Five Reasons Why This Millennial Still Likes Using Hymnals

March 23, 2017

By Jonathan Howe

I might lose my Millennial card for admitting this, but:

I like hymnals. A lot.

Yes, I realize I’m supposed to want to worship with fog machines and song lyrics on projector screens with cool moving backgrounds. And sometimes I enjoy that too—but not all the time.

So why would a 36-year old Millennial enjoy hymnals? Here are my five reasons:

  1. Holding the hymnal in my hands and reading the lyrics help me focus in worship. If my eyes are fixed on the words and notes to sing, I’m less distracted. Other than maybe the first and last verse of many hymns, I don’t know the words. Unlike many newer worship songs that I’ve memorized easily, I have to pay more attention to what I’m singing when using a hymnal because I’m less familiar with the words.
  2. I prefer the ability to read music and sing harmony. I’m one of the strange people you sit next to in church who default to singing harmony and not melody. Having the music in the hymnal helps—especially with unfamiliar tunes. While I can sing harmony by ear when needed, having the music in front of me is always preferred.
  3. Hymns use phrasing and words that modern songs don’t. Hymnals are full of rich theology and turns of phrase that we just don’t see anymore. Twitter’s 140 characters and the short lyrical hooks we find in modern songs have seemingly diminished our vocabulary. Hymns are full of poetic theological language missing in many contemporary songs.
  4. Responsive readings are virtually nonexistent in many protestant churches, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Our liturgies have left behind responsive readings—a core component found in many hymnals. Like the hymns mentioned in the previous point, responsive readings are filled with rich theology. As hymnals have been used less and less, responsive readings in our church services have all but disappeared.
  5. I want my kids to know hymns as well. I recently took my kids to an event that included a hymn sing. They knew virtually none of the songs. I knew all but one. I realized in that moment that they’ve never been in church services where hymnals were used. Everything is on the screen, and the songs being sung are the ones they hear on the radio. It’s good that they know the songs they do, but I’d also love for them to know hymns as well.

Does your church use hymnals? Do you have them and never use them? Are you a Millennial who misses using hymnals as well?


Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources as well as the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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109 Comments

  • Yes sir – I am a 30 year old Pastor, planted an Independent Baptist church in Southern California 3 years ago. Tomorrow morning after I set up chairs I’ll set out the hymnals.

    I enjoy many of the newer songs, but I also love the songs from the Hymnal.

  • Bravo! My whole quarrel with contemporary worship is not the music (I don’t like it, but I respect the fact that others do). My quarrel is with those who think contemporary is the only way to worship. My sister used to have a plaque in her room that said, “Make new friends, but keep the old. The new are silver; the old are gold.” I feel the same way about music. There’s nothing wrong with new songs, but we make a vast mistake when we discard the old ones.

    Personally, I’m not all that particular about whether we use a screen or hymnals. My church does the former, but I’ll admit I sometimes miss the hymnals. I’m glad to see that some younger folks are starting to feel the same way.

  • Catherine says on

    I’m almost 60, but I like the screens and the old hymns….it makes me look up when I’m singing (ok, singing is a loosely used verb here, haha), instead of looking down at a book. I seem to sing out more when I can look forward instead of down. It’s pretty easy to pick up the tune for new songs after one verse.

  • Pastor David Klinedinst says on

    I am a pastor in his early thirties. I pastor an intergenerational and multiethnic small church and we have been printing off song sheets for the congregation. I would love to incorporate hymnals for a few reasons, but the hymnals we have are decades old and we try to incorporate the music of everyone present. Do you know of good newer hymnals that incorporate newer songs (for my under 40 crowd) as well as multiethnic pieces?

    Purchasing hymnals are a significant expense so before we make that investment I would like to know it fits our ministry goals.

    • Judith Purdy says on

      Check out the new 2008 Baptist Hymnal also called The Worship Hymnal. It is 600 plus pages of songs from centuries ago right up to around 2000 plus new songs. When you purchase them I believe there is a place on the internet where you can also obtain newer songs from them as well.

  • One advantage to singing hymns is that we have had 100-200-300 years to weed out most of the theologically bad ones. Thousands and thousands of hymns were written. 300 or so made it in our hymnals and we only sing 60 of those. Even then, there are still questionable ones out there.
    Because contemporary music is contemporary it doesn’t have that advantage.
    Having said that, I prefer contemporary. And, it is just that, a preference. When I want to convey a thought using music it is a contemporary song that I think of most often. Not always, but most of the time. I think that’s just me being wired a certain way.
    We can list pros and cons of either over the other but at the end of the day it is a preference.
    I have had the privilege of speaking at small and large churches with traditional hymns and contemporary worship. The style has nothing to do with the authenticity of Worship in my opinion.

  • Archie Steel says on

    All I can humbly say……., as one who sang from a hymnal for 30 years and love sitting around the piano singing some of the great old hymns,……. is that I feel the writer has not discovered ‘WORSHIP’ yet… and I’m not talking about noise smoke and lights in darkened auditoriums. For me I discovered a vast difference between singing hymns and worshipping God. That difference came 30 years ago with the Baptism in Holy Spirit.

  • This article certainly generated a lot of comments., so many comments that I could not read all of them.

    I was around when the first wall screens were introduced, then with overhead projectors and transparencies. It did free people’s hands and raise people’s heads–two of the the benefits given for changing to a wall screen and overhead projector at the time.

    Since that time I have realized that many congregations have never been taught the proper way to hold a hymnal–up high, level with their eyes and not down low, level with their chests. Teaching a congregation the proper way to hold a hymnal can increase the volume of its singing. Holding a hymnal at eye level the congregational singer sings outward rather then downward. As far as hands are concerned, one does not need to lift both hands to praise God. Nor does a hymnal require two hands to hold it.

    A good hymnal generally contains a selection of hymns and worship songs that reflect the worship of Christians in other times and places as well as in our own time and place. These hymns and worship songs are part of their witness to us. They are also a reminder that the Church of Jesus Christ existed before we were born and will continue to exist long after we are gone.

    Congregations using hymnals in their worship do not have to concern themselves about unexpected equipment failure or power outage–a constant reminder of the fragility of our high-tech world. They can keep on singing. Hymnals are low-tech. All a congregation needs is the light of the sun or an oil lamp or two and someone to lead the singing.

    Going low-tech on Sunday mornings might help Millennials develop a different perspective to life, one less dependent on technology and human beings and more reliant upon God.

    • You make a great point. If we had a major power failure in this country, a lot of churches would be in trouble. My parents grew up during the Great Depression. They lived in a rural area with no electricity or running water, and most people still traveled by horse and buggy – or by foot. Yet they still managed to worship. Mind you, I don’t go back to those days, and I love much of modern technology, but I share your concern that churches have become much too dependent on it.

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