Contemporary Christian music

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Contemporary Christian music (CCM), also known as Christian pop, and occasionally inspirational music, is a genre of modern popular music, and an aspect of Christian media, which is lyrically focused on matters related to the Christian faith and stylistically rooted in Christian music. Originating in the United States, it was formed by those affected by the 1960s Jesus movement revival who began to express themselves in other styles of popular music, beyond the church music of hymns, gospel and Southern gospel music that was prevalent in the church at the time. Initially referred to as Jesus music, today, the term is typically used to refer to pop, but also includes rock, alternative rock, hip hop, metal, contemporary worship, punk, hardcore punk, Latin, electronic dance music, R&B-influenced gospel, and country styles.


After originating in the US, it has since become a globally recognized style of popular music. [1] [2] [3] It has representation on several music charts, including Billboard 's Christian Albums, Christian Songs, Hot Christian AC (Adult Contemporary), Christian CHR, Soft AC/Inspirational, and Christian Digital Songs as well as the UK's Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart. Top-selling CCM artists will also appear on the Billboard 200. In the iTunes Store, the genre is represented as part of the Christian and gospel genre [notes 1] while the Google Play Music system labels it as Christian/Gospel. [4]


The Stellar Kart group, at a press conference, after the GMA Dove Award in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, in 2007 Stellar kart dove award.jpg
The Stellar Kart group, at a press conference, after the GMA Dove Award in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, in 2007

Beginnings (1950s–60s)

The growing popularity of rock and roll music in the 1950s was initially dismissed by the church because it was believed to encourage sinfulness. Yet as evangelical churches adapted to appeal to more people, the musical styles used in worship changed as well by adopting the sounds of this popular style. [5]

The genre became known as contemporary Christian music as a result of the Jesus movement revival in the latter 1960s and early 1970s, [6] [7] and was originally called Jesus music. [8] "About that time, many young people from the sixties' counterculture professed to believe in Jesus. Convinced of the "bareness" of a lifestyle based on drugs, free sex and "radical politics", some of the Jesus 'hippies' became known as 'Jesus people'". [9] It was during the 1970s Jesus movement that Christian music started to become an industry within itself. [10] "Jesus music" started by playing instruments and singing songs about love and peace, which then translated into love of God. Paul Wohlegemuth, who wrote the book Rethinking Church Music, said "[the] 1970s will see a marked acceptance of rock-influenced music in all levels of church music. The rock style will become more familiar to all people, its rhythmic excesses will become refined, and its earlier secular associations will be less remembered." [11]

Evangelical artists made significant contributions to CCM in the 1960s, developing various Christian music styles, from Christian rock to Christian hip-hop passing through the Christian punk or the Christian metal. [12] [13] Those involved were affected by the late 1960s to early 1970s Jesus movement, whose adherents colloquially called themselves the "Jesus Freaks", as an Evangelical Christian response to the counterculture movements such as hippies and flower children who were finding widespread traction. The Calvary Chapel was one such response, which launched Maranatha Music in 1971. They soon began to express themselves in alternative styles of popular music and worship music. The Dove Awards, an annual ceremony which rewards Christian music, was created in Memphis, Tennessee in October 1969 by the Gospel Music Association. [14]

There was some internal critique of CCM at its advent. [15] The Christian college Bob Jones University discourages its dormitory students from listening to CCM. [16] Controversy caused by evangelical pop music was explored by Gerald Clarke in his Time magazine article "New Lyrics for the Devil's Music". [17]

Larry Norman is often remembered as the "father of Christian rock", because of his early contributions (before the Jesus movement) to the developing new genre that mixed rock rhythms with the Christian messages. [18] Though his style was not initially well received by many in the Christian community of the time, he continued throughout his career to create controversial hard-rock songs such as "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?". [18] He is remembered as the artist "who first combined rock 'n' roll with Christian lyrics" in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. [18] Though there were Christian albums in the 1960s that contained contemporary-sounding songs, there were two albums recorded in 1969 that are considered[ by whom? ] to be the first complete albums of "Jesus rock": Upon This Rock (1969) by Larry Norman initially released on Capitol Records, [19] and Mylon – We Believe by Mylon LeFevre, released by Cotillion, which was LeFevre's attempt at blending gospel music with southern rock. [20] [21] Unlike traditional or southern gospel music, this new Jesus music was birthed out of rock and folk music. [22]

Pioneers of this movement also included Andraé Crouch and the Disciples, the Imperials, Michael Omartian, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Love Song, Barry McGuire, Evie, Paul Clark, Randy Matthews, Randy Stonehill and Keith Green among others. The small Jesus music culture had expanded into a multimillion-dollar industry by the 1980s. [10] [23] [24] Many CCM artists such as Benny Hester, [25] [26] Amy Grant, [27] DC Talk, [28] Michael W. Smith, [29] Stryper, [30] and Jars of Clay [31] found crossover success with Top 40 mainstream radio play.

Popularity (1970s–90s)

The genre emerged and became prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s. [32] Beginning in July 1978, CCM Magazine began covering "contemporary Christian music" artists and a wide range of spiritual themes until it launched online publications in 2009. [33] [34]

It has certain themes and messages behind the songs and their lyrics, including praise and worship, faith, encouragement, and prayer. [35] These songs also focus on themes of devotion, inspiration, redemption, reconciliation, and renewal. [6] Many people listen to contemporary Christian music for comfort through tough times. The lyrics and messages conveyed in CCM songs have had varied, positive Christian messages over the decades. For instance, some of the songs have been aimed to evangelize and some of the lyrics are meant to praise and worship Jesus. [32] One of the earliest goals of CCM was to spread the news of Jesus to non-Christians. [6] In addition, contemporary Christian music also strengthens the faith of Christians. [6]

Various evangelical record labels have supported the movement. In Christian rock, there is Sparrow Records founded in 1976 in the United States by Billy Ray Hearn, a Christian music graduate from the Baylor University. [36] The songs of Hillsong Music , founded in 1991 by Hillsong Church, in Sydney, Australia, have been translated into various languages and have had an influence considerable in evangelical churches worldwide. [37]

In Christian hip-hop, TobyMac, Todd Collins, and Joey Elwood founded the first specialized label Gotee Records in 1994. [38] [39] The founding of the label Reach Records in 2004 by Lecrae and Ben Washer also had a significant impact in the development of Christian hip-hop.

Modern CCM

Contemporary Christian music has influences from folk, gospel, pop and rock music. [32] Genres of music such as soft rock, folk rock, alternative, hip-hop, etc. have played a large influence on CCM. [40]

Charismatic churches have had a large influence on contemporary Christian music and are one of the largest producers of CCM. Hillsong Church is one of the many prominent CCM artists. [41] Contemporary Christian music has also expanded into many subgenres. [32] Christian punk, Christian hardcore, Christian metal and Christian hip hop, although not normally considered CCM, can also come under the genre's umbrella. [15] Contemporary worship music is also incorporated in modern CCM. Contemporary worship is both recorded and performed during church services.

In the 2000s, contemporary worship music with a distinctly theological focus has emerged, primarily in the Baptist, Reformed and more traditional non-denominational branches of Protestant Christianity. [42] [43] Artists include well-known groups such as Shane & Shane and Hillsong United and modern hymn-writers, Keith & Kristyn Getty [44] as well as others like Sovereign Grace Music, [45] Matt Boswell and Aaron Keyes. The format is gaining traction in many churches [46] and other areas in culture [47] as well as being heard in CCM collections & musical algorithms on several internet streaming services.


Brian Schwertley of the Reformed Presbyterian tradition wrote in 2001 that the inclusion of CCM in a worship service violates the second commandment and the regulative principle of worship because it adds man-made inventions, lyrics, and instrumental music to the biblically appointed way of worshipping God. [48]

Contemporary Christian musicians and listeners have sought to extend their music into settings where religious music traditionally might not be heard. For instance, MercyMe's song "I Can Only Imagine" was a crossover success despite having a clear Christian message. [49]

Paul Baker, author of Contemporary Christian Music, addressed the question, "Is the music a ministry, or is it entertainment? The motives, on both sides, were nearly always sincere and well intentioned, rarely malicious." [50]

"The responsibility of the church is not to provide escape from reality", according to Donald Ellsworth, the author of Christian Music in Contemporary Witness, "but to give answers to contemporary problems through legitimate, biblical means." [51]

James Emery White, a consultant for preaching and worship within the Southern Baptist Convention, made a statement about how many churches that changed styles to using more contemporary Christian music, appeared to have a quicker growth. [52]

According to Vice magazine, CCM "has often functioned as a propaganda wing of the Christian right", presenting views on topics such as the war on drugs, Christian nationalism, mission trips, school prayer, and the LGBT community. [53]

Rejection of the label "CCM"

Several high-profile bands have rejected the label "Christian music," such as Needtobreathe and Mutemath, with the latter suing their record label over being marketed as such. [54] Of the categorization, Needtobreathe said to Rolling Stone, "any label is limiting. That one in particular is especially limiting. To me, I think people pass over the band all the time because they read that....I hate the idea that they somehow feel like I didn't make the music for them, that we didn't play music for everyone. Christian record deals came and we said no to all of them. Waited a couple years until the right record deal came, which was Atlantic, which we've been on ever since. But we just said to them in passing when we first started, we want the records to be available to everyone." [55]

Notable contemporary Christian musicians


Contemporary Christian album sales had increased from 31 million in 1996 to 44 million sales in 2000. Since EMI's purchase of Sparrow Records, sales had increased 100 percent.[ when? ] However, the main goal of the label continues to be aspiring to make a positive impact on the world through contemporary Christian music. The company has given back money to the CCM community. [56] Overall, CCM sales in 2014 had dropped to 17 million in sales. [57]

See also


  1. In the US iTunes store, the section is entitled Christian & Gospel. In the UK iTunes store, it's Gospel. Canada's and Australia's iTunes section is entitled Inspirational.

Related Research Articles

Christian rock is a form of rock music that features lyrics focusing on matters of Christian faith, often with an emphasis on Jesus, typically performed by Christian individuals. The extent to which their lyrics are explicitly Christian varies between bands. Many bands who perform Christian rock have ties to the contemporary Christian music labels, media outlets, and festivals, while other bands are independent.

Jesus music, known as gospel beat music in the United Kingdom, is a style of Christian music that originated on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This musical genre developed in parallel to the Jesus movement. It outlasted the movement that spawned it and the Christian music industry began to eclipse it and absorb its musicians around 1975.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jesus movement</span> Former evangelical Christian movement

The Jesus movement was an evangelical Christian movement that began on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and primarily spread throughout North America, Europe, Central America, Australia and New Zealand, before it subsided in the late 1980s. Members of the movement were called Jesus people or Jesus freaks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">GMA Dove Award</span> American award for achievements in Christian music

A Dove Award is an accolade by the Gospel Music Association (GMA) of the United States to recognize outstanding achievement in the Christian music industry. The awards are presented annually. The awards have been held in Nashville, Tennessee every year except 2011 and 2012 when they were held in Atlanta, Georgia. The ceremonies feature live musical performances and are broadcast on TBN.

The Christian music industry is one aspect of the broader music industry, with a focus on Christian music and subgenres such as gospel music, southern gospel, contemporary Christian music, contemporary worship music, and even traditional church music. It is sometimes called the gospel music industry, a narrower term that does not encompass all the musical genres included here.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">DC Talk</span> American Christian rap band

DC Talk is a Christian rap and rock trio. The group was formed at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1987 by Toby McKeehan, Michael Tait, and Kevin Max Smith. They released five major studio albums together: dc Talk (1989), Nu Thang (1990), Free at Last (1992), Jesus Freak (1995), and Supernatural (1998). In 2002, the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music called dc Talk "the most popular overtly Christian act of all time."

Christian hip hop is a cross-genre of contemporary Christian music and hip hop music. It emerged from urban contemporary music and Christian media in the United States during the 1980s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Contemporary worship music</span> Modern genre of music sung in many churches

Contemporary worship music (CWM), also known as praise and worship music, is a defined genre of Christian music used in contemporary worship. It has developed over the past 60 years and is stylistically similar to pop music. The songs are frequently referred to as "praise songs" or "worship songs" and are typically led by a "worship band" or "praise team", with either a guitarist or pianist leading. It has become a common genre of music sung in many churches, particularly in charismatic or non-denominational Protestant churches with some Roman Catholic congregations incorporating it into the Mass as well.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christian music</span> Music expressing Christian life and faith

Christian music is music that has been written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life and faith. Common themes of Christian music include praise, worship, penitence and lament, and its forms vary widely around the world. Church music, hymnals, gospel and worship music are a part of Christian media and also include contemporary Christian music which itself supports numerous Christian styles of music, including hip hop, rock, contemporary worship and urban contemporary gospel.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Petra (band)</span> American Christian rock band

Petra is an American music group regarded as a pioneer of the Christian rock and contemporary Christian music genres and was, for many years, regarded as the "world's most popular Christian rock band". Formed in 1972, the band took its name from the Greek word for "rock". Though it disbanded formally in 2006, incarnations have played reunion shows in the years since and released two albums in November 2010, and in November 2017. In 2013, it reformed with a new drummer, Cristian Borneo, and recorded a new song titled "Holy is Your Name", before going back on tour.

Christafari is a Christian reggae band formed in 1989. It is centered on Christ Jesus and follows the personality of ordained minister Mark Mohr, an American, and born-again Christian. Until the age of 17, Mohr was a Rastafarian.

Sonicflood is an American contemporary worship music band from Nashville, Tennessee, that has been touted as "The Fathers of the Modern Worship Movement." The group took the name "Sonicflood", a reference to a line in the Book of Revelation, chapter 19, verse 6.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">GRITS</span> American Christian hip hop group

Grits is a Christian hip hop group from Nashville, Tennessee. Their name is an acronym, which stands for "Grammatical Revolution In the Spirit". GRITS is made up of Stacey "Coffee" Jones and Teron "Bonafide" Carter, both of whom were DC Talk dancers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Contemporary worship</span>

Contemporary worship is a form of Christian worship that emerged within Western evangelical Protestantism in the 20th century. It was originally confined to the charismatic movement, but is now found in a wide range of churches, including many which do not subscribe to a charismatic theology. Contemporary worship uses contemporary worship music in an informal setting. Congregational singing typically comprises a greater proportion of the service than in conventional forms of worship. Where contemporary worship is practiced in churches with a liturgical tradition, elements of the liturgy are frequently kept to a minimum. The terms historic worship, traditional worship or liturgical worship are sometimes used to describe conventional worship forms and distinguish them from contemporary worship.

Latin Christian music is a subgenre of Latin music and Contemporary Christian music. Christian music is well established in Latin America's Evangelical churches, but is also popular with the major Catholic community. Both the Latin Grammy Awards and Latin Billboard Music Awards have Christian music categories,, though the markets are often underestimated due to low reporting.

Christian R&B is a subgenre of rhythm and blues music consisting of tracks with Christian-based lyrics or by musicians typically known for writing such songs. Music in this genre intends to uplift, entertain, or to give a Christian perspective on a topic. Christian R&B could be considered a subgenre of gospel music, or a cross-genre under both gospel and R&B.

Christopher Jose Cooper, professionally known as Soup the Chemist and Super C, is an American Christian hip hop musician and a pioneer of the Christian hip-hop movement. He was a member of the hip hop group Soldiers for Christ, also known as S.F.C., and as a solo artist, has released two studio albums, Dust in 2000 through BEC Recordings and Eargasmic Arrangements in 2003 through his own Beesyde Records label. He published an autobiography, Through My Windows, in 2014, through Dimlights Publishing.

<i>I Know a Ghost</i> 2018 studio album by Crowder

I Know a Ghost is the third studio album by American Contemporary Christian musician Crowder. The album was released on November 9, 2018, via Sixsteps and Sparrow Records. The album features guest appearances by TAYA, Mandisa, Riley Clemmons, JR, and Social Club Misfits. Crowder collaborated with Tommee Profitt, Ed Cash, Solomon Olds, Brendon Coe, and Hank Bentley in the production of the album.

<i>People</i> (Hillsong United album) 2019 live album by Hillsong United

People is the fourteenth live album from Australian contemporary worship music band Hillsong United. It was released on 26 April 2019, through Hillsong Music and Capitol Christian Music Group. The writing process for the album involved biblical influences, having the role as worship music for Hillsong, and its musical style involves a youthful influence, with use of acoustic instruments within recording.


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Further reading