"Sing unto the LORD a new song...." For years, church music consisted of little more than hymnals, choirs and keyboards. Over the past couple of decades, though, church music (now known as "Praise & Worship") has become as diverse and dynamic as anything found on a concert stage or in a discotheque. Just as the older hymns spoke to previous generations in a language they could understand, today's music speaks today's language. One of the most popular praise albums of last year was "Skalellujah" - ska praise - by a band called the Insyderz. Likewise, Kirk Franklin was tearing up the gospel and the pop charts with hits like "Stomp" and "Revolution," both straight-up praise tunes.
Unlike many of the hymns of old, modern church music speaks from the heart in simpler, more direct terms. The new music also speaks "vertically" - that is, directly to God, in loving and intimate terms, emphasizing a true personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A lot of this directness was borne out of the "Jesus hippie" movement of the late '60s and early '70s.
Artists like Larry Norman and Chuck Girard were crafting new songs in the idioms of the time - mainly progressive and country rock. Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa released an album called The Everlastin' Living Jesus Music Concert and created a new label called Maranatha! Music. The songs on this album rewrote the book on church music forever (there were electric guitars on there!).
Before long, Maranatha! grew into a sub-industry of Calvary Chapel Ministries, and over the past 25 years, many great Maranatha! songs have been accepted as standards into the modern church, like "He Has Made Me Glad,""Hiding Place" and "Lord I Lift Your Name on High." Similarly, Vineyard music began out of the non-denominational Vineyard churches spawned by John Wimber. In addition to being an anointed preacher, Wimber also wrote numerous songs and helped develop the Vineyard style - intimate, atmospheric songs that spoke directly to God, like love songs.
Worship leaders like Eddie Espinosa and David Ruis have contributed powerful tunes, such as "Change My Heart, O God" and "More Love, More Power." Hosanna Integrity music has also impacted the modern church in a big way. With the emphasis on powerful praise, Hosanna Integrity has become very popular amongst the charismatic set, with songs like "Celebrate Jesus" and "Making War in the Heavenlies" and has made a star out of worship leader Ron Kenoly. More importantly, however, H/I brought attention to the church body universal, with records like "Praise Africa" and "Shalom, Jerusalem," among others.
Along with individual artists like Rich Mullins, Keith Green and Twila Paris, Hosanna, Vineyard and Maranatha! have helped bring church music into the 20th century. Already, however, new styles, concepts and artists are defining the sound of church in the new millennium. Consider producer/DJ Scott Blackwell of N'Soul Records. Since 1994, he's been putting hymns and modern choruses to a techno beat, creating what he calls "Nitro Praise." There are currently five Nitro Praise albums available, and every album includes instrumental tracks of each song so that singers in churches and Christian nightclubs can add their own voices. The World Wide Message Tribe (from Manchester, England) started an exciting disco-style church in the U.K. and is producing a series of albums called Jumping In the House of God - mainly original praise & worship tunes that feature rap and heavy-hitting bass and drum arrangements.
The "Worship Together" movement, made up of bright young artists like Delirious, Matt Redman, Raze, Sonic Flood and others, seeks to utilize the Internet in introducing new songs to the church. By accessing their website (www.worshiptogether.com) and downloading a Solero music program, one can obtain MIDI arrangements of new songs as well as sheet music and custom designs for overhead projectors. You can also buy CDs there, such as Revival Generation - 12 Songs That Rocked a Nation. Worship Together is gaining great popularity in the U.K. and America, and this new style of praise & worship could determine the course of modern church music for the next decade or so.
There are numerous other styles and artists that I haven't touched on here. If you're interested in finding out what's happening in modern church music, the best way to do it is to go to your favorite Christian bookstore and listen to some demo CDs. Also, BMG Music Service has a contemporary Christian section, Sound & Spirit, that features a large selection of praise & worship music, including much Vineyard, Maranatha! and Worship Together stuff. Check them out online at www.bmgmusicservice.com. And remember, no matter what the style, so long as it glorifies God, it's all good!