Why Churches Should Ditch The Projector Screens And Bring Back Hymnals

Christians need to understand that relying on screens and other technology is not leading to better worship, it’s ruining it.

Perhaps we no longer hear about the worship debate because everyone is simply tired of fighting. Positions have calcified. No matter how well-intentioned, few minds are being changed. Bringing up the subject only tears open wounds that haven’t quite healed.

 

A couple of decades ago, churches split in a grand debate over worship. Contentious arguments raged over every aspect of worship style, components, decorum, and practically everything else. Every church seemed to be choosing between opposites—organ or praise band, historic liturgy or rock liturgies, contemporary songs or historic hymns. The fallout was ugly. Assemblies erupted in dissonance and members on the losing side transferred out.

Years later, the voices have calmed and the dust has settled. Some pastors declared a sort of “separate peace” by establishing rival worship services—one traditional, one modern. Others went the “blended worship” route. While this included enough elements from both styles to at least keep the group together, everyone was left a little dissatisfied. Mixing pipe organs with electric guitars tends to do that.

Perhaps we no longer hear about the worship debate because everyone is simply tired of fighting. Positions have calcified. No matter how well-intentioned, few minds are being changed. Bringing up the subject only tears open wounds that haven’t quite healed.

More likely, the reason you don’t hear much about the worship wars is that one side has won. It may not be a total victory, but one side is clearly winning while the other is cowering in a back pew hoping a pack of millennials doesn’t make them wave their arms in the air and sing whatever Chris Tomlin or Bethel Music wrote that morning.

Informality at Church Is Increasing

Published in 2015, The National Congregations Study undertaken by researchers at Duke University surveyed nearly 4,000 congregations across the Christian spectrum. It found that traditional aspects of worship were in decline. Between 1998 and 2012, congregations that used choirs in worship decreased from 54 to 45 percent; those using organs dropped from 53 to 42 percent. Use of drums increased from 20 percent to 34 percent of congregations between 1998 and 2012.

While churches printing bulletins fell from 72 to 62 percent, the use of projected images rose by 23 percent. Informality in worship is way up (shouting “Amen,” wearing shorts to church) and formality is way down (calling the minister “Pastor So and So,” dressing up for services).

The survey didn’t come right out and say it, but informal worship with contemporary Christian music (CCM) seems to have won the worship war. All the megachurches are doing it. It’s hard to find many churches that haven’t bowed at least one knee to the modern, informal trend.

For those who attend their church’s traditional service, the demographic trends are not encouraging. Ushers for these services might as well require an AARP card for entry. At my church, the number of kiddos who trotted forward for the children’s sermon last Sunday was zero. It won’t be long until “old-timey” Protestants are searching out liturgical worship services like Catholics have to search out a Latin Mass.

While the larger worship war seems to be over, there might still be time to save at least one element of the traditional service: the hymnals.

Hymnals Are Disappearing

Hymnals are a wonderful legacy of Western Christianity. They’ve been housed in pew racks in church sanctuaries for centuries. Since they first appeared in the United States during the 1830s, hymnals have been indispensable for worship—objects of treasure both in the sanctuary and in households. In my denomination, many received engraved hymnals as confirmation presents.

Churchgoers used to proudly carry their own hymnals to church. Nobody’s doing that anymore. In fact, more and more worshipers aren’t even looking at hymnals in church. Instead, their gaze is fixed to the front wall and a screen attached to it.

On this screen, everything from lyrics, to announcements, to YouTube videos is displayed. Churches in all traditions, meeting in all manner of worship spaces, are fastening large white canvases to their chancel walls and leaving the hymn books to molder in the pew racks.

A report from 2004 indicated that almost 60 percent of churches used some form of projector technology at last once a year. Another study from 2011 estimated that two-thirds of Protestant churches employed a large-screen projection system. In a last-gasp effort, here’s the case for bringing back hymnals and ditching those awful screens.

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