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Contemporary Christian music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Contemporary Christian music (CCM), also known as Christian pop, and occasionally inspirational music, is a genre of modern popular music, and an aspect of Christian media, which is lyrically focused on matters related to the Christian faith and stylistically rooted in Christian music. Originating in the United States, it was formed by those affected by the 1960s Jesus movement revival who began to express themselves in other styles of popular music, beyond the church music of hymns, gospel and Southern gospel music that was prevalent in the church at the time. Initially referred to as Jesus music, today, the term is typically used to refer to pop, but also includes rock, alternative rock, hip hop, metal, contemporary worship, punk, hardcore punk, Latin, electronic dance music, R&B-influenced gospel, and country styles.

After originating in the US, it has since become a globally recognized style of popular music.[1][2][3] It has representation on several music charts, including Billboard's Christian Albums, Christian Songs, Hot Christian AC (Adult Contemporary), Christian CHR, Soft AC/Inspirational, and Christian Digital Songs as well as the UK's Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart. Top-selling CCM artists will also appear on the Billboard 200. In the iTunes Store, the genre is represented as part of the Christian and gospel genre[notes 1] while the Google Play Music system labels it as Christian/Gospel.[4]


The Stellar Kart group, at a press conference, after the GMA Dove Award in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, in 2007

Beginnings (1950s–60s)[edit]

The growing popularity of rock and roll music in the 1950s was initially dismissed by the church because it was believed to encourage sinfulness. Yet as evangelical churches adapted to appeal to more people, the musical styles used in worship changed as well by adopting the sounds of this popular style.[5]

The genre became known as contemporary Christian music as a result of the Jesus movement revival in the latter 1960s and early 1970s,[6][7] and was originally called Jesus music.[8] "About that time, many young people from the sixties' counterculture professed to believe in Jesus. Convinced of the "bareness" of a lifestyle based on drugs, free sex and "radical politics", some of the Jesus 'hippies' became known as 'Jesus people'".[9] It was during the 1970s Jesus movement that Christian music started to become an industry within itself.[10] "Jesus music" started by playing instruments and singing songs about love and peace, which then translated into love of God. Paul Wohlegemuth, who wrote the book Rethinking Church Music, said "[the] 1970s will see a marked acceptance of rock-influenced music in all levels of church music. The rock style will become more familiar to all people, its rhythmic excesses will become refined, and its earlier secular associations will be less remembered."[11]

Evangelical artists made significant contributions to CCM in the 1960s, developing various Christian music styles, from Christian rock to Christian hip-hop passing through the Christian punk or the Christian metal.[12][13] Those involved were affected by the late 1960s to early 1970s Jesus movement, whose adherents colloquially called themselves the "Jesus Freaks", as an Evangelical Christian response to the counterculture movements such as hippies and flower children who were finding widespread traction. The Calvary Chapel was one such response, which launched Maranatha Music in 1971. They soon began to express themselves in alternative styles of popular music and worship music. The Dove Awards, an annual ceremony which rewards Christian music, was created in Memphis, Tennessee in October 1969 by the Gospel Music Association.[14]

There was some internal critique of CCM at its advent.[15] The Christian college Bob Jones University discourages its dormitory students from listening to CCM.[16] Controversy caused by evangelical pop music was explored by Gerald Clarke in his Time magazine article "New Lyrics for the Devil's Music".[17]

Larry Norman is often remembered as the "father of Christian rock", because of his early contributions (before the Jesus movement) to the developing new genre that mixed rock rhythms with the Christian messages.[18] Though his style was not initially well received by many in the Christian community of the time, he continued throughout his career to create controversial hard-rock songs such as "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?".[18] He is remembered as the artist "who first combined rock 'n' roll with Christian lyrics" in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.[18] Though there were Christian albums in the 1960s that contained contemporary-sounding songs, there were two albums recorded in 1969 that are considered[by whom?] to be the first complete albums of "Jesus rock": Upon This Rock (1969) by Larry Norman initially released on Capitol Records,[19] and Mylon – We Believe by Mylon LeFevre, released by Cotillion, which was LeFevre's attempt at blending gospel music with southern rock.[20][21] Unlike traditional or southern gospel music, this new Jesus music was birthed out of rock and folk music.[22]

Pioneers of this movement also included Andraé Crouch and the Disciples, the Imperials, Michael Omartian, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Love Song, Barry McGuire, Evie, Paul Clark, Randy Matthews, Randy Stonehill and Keith Green among others. The small Jesus music culture had expanded into a multimillion-dollar industry by the 1980s.[10][23][24] Many CCM artists such as Benny Hester,[25][26] Amy Grant,[27] DC Talk,[28] Michael W. Smith,[29] Stryper,[30] and Jars of Clay[31] found crossover success with Top 40 mainstream radio play.

Popularity (1970s–90s)[edit]

The genre emerged and became prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s.[32] Beginning in July 1978, CCM Magazine began covering "contemporary Christian music" artists and a wide range of spiritual themes until it launched online publications in 2009.[33][34]

It has certain themes and messages behind the songs and their lyrics, including praise and worship, faith, encouragement, and prayer.[35] These songs also focus on themes of devotion, inspiration, redemption, reconciliation, and renewal.[6] Many people listen to contemporary Christian music for comfort through tough times. The lyrics and messages conveyed in CCM songs have had varied, positive Christian messages over the decades. For instance, some of the songs have been aimed to evangelize and some of the lyrics are meant to praise and worship Jesus.[32] One of the earliest goals of CCM was to spread the news of Jesus to non-Christians.[6] In addition, contemporary Christian music also strengthens the faith of Christians.[6]

Various evangelical record labels have supported the movement. In Christian rock, there is Sparrow Records founded in 1976 in the United States by Billy Ray Hearn, a Christian music graduate from the Baylor University.[36] The songs of Hillsong Music, founded in 1991 by Hillsong Church, in Sydney, Australia, have been translated into various languages and have had an influence considerable in evangelical churches worldwide.[37]

In Christian hip-hop, TobyMac, Todd Collins, and Joey Elwood founded the first specialized label Gotee Records in 1994.[38][39] The founding of the label Reach Records in 2004 by Lecrae and Ben Washer also had a significant impact in the development of Christian hip-hop.

Modern CCM[edit]

Contemporary Christian music has influences from folk, gospel, pop and rock music.[32] Genres of music such as soft rock, folk rock, alternative, hip-hop, etc. have played a large influence on CCM.[40]

Charismatic churches have had a large influence on contemporary Christian music and are one of the largest producers of CCM. Hillsong Church is one of the many prominent CCM artists.[41] Contemporary Christian music has also expanded into many subgenres.[32] Christian punk, Christian hardcore, Christian metal and Christian hip hop, although not normally considered CCM, can also come under the genre's umbrella.[15] Contemporary worship music is also incorporated in modern CCM. Contemporary worship is both recorded and performed during church services.

In the 2000s, contemporary worship music with a distinctly theological focus has emerged, primarily in the Baptist, Reformed and more traditional non-denominational branches of Protestant Christianity.[42][43] Artists include well-known groups such as Shane & Shane and Hillsong United and modern hymn-writers, Keith & Kristyn Getty[44] as well as others like Sovereign Grace Music,[45] Matt Boswell and Aaron Keyes. The format is gaining traction in many churches[46] and other areas in culture[47] as well as being heard in CCM collections & musical algorithms on several internet streaming services.


Brian Schwertley of the Reformed Presbyterian tradition wrote in 2001 that the inclusion of CCM in a worship service violates the second commandment and the regulative principle of worship because it adds man-made inventions, lyrics, and instrumental music to the biblically appointed way of worshipping God.[48]

Contemporary Christian musicians and listeners have sought to extend their music into settings where religious music traditionally might not be heard. For instance, MercyMe's song "I Can Only Imagine" was a crossover success despite having a clear Christian message.[49]

Paul Baker, author of Contemporary Christian Music, addressed the question, "Is the music a ministry, or is it entertainment? The motives, on both sides, were nearly always sincere and well intentioned, rarely malicious."[50]

"The responsibility of the church is not to provide escape from reality", according to Donald Ellsworth, the author of Christian Music in Contemporary Witness, "but to give answers to contemporary problems through legitimate, biblical means."[51]

James Emery White, a consultant for preaching and worship within the Southern Baptist Convention, made a statement about how many churches that changed styles to using more contemporary Christian music, appeared to have a quicker growth.[52]

According to Vice magazine, CCM "has often functioned as a propaganda wing of the Christian right", presenting views on topics such as the war on drugs, Christian nationalism, mission trips, school prayer, and the LGBT community.[53]

Rejection of the label "CCM"[edit]

Several high-profile bands have rejected the label "Christian music," such as Needtobreathe and Mutemath, with the latter suing their record label over being marketed as such.[54] Of the categorization, Needtobreathe said to Rolling Stone, "any label is limiting. That one in particular is especially limiting. To me, I think people pass over the band all the time because they read that....I hate the idea that they somehow feel like I didn't make the music for them, that we didn't play music for everyone. Christian record deals came and we said no to all of them. Waited a couple years until the right record deal came, which was Atlantic, which we've been on ever since. But we just said to them in passing when we first started, we want the records to be available to everyone."[55]

Notable contemporary Christian musicians[edit]


Contemporary Christian album sales had increased from 31 million in 1996 to 44 million sales in 2000. Since EMI's purchase of Sparrow Records, sales had increased 100 percent.[when?] However, the main goal of the label continues to be aspiring to make a positive impact on the world through contemporary Christian music. The company has given back money to the CCM community.[56] Overall, CCM sales in 2014 had dropped to 17 million in sales.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In the US iTunes store, the section is entitled Christian & Gospel. In the UK iTunes store, it's Gospel. Canada's and Australia's iTunes section is entitled Inspirational.


  1. ^ Tomlin, Edward (April 10, 2024). "10 Best Hillsong Worship Songs of All Time". Singersroom.com - R&B Music, R&B Videos, R&B News. Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  2. ^ "「Third Day」 3月にライブツアー、スタジオアルバム同時リリース". クリスチャントゥデイ (in Japanese). May 20, 2002. Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  3. ^ Llamas, Cora (January 1, 1970). "Pandemic Streaming Inspires New Filipino Christian Music Label". News & Reporting. Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  4. ^ "Google Play Music". play.google.com. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  5. ^ McDowell, Amy D. "Contemporary Christian Music" – via Oxford Music and Art Online. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ a b c d Banjo, Omotayo O.; Williams, Kesha Morant (2011). "A House Divided? Christian Music in Black and White". Journal of Media & Religion. 10 (3): 115–137. doi:10.1080/15348423.2011.599640. S2CID 144756181.
  7. ^ "Who killed the contemporary Christian music industry?". February 17, 2016. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  8. ^ Forbes, Bruce David; Mahan, Jeffrey H. (2017). Religion and Popular Culture in America, Third Edition. Univ of California Press. pp. 9–. ISBN 978-0-520-29146-1.
  9. ^ Frame, John M. Contemporary Worship Music. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997.
  10. ^ a b Powell, Mark Allan (2002). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. p. 10. ISBN 1-56563-679-1. By the '80s, the special-interest network that Jesus music had spawned had developed into a multimillion-dollar industry. Contemporary Christian music had its own magazines, radio stations and award shows. The Jesus movement revival was over.
  11. ^ Baker, Paul. Page 140. Contemporary Christian Music: Where it came from What it is Where It's Going. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1985. Print.
  12. ^ David Horn, John Shepherd, Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume 8: Genres: North America, Continuum International Publishing Group, USA, 2012, pp. 144, 147.
  13. ^ Don Cusic, Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music: Pop, Rock, and Worship: Pop, Rock, and Worship, ABC-CLIO, USA, 2009, p. 77.
  14. ^ W. K. McNeil, Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, Routledge, Abingdon-on-Thames, 2013, p. 108.
  15. ^ a b Powell, Mark Allan (2002). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music (First printing ed.). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 1-56563-679-1.
  16. ^ "BJU ~ Residence Hall Life". Bob Jones University. Archived from the original on January 25, 2012. Retrieved March 21, 2009.
  17. ^ Clarke, Gerald (June 24, 2001). "New Lyrics for the Devil's Music". Time. Archived from the original on November 20, 2011.
  18. ^ a b c Hevesi, Dennis. "Larry Norman, 60, Singer of Christian Rock Music". The New York Times March 4, 2008: 1. Print. February 3, 2016.
  19. ^ John J. Thompson, Raised by Wolves: The Story of Christian Rock & Roll (2000):49.
  20. ^ Oord, Bill. "Mylon LeFevre Biography". Retrieved June 26, 2010.
  21. ^ Powell, Mark Allan (2002). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. p. 520. ISBN 1-56563-679-1. Musically, the 1970 album Mylon (a.k.a. We Believe) is deservedly a Christian classic, a raw example of down-home southern rock. A dominant organ, spicy guitars, and generous use of female background vocals give the project a funky-and-gritty combination of R&B soul and roots rock.
  22. ^ Di Sabatino, David (1999). The Jesus People Movement: an annotated bibliography and general resource. Lake Forest, CA. p. 136.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  23. ^ "It's a long way from 'Jesus music' to CCM industry". Canadianchristianity.com. Archived from the original on February 15, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  24. ^ "News Digest". Pe.ag.org. March 16, 2003. Archived from the original on January 13, 2014. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  25. ^ "CCM Legends – Benny Hester". CBN.com.
  26. ^ Billboard Top 50 Adult Contemporary Chart – Nov 7, 1981 – 'Nobody Knows Me Like You' Debuts No. 44 Mainstream. Billboard.com. November 7, 1981.
  27. ^ "Amy Grant – Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2013.
  28. ^ "dc Talk – Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2013.
  29. ^ "Michael W. Smith – Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2013.
  30. ^ "Stryper – Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2013.
  31. ^ "Jars of Clay – Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2013.
  32. ^ a b c d Nantais, David (2007). "What Would Jesus Listen To?". America. 196 (18): 22–24.
  33. ^ "CCM Magazine". TodaysChristianMusic. Archived from the original on January 22, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  34. ^ "CCM Magazine Subscription Options". CCM Magazine. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  35. ^ Adedeji, Femi (2006). "Essentials of Christian Music in Contemporary Times: A Prognosis". Asia Journal of Theology. 20 (2): 230–240.
  36. ^ Don Cusic, Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music: Pop, Rock, and Worship: Pop, Rock, and Worship, ABC-CLIO, USA, 2009, p. 359.
  37. ^ Kelsey McKinney, How Hillsong Church conquered the music industry in God's name, thefader.com, USA, October 11, 2018.
  38. ^ Justin Sarachik, TobyMac's Influence on Christian Hip-Hop and How Gotee Records Signed John Reuben Over KJ-52, rapzilla.com, USA, February 9, 2016.
  39. ^ Randall Herbert Balmer, Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism: Revised and expanded edition, Baylor University Press, USA, 2004, pp. 296-297.
  40. ^ Mumford, Lawrence R. "A variety of religious composition: the music we sing, in and out of church, is more varied and interesting than we've been led to believe." Christianity Today, June 2011: 42+. Fine Arts and Music Collection. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  41. ^ Evans, Mark. Studies in Popular Music: Open up the Doors: Music in the Modern Church. London: Equinox Publishing Ltd, 2006. eBook.
  42. ^ "Keith Getty Is Still Fighting the Worship Wars". Christianity Today. March 26, 2018. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  43. ^ "BRnow.org – Getty worship conference strikes a chord | Baptist News". brnow.org. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  44. ^ "Modern Hymn Writers Aim To Take Back Sunday". NPR.org. NPR. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  45. ^ McEachen, Ben (June 25, 2018). "What do you mean by worship?". Eternity News. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  46. ^ Smith, Rew (November 15, 2018). "Doxology & Theology conference: Churches need to sing the Word of God". Kentucky Today. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  47. ^ "Hymn Writer Keith Getty Becomes First Christian Artist To Be Appointed Officer Of The Order Of The British Empire (OBE) By The Queen". BREATHEcast. July 27, 2018. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  48. ^ Schwertley, Brian. "Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God". Archived from the original on February 12, 2013.
  49. ^ Adams, Ramsay (July 6, 2003). "Christian Rock Crosses Over". Fox News Channel. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
  50. ^ Baker, Paul (1985). Contemporary Christian Music: Where it came from What it is Where It's Going. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books. p. 133.
  51. ^ Ellsworth, Donald (1979). Christian Music in Contemporary Witness: Historical Antecedents and Contemporary Practices. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.
  52. ^ Miller, Steve. The Contemporary Christian Music Debate. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale Publishers, 1993. Print. p. 3.
  53. ^ Hesse, Josiah (July 14, 2022). "Christian Rock Has Demonized LGBTQ People for Years. Now It Needs Them to Survive". Vice. Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  54. ^ "INTERVIEW- Unmuted: Did mother Earthsuit beget Mute Math? | The Hook - Charlottesville's weekly newspaper, news magazine". May 5, 2014. Archived from the original on May 5, 2014. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  55. ^ Freeman, Jon (August 23, 2016). "Needtobreathe Talk Christian-Band Stigma, Experimental New LP". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  56. ^ Black, Beau (March 11, 2002). "CCM's growing pains: a survey of labels finds the message—if not the creativity—is intact". Christianity Today. Fine Arts and Music Collection.
  57. ^ "Who killed the contemporary Christian music industry?". The Week. June 21, 2017.

Further reading[edit]