Crossing Over - Christian Bands Shooting For Mainstream Audiences

Ministry vs. Entertainment

Skillet. Atlantic/Lava/Ardent/INO

WireTap Magazine published an article back in 2004 about Christian bands that have crossed over into mainstream entertainment. While over 10 years have passed since, as a band in the Christian realm still cross over today, it is still very relevant. The piece talked about some bands of the past and some of the faces that were popular then. Creed was the first band mentioned. The band came out of the gate in the mainstream and their lyrics made people wonder if they were a "Christian band". The official Creed response was that they were spiritual and searching, but not a Christian band. Going backward in the timeline, Stryper was mentioned. In the 80's, Stryper was the epitome of Christian hard rock. They never soft-pedaled their faith. Though To Hell With The Devil went platinum, they never achieved mainstream commercial success. WireTap writer, Nick Flanagan, said that bands of the 90's that wanted to cross overtook their "cues from Stryper on what not to do; they're downplaying their Christianity."

The article went on to talk about:

  • P.O.D. (who didn't seem to want to discuss their faith)
  • Chevelle (who was classified as secular/mainstream, but they said that they were Christians, even if their bios and websites didn't mention their faith)
  • Lifehouse (who was also but they said that they were Christians, even if their bios and websites didn't mention their faith)
  • Switchfoot (who is still considered a Christian band and doesn't have a problem talking about faith in their lyrics. They have gained more success in the mainstream)
  • Big Dismal (who "never set out to be a Christian band," according to lead singer Eric Durrance, but was openly Christian)
  • Evanescence (who came out as Christians and then openly opposed being called a Christian band)

It also mentioned Justin Timberlake, Prince, Beyoncé, Lauren Hill and Outkast, who said they were Christian but didn't have a problem singing about sex and in the case of some of them, didn't seem to have a problem glorifying it.

The article ended with "Christian bands trying to cross over into the mainstream face an interesting paradox. They have so many groups to please: religious communities who may find what they are doing immoral; their secular audiences, who might be wary of their agenda or find them corny; young Christians who will be disappointed if they become too mainstream; and music critics who find it hard to take them seriously. For many Christian bands that are attempting to straddle the secular and religious music markets, that often times means sidestepping the Christian issue altogether by refusing to talk about it, keeping lyrics vague, and trying to blend into the MTV videoscape as much as possible."

The entire article brings to mind the age-old question that all Christian musicians face ... Entertainment or Ministry? Some bands aim for entertainment only and leave ministry for church. Other bands use their musical gifts as a platform for their faith. Some bands try to straddle the line and say that they are trying to "reach the masses." But with what? Vague lyrics? An image that isn't all about sex, drugs and rock & roll (as if being a "good person" automatically equals being a Christian trying to teach something)?

After Skillet re-released Collide on the Lava label, I spoke with John Cooper, lead singer, and founder and asked him the question that many have asked ... were they selling out or stepping out?