encouraging a unified worship experience

Hymnals, Projectors, Complaints….Oh My!

Photo Credit Tim Morgan

Words on the wall or in the book? This is an issue that has faced many a worship leader for quite some time now. Sadly, it has exploded into wars in some churches. Continually there are people on both sides of this issue. Fortunately, when I arrived at my current position, this decision had already been settled and I didn't have to deal with it. However,I have had this issue at other churches I have served. I want to look at the pros and cons of each and then I would love to hear from you with regard to your thoughts on the subject.

A. The Book
Ahh yes, the hymnal. The oft times well-worn, uniquely scented books cluttering up the backs of pews.To some, it is as sacred as scripture. Being a classically trained musician, I can see the benefits of a hymnal.

First of all, people get to read the lyrics and the music notes. For those who sing parts, this is a benefit. The "musician side" of me is very pro people learning to read music and singing parts. However, I do wonder how many people in the congregation actually read music? I also wonder how many have (or will) learn to read music through 30 minutes of hymn singing each week? Few I guess. Finally, if people are such musicians that they need a hymnal, why are they not using these talents in the worship ministries? But I digress...

Second, the tradition for many churches is to sing from a hymnal. The first church I served out of high school actually had two different hymnals in the pew racks. This, for some people brings a sense of nostalgia and memories of years past when life was simpler.

Third, there is something comforting about holding a book in your hands and reading the lyrics as you sing. It gives people something "to do" with their hands and provides a sense of individuality.

B. The Screen
Those bright, ugly, heavy things glaring lights from the ceiling. To many it represents freedom in worship. As a worship leader, I also understand the benefits of the projector.

First, it enables the use of songs that are not in the hymnal. While some newer hymnals have some modern songs (the 2008 Baptist Hymnal does the best job of inclusion I have seen), there are new songs constantly being added to Christian worship. These new songs would require much paper, copyright information and other issues to print weekly for a congregation.

Second, screens enable a better flow of the service. Instead of spending time announcing page numbers, the worship leader can take that time to share with the congregation meaningful insights into the music being sung.

Third, the screen enables people to hold their heads up, sing out and focus attention on the One being worshiped rather than the book in their hands. However, do people actually sing out and focus their attention on Christ? I have wondered this as I sometimes look over a congregation and see some people simply standing, arms folded and not engaging in worship. Again, I digress...

So the question is, which is better?

The answer is, "yes"! As I stated in an earlier blog, we must find where our people are and meet them there. However, we must also love our people enough to help them progress forward.

For me the 'worship pastor' wins out over the 'musician'. While neither are perfect, I do believe the advantages of the screen outweigh those of the hymnal. I have used both and can honestly say people seem more engaged in worship when utilizing the screens. They also sing better with their heads up. It also allows me as a worship leader to have a better flow within the service than hymnals would allow. (As a side note, the projectors at the rear of the worship center act as a great stage prompter for choir and praise team. We also use two 32" flat screens on the front row for prompters as well.)

With that said, I have a great children's choirs leadership team that teaches our children notes, pitches and rhythms. We also have an orchestra that allows our students to further learn about music. I also look for times to specifically teach my choir about dynamic markings, key signatures, and other aspects of music reading.

Regardless of which we choose, it is important that we give our people a well-rounded worship experience. That means teaching both worship AND musicianship. Psalm 33:3 reads, "Sing to him a new song; play skillfully and sing with joy." It is up to us as leaders to bring our people along both in musicality and worship.

These are my thoughts, what are yours?