How to Choose a New Hymnal

Since music is such an integral part of worship, selecting a hymnal that will meet a congregation’s needs is an awesome responsibility. But it doesn’t have to become a nightmare.

Following the steps of the process described below can help a committee choose a hymnal that will serve its congregation well for years to come.

1. Form a committee that is both representative and willing to become informed.
2. Establish a flexible timetable for accomplishing the task.
3. Determine the level of commitment of time and energy to the task.
4. Learn about congregational song and understand the task of hymnal selection:

  • Communicate with other congregations about their experiences, both in selecting and using particular hymnals; recognize similarities and differences in needs.
  • Obtain and respectfully consider congregational input early in the process.

5. Develop criteria for selection.

  • Biblical correlation. To what extent and in what ways do the contents make biblical content and biblical expression available?
  • Theological perspective. Do the selection and editing of materials match the congregation’s beliefs?
  • Function in worship. Does it provide the materials needed for the acts and themes of worship, both week to week and in the yearly cycle?
  • Sermon support. Does it provide hymns on topics addressed in preaching?
  • Pastoral needs of the congregation. Does it provide hymns on concerns and in language suited to the ministry needs and emphases of the congregation?

6. Rank criteria as (1) essential, (2) desirable, (3) peripheral.

7. Examine hymnals, keeping notes as you consider the following:

  • Statement of purpose in the preface or introduction.
  • Organization of material.
  • Contents.
  • Range of subjects
  • General needs of any congregation
  • Specific needs of your congregation
  • Quality within cultural context
  • Theological perspective
  • Poetic
  • Musical
  • Range of styles of expression
  • Textual
  • Modernity and inclusiveness
  • Representing historic hymns as well as new songs
  • Appropriateness of settings
  • Familiarity balanced with opportunity for growth
  • Physical characteristics.
  • Legibility
  • Type style, size, display on page
  • Opacity of paper
  • Durability of binding
  • Size: in the hand, in the pew rack
  • Ease of use.
  • Resources within the book (indices, concordances)
  • Special editions (large-print, worship leader, accompaniment)
  • Related publications (handbook, companion)

8. Make a selection. Don’t let the absence of one or two favorite items control the decision (these can be printed in the order of worship when needed or even reproduced and pasted on the flyleaf—with appropriate permission, of course).

9. Communicate the choice and the rationale for the choice to the congregation. Include hymnal purchase in the congregational budget to broaden the sense of ownership.

10. Introduce the book and encourage its use.

  • Promote individual purchase for devotional use of the hymnal selected.
  • Dedicate the hymnal as an act of worship.
  • In early use, employ more familiar hymns, branching out to demonstrate how newer materials serve specific needs in the worship of the congregation.
Reformed Worship 73 © September 2004, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.