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Contemporary Christian music needs a broader view

Paul Colman’s interfaith song Gloria (All God’s Children) has been a popular hit on Christian radio stations across Australia. Photo by Jeremy Cowart and courtesy of Woodlands Media
CONTEMPORARY Christian music is a big industry. In the United States, it’s grown by 80 per cent over the past decade, with 43.4 million units sold in 2004 representing 6 per cent of total music sales – ahead of jazz, classical, Latin and soundtracks.

No figures are available for Australia 10 years ago, but in 2004 Christian music sales here (through Christian retail and artists’ direct channels) totalled $30 million. That’s 5.2 per cent of this country’s music industry.

Contemporary Christian music (CCM) includes hymns, modern hymns, praise choruses, pop songs about God (ballads, country, rock, heavy metal). It’s a genre rather than a style, offering music that can appeal to all ages.

It’s also as diverse thematically as the Psalms. Its themes range from realising God’s presence, thanksgiving and communing with God through to remembering God’s part in history (including personal testimony), lament and relationships.

In Australia, what we call ‘praise and worship music’ mainly covers the first three of those (God’s presence, thanksgiving and communing). Praise and worship music makes up about 70 per cent of CCM sales in Australia (in the US, it is only 30 per cent). The reason for this high figure is the influence of Hillsong Church and Christian City Church. Both celebrate faith in music.

American CCM is largely evangelical. Its predominant themes are God’s part in history (including personal testimony) and relationships.

But CCM’s least developed area is music that focuses faith on political and cultural issues, social justice and interfaith concerns.

One reason may be that its performers tend to concentrate on the message rather than the music. Another may be that a more conservative Christian approach sees such music as unfaithful, or not gospel-centred.

Paul Colman’s Gloria (All God’s Children) is the best example of a Christian artist’s popular interfaith song. However, some American Christian radio stations refused to play it.

On the other hand, Gloria (All God’s Children) was the most played song on Christian radio in Australia during 2005!

Australia now has some 40 Christian stations and, along with commercial and community radio, they have helped create awareness of local and overseas Christian music.

But that missing area in CCM poses a challenge to ‘mainstream churches’ (Uniting, Anglican, Catholic, etc) with a broader view of ministry and mission.

How can they encourage singers and songwriters to invest time and effort into writing songs that go beyond the praise and worship category?

The need is to offer some rewards (perhaps an awards function for this wider CCM) and for churches to invest money in artists and acts that could become models for such music of ‘faith and community’.

Some Uniting Church congregations take CCM seriously, and support the (usually young) people who make up the band that provides music for their worship.

But the Uniting Church hasn’t yet received, or given, much encouragement to add its own distinctive tradition and emphasis to the big and growing enterprise called contemporary Christian music.

Much of the material for this report was provided thanks to Wes Jay of Woodlands Media, a Melbourne-based business specialising in contemporary Christian music. www.therockacrossaustralia.com

Photo : Paul Colman’s interfaith song Gloria (All God’s Children) has been a popular hit on Christian radio stations across Australia. Photo by Jeremy Cowart and courtesy of Woodlands Media