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Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet: Post-Modern Worship

by Wendy Lee Nentwig

Cheat Sheet: Post-Modern Worship


I admit it: It seems a little weird to make a distinction between Christian music and worship music. From the outside, it all probably looks the same, and there certainly is some overlap. But they are different, even if what separates the two has become harder to identify.

Back in the day, worship music was easy to spot: It involved hymns that used terms like fount and wretch, and there were a lot of thou's and thee's to tip off even the most unspiritual among us. There were also robes and choirs. Most telling was that the music stayed inside church walls.

Then, in the late '60s and '70s, groups like 2nd Chapter of Acts, Keith Green and Amy Grant began singing about their faith in a new way that seemed more at home in a coffeehouse than a pulpit. The praise and worship genre kept going strong in the '80s thanks to acts like Twila Paris and Michael Card. But in the decades that followed, the contemporary Christian music genre (or CCM) became focused more on everyday life sung about from a Christian perspective; it wasn't uncommon for a song to not even mention God or Jesus. (This led to the coining of the term JPMs, or "Jesuses Per Minute," which Christian radio stations would use as they struggled to determine if a tune was spiritual enough to rate airplay, but I digress.) And because of this shift, Christians weren't the only ones tuning in anymore. Around this time, Grant, Michael W. Smith, Sixpence None the Richer and Jars of Clay all made it onto VH1 and MTV, with their songs appearing on secular movie soundtracks and TV shows.

But a funny thing happened on the way to mainstream success: A new breed of church-refocused worship music was born.

Group projects like 1999's Streams and the 2000 release City on a Hill, both featuring big-name CCM artists, coincided with an influx of new worship music out of large churches in Australia, England, Southern California and Texas. Unknowns like Darlene Zschech, Hillsong, Paul Baloche and Matt Redman caught our attention with songs that had been honed in front of their own congregations first. "Shout to the Lord," "Better Is One Day" and "Open the Eyes of My Heart" became instant classics.

Meanwhile, bands like Delirious? and Sonicflood introduced an interesting mix of rock and praise, and a little movement known as Passion was bubbling up in the Lonestar State. Chris Tomlin, David Crowder Band, Watermark and more would draw thousands of college students with live worship conferences. And as the modern worship genre grew in popularity, CCM artists like Third Day, Jeremy Camp and Michael W. Smith released their own take on the trend. Smith's simply titled Worship, released on September 11, 2001, would be eagerly embraced by Christians rocked by the horrific terrorist attacks.

Today, new voices are shaping a new post-modern worship sound. Elevation Worship, Gungor, All Sons and Daughters, Kari Jobe, Matt Maher, Meredith Andrews and Audrey Assad are each putting their own unique stamp on the genre, adding everything from acoustic folk to poetic liturgy.

If you're looking to follow worship music's history, these albums will take you there.

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