In the late 1970s, the holy rockers of the nascent Jesus music movement distinguished themselves from their mainstream counterparts even further with one radical step: They discovered social justice. And they did something about it. Little did they know how much their actions—and those of the musicians who followed suit—would impact the world.
Christian music pioneers like Randy Stonehill and Phil Keaggy began partnering with Compassion International in 1979, promoting the evangelical organization's child sponsorship program from the stage and in their album liner notes. Since then, many Christian artists—including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans, MercyMe, Casting Crowns, and Third Day—have partnered with Compassion and World Vision, some earning stipends from the nonprofits. The results are impressive: Due to artist partnerships, more than 1 million children have been sponsored through Compassion International and World Vision. And in 2008, musicians brought in 49 percent of new World Vision sponsorships.
Yet such compassion campaigns are not new among evangelicals. In 1883, gospel singer Ira Sankey joined evangelist Dwight L. Moody in Edinburgh to raise £10,000 (equivalent to $373,000 today) to build a permanent home for Carrubbers Close Mission—which still offers the homeless a free breakfast on Sundays. And George Beverly Shea, known for providing the soundtrack to Billy Graham's crusades, often sang to move crowds to support the relief work of Samaritan's Purse. Cause-driven music and celebrity endorsement carry great credibility.
But something more than endorsement is happening in contemporary Christian music. Artists are directly immersing themselves and their audiences in ...