know what else is awesome yet disappearing? Handbells. The organ. Robes. Churches trying to be rock concerts are lame. Try being a church. It got you this far.

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  • Mike Switzer

    Ok…. I never want to go back to a book to find the songs… I can’t see them even with my glasses on. Also saying that putting up a screen is doing an injustice to your church in the dumbest thing I have ever heard of get over it! the never church looks better! I would just like to add something what about the hymns talked about in the Bible?? We don’t sing those song at all anymore, in fact we don’t even know what they are! David said sing to the Lord a new song. Stop getting pulled into the songs I’m a worship pastor and the last thing I really care about is music.. I care about how I am living my life according to God’s word, I could really care less about a small part of my day to day worship like music and songs. ( yes I did say small) people who are coming to a church for the 1st time to give a rib about a Hymn book only people who have been sitting in the church without a renewed spirit do. I alway try and redo Hymns, due to the fact that I love the words in the songs, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of songs just suck! I’m talking about new songs too maybe 10% of the songs that come out on new albums today can actually be sung in churches today, but some of the songs I sang growing up were in too high a key for people to sing and the words, music, and writing is well lets just say most churches should not have sung them in the 1st place.. Just because you write a song does not mean it’s for every church in the world.

    anyway if you like Hymn book that’s fine some churches that works for them but putting up 15 reasons why every church has to keep them…. well give me one scripture in the bible that says we need a HYMN BOOK! and I do mean a BOOK! that we keep them in not a HYMN but A book where we keep them all almost some 2nd bible and I’ll put up my house for sale

    • Jonathan

      Wow, what a cogent and lucid argument. And such flawless delivery. Ever think of being a lawyer?

  • brenda

    I couldn’t agree less with the person who posted this article. Music in the church has been and always will be a conversation of contention and disagreement. No one will ever be satisfied with just hymn books and hymns only being sung in the church versus songs by the latest worship band out there and the words being shown on a screen on the wall or wherever you wish to have a screen.

    This is a subject that will never reach an agreeable solution. So just agree to disagree and keep your thoughts to yourself. Why continue to stir up the pot? Nothing is going to change.

    Why cant you simply enjoy worshipping the Lord with your hands raised (without the weight of a hymn book) and forget about so called screen background distractions. Personally I find the person standing in front of me scratching his behind more of a distraction than anything. But if I am truly worshipping, nothing will take away or distract me.

    To the one who wrote this, you are entitled to your opinion. But at the end of the day when all is said and done, that’s all it is…your opinion. Some things should simply be kept to yourself.

    • Jonathan

      Another compelling argument from the Switzer family.

    • Seriously, Brenda? One of the beauties of true Christianity is that we are not only allowed to communicate with each other, we are commanded to do so.

      Hebrews 13:16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

      Have you ever been a part of a religion where communication, interaction and thought sharing was discouraged among followers? They’re usually called cults, in case you weren’t aware.

  • David

    Amen brother! Thank you for bringing this very important topic to light! I totally agree with you, and hope that this generation that I live in will see the value in hymnals, as well as in hymnody!

    Thank you again!

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  • Jason

    Excellent points, all. Thank you!

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  • Thanks for this thought provoking article!

    On no.s 5 and 15 I’d just like to point out that at certain times and places worshippers have owned their hymnals and carried them with their Bibles to and from meetings. That means that they could sing from the hymnal at home or carry it to another location with them if meetings were held somewhere else – in obscure places during persecutions or war, in rotating locations, etc.

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  • rps abq

    When the Church decided they needed to be more like world is when it began to loose its relevancy. What was so “magical” about the church growing up was that on Sunday morning you knew that you were going to see sights and hear sounds that were ONLY able to be experienced at church. That sound of the organ and then the choir, i mean it was so beautiful and so foreign to my ears that I not only looked forward to it every week, I really missed it when it was gone. When it sounded and looked more like a secular concert, the “magic” and wonderful alluring power that the church had was instantly gone. If the church is going to survive they will have to really live out the scripture “be in the world, but not of the world.”

  • Jonathan

    Because I’m talking about hymnals. Not just hymns themselves.

  • Rachel

    This is honestly just a long list of narrow minded garbage. Worship has literally nothing to do with a book you hold in your hands. While it is an important teaching tool for growing musicians it is NOT necessary for you to hold a hymnal in your hands to worship the Lord. That is ridiculous. That is a narrow minded view of worship. You don’t need anything in order to worship. I could go stand outside right now, in the middle of the night, with cars driving all around me and my worship would be just as beautiful to my creators ears as a well practiced church choir holding their hymnals. I agree that hymnals and hymns have an importance and singing hymns can be beautiful, but this article is saying that a hymnal is necessary to “worship well”. Which is complete garbage.

    • Jonathan

      Sounds to me like you think the whole thing is garbage.

      Well, let me challenge you to think a little more deeply about this. A couple things.

      First, you’re right. We can (and should) worship anywhere. Some people call it a life of worship, or a lifestyle. Certainly, all we do should be in response to God and God’s great love for us. You certainly don’t need a hymnal in your hands to do that, which, contrary to what you’ve asserted, was not the purpose of the blog. What’s being discussed in this post is liturgy, the work of the people, which is worship we do corporately as the gathered body. The post, and most of what I write, won’t make sense unless it’s viewed this way. It’s not unrelated to the broader umbrella of worship, but it’s a specific act.

      Secondly, the purpose of this post was to talk about the benefits of using hymnals in corporate worship. Again, it’s not imperative. It’s not that I think there should be a rule about it. It’s that they offer us many things that most churches today are choosing to ignore.

      It seems like you may have been a little reactive when you wrote this, and possibly may have forgotten a few manners. Or maybe you had just finished taking out the garbage. Nevertheless, I applaud you for your earnestness, and encourage you to interact with some different ideas on the subject. Some of the things I linked to on this and other posts would be good places to begin.


  • Daniel

    As I read many of these comments, there appears to be a lot of “ear scratching” going on which I see as a drifting away from what is truly important.

    But I will say this: at one of my churches, we cannot afford new hymnals. $25 a pop times 175 is a huge dollar amount that is just unmanageable for us, and our old hymnals were being held together with duct tape and some of them were missing pages. Now we also can’t afford (or aesthetically fit) a screen and projector which I’m not really on board with anyway. I prefer worshipers have something in the hands.

    Our solution (and in our particular denomination we can do this) is to print everything in the bulletin each week. There’s a program provided by CPH (our publishing company) which, for a fraction of the cost of new hymnals, allows us to publish words, music, chanting, reading, and everything else that can be found in the hymnal, into a printed bulletin. I see this as the best of both worlds! People can still follow along with their little fingers the words and music, and at the same time we don’t have to spend an exorbitant sum of money replacing hymnals when we have a leaky roof and HVAC units barely functioning. Not only this, but the worshipers also have the opportunity to take the hymns home with them, as well as the liturgy, each week and study, learn, and grow, or use it in private worship and meditation.

    Now as far as all the “ear scratching”, let me say this: For those who insist that worship is all about the hymns you like, what you did growing up, singin’ the old time favorites…get over yourself. That’s not what worship’s about. For those of you who are so rigid that you’ll use any excuse you can invent to turn hymnals into the savior of all, get over yourself. That’s not what CHRISTianity is about.

    We Lutherans love to say that the “church exists where the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered,” and it’s true! The Church, Christianity, the fellowship, salvation, forgiveness of sins, etc. exist where God’s people come together to hear His Holy Word (the Word where His Holy Spirit works and interacts with us), and to receive His good and gracious gifts. Hymnal, bulletin, screen…it matters not. We don’t even need hymns! And once you free yourself up from the rules and laws that you create, then you can truly understand the significance of hymns, liturgy, worship, and the like, that it is not a law that you MUST do it, but that it is a joy! And whether or not you have a hymnal, a screen, or a bulletin or none at all, the joy is there because you are hearing God’s Word! You are receiving His gifts!

    It is YOU, oh sinner, who always puts the obstacles in the way rather than simply sitting down, shutting up, and receiving. When a hymnal, a favorite hymn, a screen…anything becomes an idol then it’s time to forego the hymnal or the favorite hymn or the screen. Why because they are causing you to focus not on God and His Word, but on other things. This is something that we all must think about, repent of, and confess, so that by faith we trust only in God and His Word rather than in ourselves.

    Remember that there wasn’t always hymnals (or screens or bulletins) and the church was just fine. Now, let us use hymnals, or screens, or bulletins in a way which clearly and boldly proclaims the Word of God and blesses us with His good gifts.

  • I think our small congregation is particularly well-blest when it comes to hymnals. A large neighboring LCMS congregation switched from the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal to the new Lutheran Service Book several years ago. They then gave us all of their old hymnals (some in pristine condition), which included a number of large-print editions, and even a braille hymnal (4 volumes).

    The hymnal has a lot of stuff in it besides hymns and liturgies. A worshiper can page through the hymnal during the devotional time before the service begins and be spiritually edified. The hymnal is also a continual witness that says a lot about the church in which you are sitting and how focused they are on the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

    It is important to be adaptable to whatever the given situation might be. And in our case, if the power happens to go out, we don’t have to rely upon power for the projector or the organ blower. We can still open our hymnals and sing to the piano.

    If your hymnals are becoming worse for wear, try asking other congregations in your area if they have a cache of hymnals they aren’t using any more and if they would care to donate them to you, or send them to you for the cost of shipping. And don’t rule out having some of the old hymnals rebound; in many cases it is only a fraction of the cost of a new hymnal.

    And if you are using the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal, the liturgies and all but two of the hymns are public domain and can be reproduced (you’d have to contact CPH to find out what those two are; I don’t remember).

    So keep the hymnals in the pews folks; they are an important commodity!

  • Josh

    I gotta say. The amount of people in here who agree with this was surprising. As a worship pastor, I love to do hymns in a modernized way so everyone gets something out of it. But it’s rare….and in a culture of modern technology I find it hard to believe that churches that don’t have those modern things, grow at all. I bet if you took the median age of the commenters in here who agree with this stance you would find the elders of our generation. Not to say they are wrong….because their wisdom is what we need. But we HAVE to be moving forward in all ways to bring people out to church and ultimately be saved by Christ. Plus I don’t think anyone gave their life to God by singing a song….

    • Jonathan

      Actually, I have a large, very diverse list of subscribers. In my work here and my own ministry, the group that are often most against traditional worship are the baby boomer generation, while many young people are quite open to historic Cheistian worship.

      We also have to remember that we don’t worship in order to attract people or reach them or “bring them to Jesus,” we do so to glorify God and to be renewed as God’s covenant people.

      Of course, doxological evangelism does happen as a byproduct of liturgy, but it’s never the main purpose, or it’s not corporate worship.

      This is not in support of simply old ways, but in a corporate worship setting that collapses the span of time and makes us all contemporaries of Jesus. When we so that, there is room for the best of all generations, but never being modern for the sake of being so.

      Blessings to your life and ministry.

      • Darryl

        With respect you have a following that wants to hear your message. Those that disagree natuarly will be very few. Even if it’s a few thousand that could never be used as a statement of acceptance of your views, in any great number, within in demographics. The Hymn only, KJV only and 11 o’clock only groups are a symptom of poor Biblical teaching and shallow understanding of God’s purpose for the Church.

        • Jonathan

          I’m not sure you’ve read enough of my work to make that assumption. This is not borne out of a legalistic fundamentalism or dearth of scholarship, such as a KJV only position, and those that expect that often turn around and leave quickly. My position on worship in the church, and hymnody is but a small portion of that, comes from a historic yet still progressive theology, and the purpose is to call the contemporary church to a greater level of engagement with its roots, good scholarship, and thinking deeply. I would recommend to you the book by Mark Noll, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” if you want to look into it more.

  • A Common Tater

    I felt many points in the article were redundant or less clear than they could have been. I am not opposed to “off-the-wall” singing. It has pluses and minuses like most things.

    Some might think it saves money, but not if you are paying to legally use it. The costs of hymnals includes hundreds of songs and will last for a decade or longer.

    Some may point out that it keeps heads up and so keeps people engaged more. But as many have pointed out, it can also bring families together, or even strangers sharing a book.

    Some might say it is less intimidating to newcomers. But many can read the words from the page as well as the wall. (If their arms are long enough.)

    Some might say it allows the use of contemporary Christian music, more geared to the ear of common people. This is true.

    But in my experience it has has several negative effects.

    People are now singing in unison. Not a sin, but it is a shame. The richness of multi-part singing is more beautiful and reflects popular culture too, as seen in secular accapella groups. We don’t have to settle for kindergarten singing in church.

    It tends to be unsophisticated both musically and poetically. Its modern children may be more stylish, but “Jesus in the Morning” is musical pap. We don’t have to settle for kindergarten singing in church.

    I say – give us poetry. Sing me some melodious sonnet, sung by angel tongues above. All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres. Lyrics on the wall tend to be dumbed down and/or could just as easily be sung to one’s main squeeze as to the Lord.

    Which opens the door to point eight above. Real music can teach better than many preachers can. There, I said it in public. The incarnation, atonement, work of the Spirit – all can be taught and reinforced with music. Scripture set to music is more easily memorized. We don’t have to settle for kindergarten singing in church.

    Beyond the lyric, a song can be introduced in a way that makes it more impactful (if that is a word). What is an Ebenezer? What is the music of the spheres? Under what circumstances were the words “it is well with my soul” written?

    So many churches, particularly evangelicals, have been seduced by the siren song of California mega-churches and tried to use their pop formula to grow big churches. I’ve been around a while, here and there. What pulls people in and keeps them in the fellowship is not the entertainment value. It is the fellowship. When people feel welcomed and are enveloped in the congregation, they stay. They learn. They grow. They become part of it. When they are entertained and no more, they may drop the price of admission in the plate, but they head out ASAP – and many are seldom seen again.

    Hymnals won’t help a cold congregation warm up, but neither will simple songs on a wall. The books can make for a richer, more meaningful, shared experience. We don’t have to settle for kindergarten singing in church.

  • Tammy

    This is a joke, right?! This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read.

    • Jonathan

      Wow, thanks for your kind, helpful comment. Apparently, there are any, many people of all different ages and faith backgrounds that disagree with you, though.

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