In 1970, Tom Coomes was a typical, long-haired California kid, who played guitar in a rock-and-roll bar band. But when he and his bandmates converted to Christ and changed the name of their group to Love Song, they brought their folk/rock music along to church. A year later, their songs helped launch Maranatha! Music, which, through 20 years and 300 releases, has provided a new hymnody of praise and worship choruses for churches of all styles.

Maranatha! Music’s contributions were recognized recently when the National Religious Broadcasters presented the company with its President’s Award, only the third to be presented (the two previous awards went to Billy Graham and Charles Colson). Its beginnings, however, were far more obscure.

“One afternoon, those of us in the band went to see Pastor Chuck Smith,” Coomes recalls. (Smith was pastor of the Costa Mesa-based Calvary Chapel, a focal point for the development of the Jesus movement.) They told him, “We’ve been coming to church for about a month now, and we’ve written some songs and were wondering if we could sing them in church.” As Coomes remembers it, “Chuck said, ‘Would you mind if I heard a couple of them first?’ So we came in with a couple of acoustic guitars and sang, ‘Think About What Jesus Said,’ and he just began to weep. He said, ‘I’ve been praying for something like this for a year.’ ”

The impact that bands like Love Song had on the people at Calvary Chapel was profound. Their songs were unmistakably Christian and—at least for that time—startlingly contemporary. Unchurched young people hearing the bands during one of the weekly Saturday Night Concerts ...

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