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The “market” for our hymnal

A friend recently asked me, “What is your target market for your hymnal?”

It’s a fair question. In the modern Christian hymnal publishing industry, editors have a target market in mind, and they choose to include songs that are commonly sung in that market so that they can sell hymnals. Usually, they aim for a relatively large market. Hymnal publishers usually take surveys, poll hundreds of churches, and include a wide variety of people on the editorial committee. The result is that modern hymnals usually include 700 songs or more so that everyone’s favorite songs are included, making the hymnal more marketable. This makes sense–producing a hymnal takes thousands of hours and thousands of dollars to complete (as we have come to experience over the past two years ourselves!). In order to recover publishing costs, publishers need as many churches as possible to buy the hymnal.

So it’s a valid question: What is the target market for our hymnal?

This is going to sound really cliched, but the target market of our hymnal is embedded in the title of the hymnal: Hymns to the Living God.

In every stage of the process of producing this hymnal, we have intentionally not made any decision based upon who or how many people would purchase the hymnal. We have not taken any surveys, had any particular churches or denominations in mind, and have a relatively small and non-diverse editorial committee of likeminded individuals. Our intention from the beginning is to produce a hymnal that includes some of the best hymns available in the English language.

We are doing this because we want to produce something that is good, not something that we can sell to a large number of churches. We desire to produce a hymnal that includes songs that truly honor the Lord in doctrinal integrity, poetic excellence, and musical quality. We have not simply chosen the favorite songs of the editors or certain kinds of churches; we have chosen what we believe are the best songs based on a number of carefully considered criteria. We have rejected some things we personally like and included things we’ve discovered that we didn’t before know. The result will by no means be perfect–hymnals are meant to be revised; but our desire has been to produce something truly good and enduring.

This is why we have raised money for this project through donations rather than hoping to make our financial investment back through sales. It is also why we are making all of the hymns (and eventually even a PDF of the hymnal) available for free download.

Now, having said that, we hope churches buy the hymnal! We want this to be used by individuals, families, and churches. Hymns are meant to be sung, and we hope people will use this hymnal to sing about and to the Lord.

It is also not exactly accurate to say that we do not have a target “market” beyond “the Living God.” Our “market” is in some ways very narrow, essentially people who would affirm The Conservative Christian Declaration. In other ways our “market” is very broad. We have collected hymn texts and tunes with sources ranging from ancient Israel, North Africa, Syria, Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland, and America, covering a time period extending from the second century B. C. through 2017. Translations into English come from sources originally written in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, French, Spanish, and more. This collection is truly universal in its scope.

Ultimately, this hymnal is “to the Living God.” It is our prayer that it will also be used by many families and churches.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

4 Responses to The “market” for our hymnal

  1. Amen! I wish fewer decisions would be made based on the “market” and more decisions based on what we believe is right and true before God. The “numbers” game is very tempting for all of us. Thanks for your leadership on this!

  2. Hi, Robert. We have no plans to do shaped notes at this time. This project has been a huge undertaking; I can’t imagine the work it would take to add shaped notes! :) Sorry!

  3. Thanks, Scott. I understand the size of the task and the problem, but thought I would check. The round notes make the tunes generally not very useful in our church.

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