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John D. Witvliet outlines ten reasons:

  1. Hymnals are especially well suited to good group singing of many kinds of songs (though not all).
  2. Hymnals are portable.
  3. Hymnals are splendid for home piano or keyboard devotional playing.
  4. Hymnals are an efficient one-stop worship planning resource.
  5. Hymnals make it relatively easy to stumble on and fall in love with good music you never thought you would like.
  6. Well-designed hymnals offer a vision of a balanced thematic diet.
  7. Hymnals help connect songs with elements of worship.
  8. Hymnals give people access to a “cultural memory bank” that many desperately want.
  9. Hymnals can be appealing to seekers.
  10. A hymnal can be a surprisingly effective catechism for both brand-new and lifelong Christians.

You can read the whole thing here to see an explanation of each point.

He concludes:

In summary, hymnals are a good resource, not the only good resource. And they may not be even the best single resource for every one of these functions. But for overall value, it’s pretty hard to beat a single book that does so many things at once:

  • provides a comprehensive reference resource for finding songs and one technological mode of presenting songs;
  • functions as a musical collection and a worship book, with prayers and liturgies for congregational use;
  • presents a single-volume snap-shot of the diversity of the church throughout time and space, a kind of working experiment in the “catholicity” or “universality” of the church; and
  • acts as a single source for strengthening devotional, pastoral care, educational, and liturgical ministries, making it possible to integrate these dimensions of the Christian life.

And hymnals like Lift Up Your Hearts do all this while providing almost one thousand songs for around twenty dollars, or a mere two cents per song.

HT: Bobby Gilles

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8 thoughts on “10 Reasons Why Hymnals Have a Future”

  1. Thanks for this, a very helpful summary.

    PS HT is to Bobby Gilles (not Giles). I’m sure he wouldn’t be so pedantic as to correct you :)

  2. Bob says:

    He missed their most enduring use in most churches: hymnals are invaluable for propping up tables, plants, lights, keyboards, stage pieces, overhead projectors, pulpits . . .

  3. Doc B says:

    “9. Hymnals can be appealing to seekers.”

    Seekers? Really?

    1. Romelle says:

      Yes! Because they may know the hymns from their childhood or Grandma but they definitely don’t know worship songs from Christian radio. Also, hymnals give more of a guide to how a song goes. If nothing else, it gives them something to do that everyone else is doing. I have heard many seekers complain of being lost during a worship song service.

  4. Betsy says:

    As a child, I remember looking through hymnals during long sermons–the note patterns were fascinating. Exposing kids to musical notation is a forgotten function of hymnals.

  5. Stephanie says:

    #10 was something I refreshingly recalled last night as I helped my teen find Come Thou Fount in our hymnal. She thought it was AWESOME that it was #2 in the book. As I explained to her WHY it was (it’s in the “adoration of God” section which is appropriately placed first), I was recalling how, like Betsy, I used to look through the hymnal during especially tedious sermons. I learned a lot using a hymnal as a young one, as a reader. I noted to my daughter how there it no section titled “ME ME ME” in our hymnal. She laughed and spent the next hour exploring our book on the piano. Sweet!

  6. David McKay says:

    Doc B, here’s how Mr Witvliet argued his case for saying that hymnals can be appealing to seekers:
    To be sure, for some seekers, a hymnal could well be a barrier to the faith—too foreign and incomprehensible on first reading. To other seekers, a hymnal could be appealing as a proof that the community takes its faith seriously, invests in enduring art forms, and is willing to encounter difficult texts and themes. (“I knew I could take these people seriously because of the way their songbook specifically mentioned ‘suicide,’ ‘war,’ and ‘grief,’” said one seeker). Hymnal lovers need to honestly realize how hymnals can be a barrier for some people, and hymnal detractors need to realize that they can be gift and attraction for others.


  7. Greg says:

    11. Hymnals tell us which notes to sing, when to sing them, and for how long. Though not required, this offers no small degree of help when trying to get everyone to sing together. Our church doesn’t use them, and that’s perfectly okay, but it does help me when I have some of these things.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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