Screens AND Hymnals

Screens and Hymnals

My good friend and colleague in worship ministry, Mark Edwards is the former Minister of Music of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee where he served for more than thirty years.  He was subsequently Vice President for Celebrating Grace Publishing.  He recently shared this article with me asking for my review of its content.  When I discovered he had no particular plans for its publishing at the time I asked permission to share it, as I believe it so well states a thoughtful approach to use of screens and hymnals in worship, just as the title suggests.  Mark’s discerning consideration here reflects the kind of thinking needed for any and all inventions we might bring to utilize in the gathered worship setting.

Screens AND Hymnals
By Mark Edwards

Many churches are using screens in worship to good advantage.  During the sermon, a well-chosen picture or graphic is worth a thousand words and judicious use of visual images communicates quickly and meaningfully.  They also provide textural variety to the fabric of the service.

The same is true of using screens for congregational singing.  Many hymns and songs have become part of a congregation’s memory bank, so lyrics on a screen serve a handy reminder of exact wording.  Those who like to sing harmony on these familiar favorites generally have the harmony line memorized.

One of the early and valid reasons church leaders gravitated to using screens was, that with the rapidly growing body of Christian song, hymnals were limiting. How shall we “sing unto the Lord a new song” if the new song was not in the congregation’s hymnal?  Good point.  It can be done, but it is a pretty slow process.

The flip side of that coin is that some are discovering that the exclusive use of screens for congregational singing is also limiting.  They are also becoming aware that it hints of elitism because:

    • it presupposes that everyone in the congregation is familiar with the song and thus need only minimal help;
    • it assumes that everyone in the congregation knows the melody and is able to sing it; enthusiastically like those around them.  (Someone jokingly suggested that, perhaps, the melody could be placed on the screen and let congregations guess what the words are.)

Never putting a hymn page in the hands of the congregation is a little insulting because it delivers a not-so-subtle message that:

    • people must be spoon-fed a line or two a time, that they can’t manage a “plate-full;”
    • people can’t read music well enough to know if a melody goes up or down (which eventually will be the case);
    • people prefer the experience and the sound of unison singing to the richness of harmony.

When, in the course of a sermon, the pastor asks the congregation to find and follow a passage in the Bible, a certain amount of “weight” is added to the passage itself and to what the preacher will say about it.  Many times the preacher will also draw attention to context of a passage – that which precedes and follows the actual passage.  For example, John 3:16 is a wonderful passage and encapsulates the gospel message in a few words., but that single verse takes on greater meaning when read in context of John 3.15 and John 3:17, all of John 3, John 2 and John 4.  Using a hymnal helps the worshiper catch context and greater meaning, because other stanzas are in full view and usually sung.

In congregational singing, some are finding that using both screens and hymnals – though not at the same time – offers the best of each.  If screens and hymnals are used at the same time, the vast majority of the congregation will opt for the easy way out – it is just human nature.  But the “easy way out” is not a particularly good posture for worship. Scripting moments in worship that necessitates hymnal use can offer a “new” texture and possibly deeper experience, especially if the leader is willing to approach worship leading as teacher of Christian song, half of which is its theology.


Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church keyboard players, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Hymnals, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Shared Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leader Relationships, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

12 Comments on “Screens AND Hymnals”

  1. Donnie Sipes Says:

    At my church, we’ve had screens for about a decade. I admit I wasn’t crazy about them at first, but I now depend on them. They help me keep eye contact with the congregation. That said, I’ve never taken the hymnals from the pews. I think it’s important especially in multi-generational congregations to give them a choice. I also continue to call out them song numbers even though it doesn’t always flow. Some of my folks still want that.

  2. Bill Webb Says:

    My thinking (right or wrong) has been it is good to use screens and hymnals at the same time. I have presented the text on the screens but also presented a “title screen” displaying the title of the hymn, composer and hymn number, giving the worshiper the opportunity to use the hymnal and musical notation if they desire (numbers are still printed in the bulletin as well). I do not have the bass part memorized for all hymns so I rely on that musical notation if I am participating from the pew in congregational singing.

  3. Eric Benoy Says:

    We use the screens for things that are not in the Bible or in the hymnals. We try to keep people in print things so encourage an active mind as much as possible in worship. Just like in education, an active learning environment produces better results. Engaging the congregation in as many things as we can has worked very well for us.

  4. Mollie Bird Says:

    I like the screens (not at first) but I realize that the posture necessitated to see the screen lifts the voice forward instead of ‘down-in-the-book’. Projected heavenward, if you will.

  5. Says:

    I read music and do not like the screens. It is such a commercial feeling instead of worship feeling to have them cover the front of the sanctuary. If it is a song I do not know I would at least appreciate the music with the words. I would rather have them in the bulletin though. I miss the old songs. I like the new ones, but still enjoy the ones I grew up with. Their words give me comfort frequently.

  6. Judy Gross Says:

    I also like the screens for getting peoples’ heads up and facing forward, instead of down. We have also gotten thanks from older folks in worship who can no longer read the smaller print and who also appreciate the words to anthems by the choir, because their hearing sometimes limits them from understanding the words, no matter how clear the diction of the choir. I personally still use a hymnal because I am not always sure of the harmony.

  7. […] Paul Clark publishes a short post by Mark Edwards on using both screens and hymn books at different times to support congregation singing. I grew up in a church that used word-only hymn books and simply learned all the tunes by ear over time. Most of the churches in my denomination were the same, so that aspect of projection use sort of passes me by. I’d like to provide the congregation with music in their bulletins, but don’t know how many would benefit from it. It would probably be helpful for new songs. […]

  8. Janie Says:

    “Many hymns and songs have become part of a congregation’s memory bank, so lyrics on a screen serve a handy reminder of exact wording. Those who like to sing harmony on these familiar favorites generally have the harmony line memorized.”
    The above statements make me wonder if this author’s church is welcoming many people who don’t have church backgrounds to their worship services.

  9. Tyler Says:

    Food for thought!!!

  10. Janie, your question is an important one for any worship planner (1 Cor 14:24-25). We all live in the tension of standing in the stream of hundreds of years of faith tradition/worship history and at once seeking to engage our present age. A follow up question to yours might be “how do we help our worship to be welcoming?” I think that question is a part of what the author is trying to address as one who plans and guides worship, though I cannot answer for him directly.

    Thank you for your contribution to the conversation.

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