The History of Christian Music

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Up until the late 1960s, Christian music invoked images of church, hymnals, and organs. Traditional was the word of the day... but not anymore. The face of Christian music has spent the last 30+ years evolving and growing.

Pipe organs have been set aside for electric guitars and drums. Hymnals have been replaced by hard-hitting lyrics that speak of today and a God that is fully in control of our times. Christian music has gone farther than the church and can be found on radio, TV, in concert halls, and at huge rallies and festivals. It has expanded to include a vast array of styles. Rock, metal, rap, country, gospel, urban gospel, easy listening, and pop are all covered so regardless of your taste in music style, today's Christian can find something of interest to listen to.

Christian music boasts its own video shows, radio stations, awards, publications, and websites. The change itself hasn't been overnight. It has taken many years. It has required sacrifices from artists who weren't afraid to go against tradition and wanted to make music that kept up with the changing times.

The Beginning of Change

The "Jesus Movement" of the 1970's was when things really started changing and Christian music began to become an industry within itself. Some of the pioneers of the times were:

  • Larry Norman - A true pioneer in Christian alternative rock since the 1960's, he is called the "father of Christian rock" by many.
  • Marsha Stevens - The leader of Children of the Day is called the "mother of contemporary Christian music" by The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music.
  • Nancy Honeytree - Nancy carries the nickname the "First Lady of Jesus Music", as she was one of the few female artists to emerge from the Jesus Movement.
  • Chuck Girard - He was one of the first Contemporary Christian artists, getting his start in a church in California.
  • The 2nd Chapter of Acts - This popular group released sixteen albums over a sixteen-year period.

These artists and others like them took the music that spoke of Jesus and merged it with the times. Christian music became more "user-friendly" and revival was sparked.

By the early 1980's the Jesus Movement was dying out and another group of artists were coming to the forefront. Rock and metal music, already popular in the secular industry, was finding a home in the world of Christian music. Some of the earliest rockers were:

  • Petra - This group put the rock into Christian rock music.
  • Stryper - Many credit Stryper as being the first genuine Christian metal band and as the first Christian band to cross the Christian/secular border.
  • Bloodgood - A pioneer of heavy Christian metal, this band appealed to some that had never listened to Christian music.
  • Undercover - This punk band brought a new sound that differed from the Christian rockers or the Christian metal bands.

The Genre Stretches Further

The 1990's saw the dawning of an even broader scope for Christian music. Rock, rap, metal, urban gospel, contemporary country, and pop were represented in a big way. The industry, which had previously been promoted by smaller independent labels stepped into the big time as larger secular labels bought out many indies. Much like Cinderella's pumpkin turning into a fine carriage, the small promotional budgets the indie labels had afforded turned into mega mass promotions with the heavy hitters. Some of the artists that stepped into the international spotlight of the 90's were:

  • Carman - Billboard Magazine recognized his influence in Christian music by first naming him the "Contemporary Christian Artist of the Year" in 1990.
  • dcTalk - Their fourth album, Jesus Freak, achieved the highest first week's sales of any Christian release in history.
  • Kirk Franklin - His debut release was the first gospel album to sell over one million units.
  • Steven Curtis Chapman - He had eleven of the top 100 songs on the end-of-decade Christian AC airplay chart.
  • Third Day - Billboard magazine called them "not only one of the best Christian bands of the '90s but one of the best rock bands, period."
  • Amy Grant - This artist truly crossed the boundaries when she crossed over into mainstream music with Christian songs.

The 21st Century

Y2K came and went with none of the "end of times" predictions being fulfilled and music grew even more. Sub-genres, sounds that could keep pace with mainstream, and plenty of new bands are pouring out of the 21st century. Some of the favorite artists of the day are:

  • BarlowGirl - Three sisters with a great rock sound and no fear of sharing their beliefs, Barlow was a real force to be reckoned with up until their retirement.
  • Casting Crowns - This band has been the most played artist on all Christian radio formats combined and is the fastest CCM artist to have its first two CDs certified Platinum.
  • Jeremy Camp - Before turning 30, Camp already had three Gold albums and nine #1 back-to-back radio hits.
  • August Burns Red - Metalcore meets faith.
  • 12 Stones - One of the songs from their debut album landing on The Scorpion King soundtrack helped put these rockers from Louisiana on the musical map.

Changing Times

Why the change? What has brought the music that speaks of God and salvation out of its shell? Theories abound and debate over whether it's a good thing or not seem to be everywhere and have been for years. As a Christian, a singer/songwriter, a mom of kids ranging from 16 to 28, and a grandma, I think that the answer is easy. God doesn't change, even though the world does. Every generation has more worries and fears to face than the previous one.

People today live with war and threats of war, more kids having babies, more violence and layoffs... it's everywhere you turn and this only scratches the surface of a day in the life. People desperately need something or someone bigger than themselves and all that they face in order to cope. They want to feel like God is here and now, not some dusty relic from the dark ages that can't possibly understand the issues of today.

The new Christian music in our churches and on our airways reaches out to us on a level that we can understand and feel. It shows us that Jesus is still with us, even when we're facing crises that would have destroyed whole cultures as recently as a couple of hundred years ago. The battle is as old as time itself but the weapons have changed and Christian music has changed its face as a shining example of just one of the many weapons in God's arsenal.

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Your Citation
Jones, Kim. "The History of Christian Music." Learn Religions, Sep. 13, 2021, Jones, Kim. (2021, September 13). The History of Christian Music. Retrieved from Jones, Kim. "The History of Christian Music." Learn Religions. (accessed June 10, 2023).