Posted by: rcottrill | January 15, 2012

Advantages of Hymn Books

Lindsay Smith, of New Zealand, is the editor of a new hymn book Redemption Hymns. Below are are some advantages Lindsay sees in using hymn books, rather than words projected on the wall. I have slightly abridged his article, and added a few more comments of my own.

The trend in many churches in recent years has been to abandon the hymn book and simply project words to be sung on a screen, or the wall, with a video projector. This can certainly work. But there are advantages to using hymn books that need to be considered. Not all of these will apply in every case, but many will.

1) There can be more flexibility possible with the use of hymnals. Video projectors must be programmed in advance, and stanzas chosen. But if the pastor or service leader wants to repeat a stanza sung earlier, or add another one, or feels led to call for a hymn that wasn’t planned for, he cannot do so as easily with a video system. Only hymn books provide simply for these unplanned changes.

2) Congregations enjoy times when requests are called for by the leader, so they can sing their favourites. This also provides an occasion for sharing good hymns that perhaps haven’t been used for awhile. Doing this easily is only possible with hymn books.

3) Hymn books contain the names of the authors and composers of the songs. This provides a snapshot of our Christian heritage, reflecting many valuable life lessons from saints of bygone days. Their names and experiences will often become familiar over time, and when some of the history of hymn writers is shared before a hymn is sung, it provides a wonderful teaching tool.

4) Many people grow to know and love their hymn book, and the hymns it contains. This is less likely with the limited use of projected hymns, augmented by the introduction of an ever-changing collection of projected contemporary songs.

5) Hymn books can be used when the projector bulb blows, or the projector breaks down, or when the one trained to use the video projector is away. If there is enough light in the sanctuary from windows, books can be used even during a power outage, while a projector cannot.

6) If the lighting in the sanctuary is adequately bright, hymn books can be helpful to people who have difficulty seeing the words on a screen due to eyesight problems–or because they’re sitting or standing behind a taller person.

7) Hymn books can be used when people are sitting around a room facing the centre. They don’t all need to be facing a screen.

8) People can purchase their own hymn books and take them home. (This should definitely be encouraged.) There they can mark or highlight the songs they like, use them for devotional reading, becoming more familiar with them. This in turn strengthens the hymn-singing of the congregation.

9) Hymn books are easily transported, and great for song-times in homes. They are suitable for families, and other small Bible study or prayer groups meeting in homes. On occasion, they might be used when a service is scheduled in a seniors facility.

10) If God speaks to an individual through a hymn, he or she might want to re-read the words after it has been sung. This is easy with a hymn book, but a projected song disappears as soon as it has been sung. And sometimes, only one verse is visible at a time.

11) Operators of projection equipment must be recruited, trained and scheduled. There will inevitably be hitches with operator absences, equipment problems, and selecting the right songs on the computer. Such problems can usually be corrected on the spot, when hymn books are used.

12) Often using books places more of the hymn (i.e. more stanzas) before the reader. Many of these are rich in doctrine and devotion, and can be an added blessing.

13) It is worthwhile having books with musical notation, because it can provide for singing in parts, which is a wonderful fellowship experience, often creating something of beauty to offer to the Lord. Not everyone has this skill, but with hymn books it can be learned, over time.

14) Because a video projector is an expensive piece of equipment, it is often stored away in a safe place between uses. That means it must be set up each time. Hymn books can often be left in their place, week by week, and simply picked up from the rack when needed.

15) There is a cost associated with the purchase of hymn books, but this cost should be thought of as being spread over ten years or more, as the books will last at least that long with care. There is also a cost (sometimes a very large one) associated with the purchase and maintenance of projection equipment. And replacement projector bulbs are very expensive too.

16) When a church uses hymn books instead of a projector, there’s no annual copyright charge–and no need to carefully keep weekly records of songs used each time, sending them in to the copyright agency. This must be done with projected songs. To use copyrighted hymns without this payment is currently considered illegal. Church Copyright Licensing International (the CCLI) charges $132/year for this service in a church with attendance between 25 and 99.

17) In part because of a failure of Bible colleges to teach the subject of hymnology, and the failure of churches to fully explore the riches of our heritage, those planning to use projected words will tend to gravitate toward the few hymns they know, when there are hundreds that could be added to a church’s repertoire. Having a church hymn book may put before those who plan and lead the services a broader selection of choices.


  1. Hi, Robert,

    As you may remember from my previous comments, I am my church’s music director and our AV director. I don’t entirely agree with the hymn/screen differences that you and Lindsay Smith have listed.

    Our church has hymn books, but we put the words up on the screen. A real problem with the use of hymn books is that most people tend to hold the hymn book down and then sing to the floor. With the screens, they tend to sing looking up, which improves the sound and the responsiveness to the music director’s directions. Before projector screens, we tried exhorting the congregation to sing looking up, but it was a mostly futile exercise.

    As you pointed out, projector equipment costs quite a bit of money, but we also saved quite a bit of money by pooling the diverse talents of our church members and their extended families (we have a small church, but we have a fair amount of talent available to us through members and extended family members of the church). Finding and scheduling operators can be a pain, but when no one is available to run the system, we revert back to hymn books.

    Using AV screens allows me to pull up hymns from other hymn books. Our church cannot afford to purchase multiple types of hymn books. I scour old bookstores for hymn books I don’t have, especially older hymn books, and I use Cyber Hymnal to find old hymns to sing. The 1991 Baptist Hymnal doesn’t have “Bringing in the Sheaves”, but I am able to bring the song to my church family through the AV screens.

    We have many people in the congregation who have vision problems. By picking an appropriate font face and size (Halvett Black or Halvett Black Condensed, 54 – 60 points in size) and using appropriate color contrasts, most of our congregation can see the screens. For those that cannot see the screens despite what I just said, I make printouts of the songs that are not in the Baptist Hymnal available to them.

    My experience with people falling in love with hymn books is that such an event can become an unhealthy, man-made tradition. In years past (not recently), I have known a few people who used changing hymn books as an excuse to leave the church (i.e., if we were really led by the Spirit of God, we would have stuck with the 1955 Broadman Hymnal or the 1975 Baptist Hymnal, and other such nonsense.)

    I have a couple of well-trained young men who run our AV system. I agree that hymn books allow for spontenaiety. Good training of operators (especially operators who are not afraid of the equipment — which WAS a hurdle I had to overcome initially) allows for spontenaiety that is almost as effective as using a hymn book. The AV system also allows me to project worship aids such as especially meaningful pictures, to show pictures and movies that assist the pastor’s sermon, and to put the scripture texts and key points of the pastor’s sermon on screen. Yes, we have to track and pay for copyrighted material, and that can be a pain, but on balance, we believe that we are better served by our AV system than we would be had we not adopted the system.

    There are pros and cons to hymn books, Robert. There are pros and cons to projector systems. The keys to maximizing the effectiveness and minimizing the cost of the AV system are prayer (above all!), planning, preparation, training, and competent execution, always remembering to let the Holy Spirit lead and my will recede. Come to think of it, those are the keys to ANY effective worship service.

    Your Brother in Christ,

    Robert Woodman

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response to the article on the advantages of using hymn books over words projected on the wall. You make some good points–though I think a counter-argument could be offered for some of them. You’re quite right about the tendency of folks to bury their faces in the hymn books and somewhat muffle the sound. (I’ve had enough trouble in past years teaching choirs how to hold their music to avoid this. The idea of training a whole congregation to do so is daunting!)

      In practice, while I use hymn books most of the time, that’s not all I use. Almost all of the old hymns are in the public domain. And sometimes I print a hymn not in our books on an insert for the bulletin. Other times, I use an old-fashioned overhead projector, and put up the words that way. And actually, our church has enough copies of three hymnals that we can make a switch occasionally and discover (or rediscover) songs not used for awhile.

      On occasion, I’ve preached in churches that have two hymn books in the pew (identified in the Order of Service as Blue Book or Green Book–or whatever the colours are). This may have been done to avoid the problem of some not wanting to part with “the good old book we’ve always used.” But it seems to work, all the same, and provides more options for the service leader or pastor looking for just the right song to suit a particular sermon.

      As to Maltbie Babcock’s original sixteen stanza poem, it’s available in his book Thoughts for Everyday Living, found on the Net here. But to save you the search, here it is, complete.

      My Father’s World

      This is my Father’s world.
      On the day of its wondrous birth
      The stars of light in phalanx bright
      Sang out in heavenly mirth.

      This is my Father’s world.
      E’en yet to my listening ears
      All nature sings, and around me rings
      The music of the spheres.

      This is my Father’s world.
      I rest me in the thought
      Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas,
      His hand the wonders wrought.

      This is my Father’s world.
      The birds their carols raise,
      The morning light, the lily white,
      Declare their Maker’s praise.

      This is my Father’s world.
      He shines in all that’s fair.
      In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
      He speaks to me everywhere.

      This is my Father’s world.
      From His eternal throne,
      He watch doth keep when I’m asleep,
      And I am not alone.

      This is my Father’s world.
      Dreaming, I see His face.
      I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise
      Cry, “The Lord is in this place.”

      This is my Father’s world.
      I walk a desert lone.
      In the bush ablaze to my wondering gaze
      God makes His glory known.

      This is my Father’s world.
      Among the mountains drear,
      ‘Mid rending rocks and earthquake shocks,
      The still, small voice I hear.

      This is my Father’s world.
      From the shining courts above,
      The Beloved One, His only Son,
      Came–a pledge of deathless love.

      This is my Father’s world.
      Now closer to heaven bound,
      For dear to God is the earth Christ trod,
      No place but is holy ground.

      This is my Father’s world.
      His love has filled my breast,
      I am reconciled, I am His child,
      My soul has found His rest.

      This is my Father’s world.
      A wanderer I may roam,
      Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
      My heart is still at home.

      This is my Father’s world.
      O let me ne’er forget
      That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
      God is the Ruler yet.

      This is my Father’s world.
      The battle is not done.
      Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
      And earth and Heaven be one.

      This is my Father’s world.
      Should my heart be ever sad?
      The Lord is King–let the heavens ring
      God reigns–let the earth be glad.

  2. Robert,

    Thanks very much for the complete “This is My Father’s World”. I much appreciate it.

    There are definite advantages to hymn books, but in a church like ours, which has only one type of hymnal (1991 Baptist Hymnal) for the congregation (the pianist and I have multiple books), I am of the opinion that the projection system works better for us.

  3. I’m a huge fan of hymn books. If there is hymn being sung that I haven’t seen before, I can sight-read the notes and can join in the singing with the rest of the congregation. If a projection screen is used and the hymn is unfamiliar to me, I am unable to join in with the others.

    • Good point. And I’ve found myself in the same situation a number of times. I can see the words, but haven’t a clue about the tune, so am unable to participate. Sometimes “high tech” isn’t an improvement. But I think the best answer here isn’t necessarily either-or. A combination of hymn books, bulletin inserts, and some kind of projection can work quite well. Thanks for your input.


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