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Why Hymnals?

I was recently asked to fill out a survey for pastors about their use of hymnals. Their final question was:

If you DO use hymnals for congregational singing, why do you view them as a worthwhile means of leading your church in worship?

Here was my response:

A printed hymnal is good for so many reasons.

It is a canon of acceptable worship. It helps congregants know what is good to sing in worship (and, by converse, helps them judge what should NOT be sung in worship). A church that uses slides misses this. Everything is fair game, and it gives less direction to the people as to what is acceptable.

Even the most “Western” hymnal of 75 years ago is far more multicultural and diverse and catholic than the narrow window of junk from Nashville that churches are singing today.

The hymnals we use (Cantus Christi & Hymns to the Living God) include hymn and hymn texts from several continents, many nations, several different centuries.

Hymnals are a window into church history.

Hymnals are an excellent and extremely portable devotional book.

I don’t how families sing hymns together without hymnals, as they’re also an excellent tool for family worship.

Hymnals perpetuate a tradition of excellent musical culture in Christian churches, and excellent musical culture is necessary to fulfill the Apostolic command to sing to the glory of God. Churches that care about obedience to Christ should care about the way in which they go about singing. Hymnals help believers sing in parts, and so the music is more beautiful and stirring.

Hymnals help us remember the words.

They help us see the way the different stanzas fit together way better than slides.

I thank God for hymnals.

To this I’d add:

Hymnals teach us what is right and fitting for us to offer to God in worship.

A good hymnal is an excellent way to learn the right way to express affection for God.

Well organized hymnals help us find hymns suitable for different kinds of expressions of worship.

Certainly I’m missing other reasons. If you prefer hymnals, why?

(This post was cross-posted on

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).

3 Responses to Why Hymnals?

  1. Thanks, Ryan. We had a family visit here some time ago who walked out when we announced the first hymn from the hymnal! Recently the National Christian Choir did a concert here and were surprised to see hymnals in the pews. Apparently they were a novelty. May God bless your efforts for his kingdom and worship. We’re PCA and use the Trinity as well as the occasional newer contributions that meet my very high standards.

  2. Hymns, and the use of hymnals, actually encourage congregational singing – edifying the body – in that the songs tend to be far more singable than the average modern praise song, which imitate performance-driven radio hits that promote the on-stage artist/band. Hymnals care little for performers on a stage.

  3. Our church has three services. The first service is traditional and we sing hymns. We do have hymnals but we also have the overhead power point thingy.
    I use the hymnals because I enjoy it but it would appear the song leaders think no one uses them. Everytime there is a technical problem the joke is ” Well we have to use the hymnals.”
    I just roll my eyes.( Not in front of pastor though!)

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