Many churches recognize the importance of utilizing traditional hymns in corporate worship, and hymnals remain valuable sources of such historic Christian songs. However, in an internet age, some worship planners are unsure of how to effectively use a hymnal. Here are some ways to use hymnals as you plan a service:
First, a good hymnal is a one-stop service planning resource. The arrangement of most hymnals reflects the shape of the Gospel or another thematic organization, allowing service planners to easily locate songs that will fit a particular Bible passage, service function, or topic. Most hymnals contain topical and Scripture indices that can help you find a suitable song, or you can simply browse in a specific section to find ideas of songs that respond well to the week’s sermon or emphasize the service theme.
Second, a good hymnal is a testimony of how Christians have historically responded to God’s truth. You’ll find songs from as far back as fourth-century North Africa, through the Reformation, English Separatism, and early America, reflecting unified worship through diverse circumstances. Use hymnals to draw from the worship expressions of Christians through the ages, which will help broaden your worship vocabulary beyond your limited experiences and help your church join its voices with those of Christians before us.
Third, a good hymnal has been carefully curated to include only songs that have endured through wide use by many churches. Especially in a day when anyone can write a song and publish it online, hymnals provide the wisdom of others to help you discern the best songs that are scripturally sound and musically singable. Further, by using the indicated hymn meters, you can find a text that fits your service well and match it to a tune your congregation already knows.
Fourth, a good hymnal helps keep a balanced diversity of song types and themes. Hymnal editors intentionally include a wide variety of songs that express praise, repentance, trust, dedication, and thanksgiving in different styles from chorales to carols. Use a hymnal to protect you from theological or musical tunnel vision and help you make sure to have a variety of focus in what your church sings.
Fifth, a good hymnal is a portable collection of the best devotional literature. Consider providing hymnals for your church families to use at home. Let them know new songs you will introduce at a later date, and ask them to begin singing them at home. You can also publish the songs for next week ahead of time, and encourage them to prepare during the week.
As you choose songs for your church to sing, don’t forget the hymnal. Used knowledgably, a good hymnal can be a valuable resource to help you find songs that are biblically rich, rooted in church history, and edifying for your congregation.
Scott Aniol, PhD, is an author, speaker, and teacher of culture, worship, aesthetics, and church ministry philosophy. He is chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He founded Religious Affections Ministries and has written several books, the most recent being By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture. He can be found on Twitter @ScottAniol, and you can listen to his podcast here.