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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 on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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