Modern Worship Is Going Nowhere
Modern worship is ten years old. Well, unofficially so. Depends on how you look at it. After all, worship labels like Integrity, Maranatha, and Vineyard have been crafting music for the church for much longer. And by the early '90s, churches had generally embraced contemporary standards like Rick Founds' "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High," Graham Kendrick's "Shine Jesus Shine," and Darlene Zschech's "Shout to the Lord."
Things changed dramatically beginning in 1998, however—call it the start of a modern worship renaissance. First there was the introduction of Delirious to the United States through their Cutting Edge collection. Then a fledgling college ministry called Passion released its first album in response to their first successful worship conference. Not long after that, Michael W. Smith coordinated a hit multi-artist worship project called Exodus, followed by the debut of an unknown band called Sonicflood made its debut. All the while, Hillsong Australia continued to set the pace with their recordings, and … well, you can read our sidebar list of the ten most influential worship albums of the last decade for the rest of the story.
Now that ten years have quickly passed, where does modern worship stand today? Many traditionalists believed modern worship was merely a fad that would quickly fade away. But many others—particularly teens and young adults at the time—embraced the music as a true application of Psalm 96:1: "Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth."
Regardless of where you stand on the subject, my response is the same: Modern worship is going nowhere. And that answer can be interpreted two different ways, relating to its longevity and creativity.
Here to Stay
By now it's fairly obvious that worship music is firmly entrenched within the Christian music scene. Such was the case ten years before the start of the modern worship renaissance, and so it will be for at least the next decade. After all, applying our faith and glorifying God through the music of today's culture is essentially what the so-called genre of Contemporary Christian Music is all about.
But our understanding of worship has changed considerably in just ten years time. Before the late '90s, Christian music was somewhat at odds with the church. To many, hymns were for Sunday morning, Christian pop was for the other 6 days of the week, never the twain shall meet. As modern worship has reminded us, time and again, our worship is more than attending church every week and something that should be a part of everyday living. That understanding certainly applied to the idea that any kind of music could be used to glorify God if its intent was to stir the hearts of believers to express their worship to him. In that way, modern worship music helped reconcile Contemporary Christian Music to the church.
Modern worship also gained a greater presence within Contemporary Christian Music. Before, it was simply a niche genre within a niche genre. To some extent, it remains such with many terrific worship projects creating music under the radar of anyone who doesn't follow praise and worship closely. But now worship music is inseparable from the genre at large.
Nine years ago, when the idea of Christian Music Today was originally discussed, the thinking was that we wouldn't review worship albums because we didn't want to be perceived as critiquing how people chose to worship the Lord. It soon became obvious that evaluating worship music would be inescapable since the line between worship and non-worship music grew increasingly blurry, starting with the radio success of bands like Delirious and Sonicflood. It wasn't long before the most popular artists like Michael W. Smith, Third Day, and Rebecca St. James began recording specialty worship projects. Suddenly, worship music was no longer relegated to early Sunday morning airplay—it seemed to permeate every corner of the industry.