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.