What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals

We need to see what we stand to lose when we switch from one media to another, and especially when we do so quickly and without due consideration.

You’d hear it in every church: “Take out your hymnal and turn to hymn 154…” And then hymnals went the way of the dodo and we began to look instead to words projected on a screen. Here is some of what we lost along the way.

 

don’t think we should go back to using hymnals. But I do think there’s value in considering what we lost when, over the course of a relatively short period of time, we gave up hymnals for PowerPoint projection. Not all of us, mind you, but most of us. It’s worth considering because it helpfully shows what we stand to lose when we switch from one media to another, and especially when we do so quickly and without due consideration.

If we were to go back in time twenty or thirty years, we would find that most churches had hymnals. They had hymnals because it was the best way of providing each member of the congregation with a copy of the songs. You’d hear it in every church: “Take out your hymnal and turn to hymn 154…” And then hymnals went the way of the dodo and we began to look instead to words projected on a screen. Here is some of what we lost along the way.

We lost an established body of songs. Hymnals communicated that a church had an established collection of songs. This, in turn, communicated that its songs were vetted carefully and added to its repertoire only after careful consideration. After all, great songs are not written every day and their worth is proven only over time. Therefore, new hymns would be chosen carefully and added to new editions of the hymnal only occasionally. Churches would update their hymnals, and, therefore, their established body of songs, only once every ten or fifteen years.

We lost a deep knowledge of our songs. When we removed the hymnal, we gained the ability to add new songs to our repertoire whenever we encounter one we deem worthy. And we do—we add new songs all the time. As we add new songs with greater regularity, we sing old songs with less frequency. This reduces our familiarity with our songs so that today we have far fewer of them fixed in our minds and hearts. Few congregations could sing even the greatest hymns without that PowerPoint screen.

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