Hymnal publishing

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hplantin's picture

Why do you think hymnal publishing is declining? Is it just a matter of fewer hymnals, more copies of each, or is there a transition going on to electronic publishing and distribution? 

If there is a change happening, is that a good thing? 




Thanks for starting this important conversation.  You cite many reasons why fewer hymn books are published these days. I would add some others.  First, congregations can use widespread desktop publishing to print hymns directly into service bulletins.  While, I like holding the treasury of thelogy and art in a good hymnal, I'm old-fashioned.  All-in-one worship bulletins are user-friendly and facilitate incorporation of new songs beyond the purchased hymnals.  So I think they will continue to be a factor.  Second, of course, traditional church attendance is down, so there's just less demand and market for publishers to produce hymnals.  Especially in the mainline Protestant denominations that arise from and contribute significantly to a strong tradition of congregational song.  But there remain plenty of churches and worshipers and they need hymns, old and new, even if they won't find them in new books.  Finally, people (or at least Americans) don't sing like they used to.  Music is ever more something we turn on and off, not something we do.  It's sad and I hope temporary, but with fewer children growing up singing -- and joining inter-generational song -- there's less momentum behind hymns and hymnals, no matter how moving and profound.  We have to emphasize the idea from the song "don't worry if it's not good enough for anyone else to hear; sing..."  Or as Ephesians instructs, "sing and make music to the Lord from your heart..."  I.e. not from your vocal performance degree or your auto-tuner.  Still, I'm not discouraged.  In such an environment, congregational song can be even more attractice and compelling, because it's more special.  And to help people come into a worship service and join the congregational song, we can provide context and insight, providing elements to latch onto when the words are unfamiliar or the notes awkward.  Hymnary.org is of course invaluable in that regard.  So yes, fewer new hymnals seem to be the wave of the future.  But that does not mean fewer hymns or less vital hymnody.  Church musicians need to adapt and encourage, welcoming and assisting worshipers to join in.  Thanks for listening.