Christian Music: It's not just hymns anymore

The Christian music industry has come a long way in its nearly 30-year history. In that time, it has grown from a handful of bands playing to small audiences at churches and producing home-made recordings, into a major sector of the music industry, encompassing many record labels, crossing over into the mainstream market, and spawning several annual music festivals, including Creation, which this summer drew 60,000 fans.

Contemporary Christian music saw its beginnings in the "Jesus movement" of the early '70's. Performers such as Larry Norman offered simple songs of faith and hope to audiences disillusioned by the rampant drugs and sex culture of the 60's. Throughout this decade, Christian music performers focused on bringing the message of the Gospel to their audiences through the popular music styles of the day. One group which got their start in the '70's, and continues through today as popular veteran performers is the rock band Petra. Christian youths finally had a music to call their own, aside from hymns.

Enter the 1980's. Christian music grows in its appeal, and record labels are created to distribute recordings nationally. Several Christian artists who started their careers in the early to mid '80's gained widespread popularity, and continue to be popular today. Notable among these are the pop-rock band Geoff Moore and the Distance and vocalist Amy Grant. The majority of Christian artists at this time, however, were largely sound-alikes of secular groups.

As the industry progressed into the '90's, truly original and top-quality artists began to emerge. The modern-rock band (originally from Australia) Newsboys are a good example of original music style that often defies classification. Many Christian artists have also begun to break into the mainstream markets, such as DC Talk, Jars of Clay, and Caedmon's Call.

As we approach the turn of the century, contemporary Christian music continues to delight the church crowd and suprise secular audiences and critics. The line between "Christian" and "secular" also continues to blur, with more Christian artists' songs played on mainstream radio stations, and artists such as Collective Soul and Moby confessing the Christian faith, yet performing within the mainstream music industry. In another 20 years, perhaps, Christian bookstores will no longer be the best place to shop for music that touches the spirit as it tickles the ears.

For more information on Christian recording artists, The Lighthouse Electronic Magazine boasts the biggest collection of Christian music resources on the net, including concert schedules and artists' home pages.

Eric Seymour

Robert Schiener