Chris Tomlin has sold tons of records, and more than 40 million people sing his songs in church every week. The man is a corporate worship song-making machine, with four of his compositions in the top 10 of the most sung songs in church, including the current No. 1 CCLI song in the world, "How Great Is Our God."
It's fitting that his first greatest hits compilation would take the name of that popular song. How Great Is Our God: The Essential Collection (EMI CMG) released last week, featuring 14 of Tomlin's top tracks, including seven that went to No. 1 at Christian AC Radio. The album includes new renditions of "Forever," "We Fall Down," and a special new "World Edition" recording of the title track, featuring multiple languages and the voices of influential worship leaders from around the globe.
We recently chatted with Tomlin about the new album, his career, and what it's like to have people all over the world singing your songs.
Why did you decide that now was the right time for a greatest hits record?
I've wanted to do it for a few years, and I've been looking for the right time. It's been a little over a decade now since I started, and I've been looking back and thinking Man, God has used so many of these songs in the church. I thought about doing it in 2010, but then I thought, No, I've got too many songs in me right now. I want to make another record first. So I did And If Our God Is for Us. After that, I thought, Okay, maybe now I can put out a collection of songs, a snapshot over the past 11-12 years.
I knew I wanted to call it How Great Is Our God, because Chris Tomlin Greatest Hits sounded dumb, stupid. I guess you could call some of them hit songs, but that's never been what it's about for me. I've tried to write songs of worship, give people a voice to worship God, songs for the church.
You re-recorded the title track with voices from all over the world.
I knew if I ever got a chance to record that song again, I wanted to capture this special thing we've heard around the world. As we've traveled, I would try to learn "How Great Is Our God" in the native language—at least the chorus. It's pretty hilarious listening to me ruin language after language, night after night, in these countries, but people are pretty gracious. It's beautiful to start singing this chorus in Russian or Indonesian or Mandarin, and then see the people just light up, to see how God has used this song. So I've wondered, What would it be like to capture what we've heard, with multiple languages in one song? It's beautiful the way it's come together.
How did it come together?
I asked some worship leader friends who are an incredible influence in their countries if they would sing this in their language. I sent the track to them, and they recorded the vocals in their own language; we didn't fly everybody in to do this. I just said, "Guys, go for it. And we'll put it together." I really was nervous about it. It sounded like a great idea, but would it end up like just a hodgepodge or what? The song is translated in different rhythms, into words with different timing. But I thought, Let's give it a shot.
When we started getting tracks back and started listening, I could not believe what God had done, the way these guys put their heart and soul into this singing. I think that what we captured is something I'll never get to be a part of again. I think it's the best recording I'll ever get to do. It starts off with this Hindi Indian classical singing, and it sets up the song. Then there's this Zulu choir singing a South African rhythm, with the Hindi going over the top of it. And it goes to Indonesian, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Zulu, Afrikaan, Mandarin, English. It's just beautiful. I want the whole world to hear it. [The song was recently released as a radio single.]