Christian alternative music, the arty, but unheralded stepchild of contemporary Christian music, is pinning its hopes for industry acceptance on a new crop of singers and songwriters who are exploring the fringes of Christian faith.

"Alternative music is where contemporary Christian music was 15 years ago," says John Styll, editor and publisher of CCM Magazine. "But people are accepting it faster. They're coming to grips with what these bands are all about."

In its early stages, contemporary Christian music was itself seen as an "alternative" to gospel and sacred music. The genre endured criticism for musically sounding too much like secular rock music.

Retailers and radio stations avoided contemporary Christian music initially, but it is now an industry-accepted category, with radio airplay on Christian and secular stations.

Christian alternative artists as a group have focused on innovative music and imaginative song lyrics, rather than words and harmonies now familiar in contemporary Christian music.

While most contemporary Christian artists strive to be evangelistic, alternative artists show a greater willingness to experiment artistically as well as to compose songs about the dark side of life.

"When I was younger, I thought that I was supposed to make all of my songs like evangelistic tracts," says Mike Roe, lead singer for the Seventy Sevens, a Christian alternative blues band.

"After a while, you don't want your music to be just propaganda. You want it to stand outside of its context."

John J. Thompson, manager of True Tunes, an alternative Christian music store in Wheaton, Illinois, complains that retailers and radio stations seem to determine a band's ministry by the number of times it sings the word Jesus. ...

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