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Christian History Home > The Past in the Present > Story Behind > The "Praise and Worship" Revolution

The "Praise and Worship" Revolution
The Jesus People movement of the 1960s and '70s generated new kinds of music that transformed worship in evangelical churches.
Larry Eskridge | posted 10/29/2008 01:47PM

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The change in the atmosphere was palpable. Within a few months there was a distinctly new, contemporary tone to the worship at the burgeoning church. Swarms of youth were soon packing its 300-seat sanctuary for multiple Sunday services and several weeknight Bible studies. For many of the kids, this new brand of "church music"—simple, melodic, heavily reliant upon Scripture for its lyrics—was the key to their attraction. Tommy Coomes, a member of a down-on-its-luck hippie band named Love Song, recalled visiting the church for the first time and finding the music there utterly unique: "I knew each line even before it was sung. I wasn't used to simple music like this, but it blew me away! It was a music which drew people into the Lord's presence."

From "Seek Ye First" to Maranatha!

Not surprisingly, the church began to develop and attract a growing stable of in-house musicians and songwriters. One was Karen Lafferty, a Southern Baptist girl from New Mexico. Convinced that she should pursue a musical ministry, she gave up a lucrative gig serenading diners at a chain of Los Angeles surf-and-turf restaurants. Scrounging to find teens for guitar lessons, Lafferty quickly became discouraged. But after one particularly inspiring worship session and Bible study in the fall of 1971, she went home, picked up her guitar, and applied a tune to the words of Matthew 6:33:

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,
And His righteousness;
And all these things
Shall be added unto you,
Allelu, Alleluia

"Seek Ye First" became a major hit at Calvary Chapel and quickly spread by song-of-mouth to Jesus People homes, coffeehouses, and "fellowships" all over Southern California—and then across the country. By the mid-1970s, it had also begun to pop up in a number of mainstream evangelical congregations as well.

Two crucial decisions greatly aided the spread of the new style of worship music from Calvary Chapel outward. The first was Chuck Smith's gamble to use $2,500 of his own money to produce a "best of" Calvary Chapel record album in 1971—The Everlastin' Living Jesus Music Concert (later simply known as Maranatha! 1). The second was the subsequent creation of Maranatha! Music Inc., which not only brought forth a series of albums featuring Calvary Chapel artists and song collections, but also created a publishing entity poised to distribute Calvary Chapel sheet music and songbooks across North America.

A new era of worship

While the Jesus People movement faded by the late 1970s, the impact of its musical innovations continued to reverberate throughout the evangelical church. Hundreds of grassroots troubadours evolved into professional songwriters and "worship leaders." The Vineyard movement and old-line religious music publishers joined Maranatha! in creating their own praise-and-worship publishing entities. Seminars and worship workshops dotted the landscape, and many churches across the continent replaced hymnbooks with overhead projectors and—by the 1990s—big-screen video projectors.

But the change has not come without a fight: "Worship Wars" have become a fact of life as traditionalists battle champions of the new music, often resulting in separate worship services or the uneasy compromise of "blended worship." As the debris has begun to settle and as generations have waxed and waned, it is clear that Protestant musical expression has irrevocably changed. While organs still intone "A Mighty Fortress" and congregations continue to sing just one more stanza of "Power in the Blood," a new set of "standards" such as "He is Exalted" and "Shout to the Lord"—led by "worship teams" wielding guitars and electronic keyboards—have joined the ancient call to worship.

Larry Eskridge is associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College.

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