The best hymnal for your local church is one that you produce yourself. It has all the songs your congregation knows and loves, and it leaves out the songs you know you’ll never use.
Most churches have never even considered the possibility of making their own hymnal; or if they have, they assume a custom hymnal would be too expensive. But in most cases, you can compile and print your church’s own hymnal more cheaply than purchasing a published one. Here’s how the process works.
Step 1: Plan the project
If you’re a church leader that values congregational singing, it’s likely you already have a list of songs that your church regularly sings and loves.
In the preparation phase, you and your church leaders begin to choose a list of songs to be included in the hymnal. I usually recommend 200–300 songs. Often the best way to compile the hymnal is to pick what songs it must include, and I can suggest old and new songs to complete the list.
I always recommend churches put more songs in their hymnal than just their core. Hymnals are repositories of doctrine and history. Even if there’s a song you may not sing frequently, if it’s a timeless classic that’s a wedding of rich doctrine and artistry, put it in! Remember that your hymnal will not only serve you in corporate worship, but also in personal devotions and smaller contexts. What it comes to quality songs, more is better.
Step 2: Choose from a list of free songs
What makes a custom hymnal affordable is that I’ve already typeset more than 500 songs for other hymnals… and if you want to use any of these songs unaltered, I’ll include them in the hymnal with no charge for the typesetting.
If you want to change the style, formatting, lyrics, or part-writing of any existing songs, there’s a small per-song charge, but it’s still usually cheaper than starting from scratch!
You can view the list of available songs on a Google sheet, with each title linked to a watermarked PDF… so you can peruse every available song in the database. As you begin building your list, you can start with some suggestions if you wish; I’ve marked 100 classic hymns that I think should be included in every hymnal, and 50 or so newer songs that have been widely included in other hymnals.
Step 3: Add your own songs to the list
Every church has their own unique list of songs. If there are songs you want that aren’t on the list above, I’ll typeset them for you. I can typeset songs from existing hymnals, or part-write newer songs from a lead sheet (or even transcribe by ear, if needed).
Step 4: Editing, layout, and indexes
In this phase, you and your team check the newly-typeset songs for errors and changes. The editing and proofreading phase is a great opportunity to include members of your congregation in the project, giving your church a greater feeling of ownership in the process.
We’ll collaborate using a shared spreadsheet, which allows me to keep track of how many of your editors have looked at each song. A careful editing process makes it possible to have a printed hymnal that’s free of errors.
I’ve made a short walk-through video that I send to all editors to help them navigate their role. You can watch it here:
Step 5: Printing
The world of print production has changed significantly in the past two decades, and there’s an increasing focus on self-publishing by individuals and smaller organizations (like churches). But there’s one principle that is unchanged: the more copies you print, the cheaper they are.
How many copies should you print? A good rule of thumb is to print at least double your average Sunday attendance. So for a congregation of 500, you really should plan to print 1000 copies. For a congregation of 250, print 500. You can also sell copies back to your church members to help recoup some of the cost. Hymnworks contracts with printing companies that use high-quality materials and a professional printing process, so the minimum order we recommend is 500 copies; but you certainly can print fewer.
Page count is a big factor as well. Remember, you’re focusing on the songs your church sings. So a hymnal of 200–250 songs is a very manageable prospect.
It’s up to you to work directly with the print company, but I can make recommendations based on my experience with past products, so you can be confident you’ll get a printed hymnal that is built to last.
So… how much will this project cost?
That depends on a number of factors, of course. The most important are song count, how many songs you use from the existing list, and how many hymnals you want. But here’s one possible scenario: you compile a list of 250 songs, using 200 from my list and adding 50 to be typeset, and print 1,000 copies. With typesetting, page layout, and print costs, you could expect the total cost to be around $8 per copy.
If you want a specific quote for your church, please contact me using the form below. I would love the opportunity to discuss how we can produce a hymnal for your church.