To Project or Not to Project: Hymn Lyrics and Worship

by Anne Burnette Hook

With the growing popularity of contemporary and blended styles of worship, many congregations are exploring ways to use hymn lyrics apart from the traditional "read from the hymnal" method. There are several advantages to projecting lyrics on a screen for worshipers:

  • Using projected lyrics gets people's heads out of books and worship folders and focuses them forward. The body is in a better singing posture, and the singer often feels more involved and engaged in the singing. In addition, the singer's hands are freed for expressing worship with all of the body.

  • Using projected lyrics allows you to use resources from sources other than your pew hymnal. Do you wish to use a praise chorus not in the United Methodist Hymnal? Instead of reprinting the text and music, you have the alternative of projecting the lyrics.

  • Using projected lyrics helps those who may be confused by musical notation, such as the repeated phrases in the hymn "Here I Am, Lord." Projected lyrics allows those who prepare the slides to put words in the right order without the notation shortcuts used to preserve space in the hymnal.

  • Using projected lyrics saves some leg work. If you worship in a space that does not have hymnals, such as a fellowship hall, you no longer have to move hymnals from the sanctuary and take them back again.

However, there are some disadvantages to projecting lyrics on a screen:

  • If you have a long worship space, people at the back of the room may have problems reading the lyrics.. In addition, the area at the front of the worship space may not be conducive to projecting lyrics nor to housing the special equipment that projection requires.

  • Those who enjoy reading music and singing the parts of the hymns may miss the written notes and harmonic possibilities.

  • If worship leaders do not know the music from memory or have copies of music for themselves, they may be forced to turn around to sing the hymns. Turning their backs to the assembly to face the screen creates the uncomfortable sense of the leaders and congregation worshipping the screen. It breaks the circle of the community's worship.

  • Projecting lyrics requires new equipment (overhead projector and screen, or computer, projector, and screen) and someone who knows how to use the equipment.

If you and your congregation are considering projecting lyrics in worship or other gatherings, take note of these suggestions:

  • Make sure you have a legal right to project lyrics. Secure permission from the copyright holder or get a CCLI license (Christian Copyright Licensing, Incorporated offers a blanket license for churches to reprint or project lyrics for many songs and hymns for worship; for information, call (800) 234-2446). Just because a song is in The United Methodist Hymnal doesn't mean that you don't need to get permission to use the song in this manner.

  • Evaluate your worship space and equipment. Is your worship space appropriate (or at least adaptable) for projecting lyrics? Do you have the equipment you need or the money to buy the equipment you need? Do you have someone to make your song transparencies or to set up the computer program necessary for lyrics projection? (The software PowerPoint works well for song lyrics.)

  • If possible, make slides with the words in white on a dark background. These slides are much easier to read than the reverse.

  • Make sure that whoever runs the lyrics projection system practices before worship. Worship can be stopped cold with hymn lyrics are in the wrong order (or upside down!)

  • When possible, offer lyrics projection and hymnals. Then people who enjoy singing from the slides can do so, and those who prefer the printed song can use the hymnal.

  • Always provide the leaders with copies (or a monitor) to read from so that they do not need to face the screen to sing.

Happy singing!

Anne Burnette Hook at the time of the writing of this article was the director of music resources for the Discipleship Ministries. That position is now held by Dean B. McIntyre.

Categories: Worship, Contemporary