Have you ever wondered what a ‘hillsong’ is? Or maybe you’ve tried to figure out why a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of are beating out will.i.am on the charts? Well you’ve come to the right place, and I’m going to attempt to give you a short FYI on ‘church’ music; what it is, who’s in it, and why people are buying it. Before we begin make a mental note, this is not traditional ‘church’ music we’re talking about. Few artists are releasing hymns or chanting miscellaneous words in this genre. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find these on the shelf of Wal-Mart. Instead ‘church’ music, or this re-branding of it, is as guitar driven as a Kelly Clarkson song, can be as dance-worthy as Ariana Grande, as soulful as Lorde, and as well written as a Coldplay song. Don’t believe me? Here’s the 101 on the new breed of churches storming up the charts.
Hillsong Church: It’s not a ‘what’ but rather a ‘who.’ When it comes to the worship or inspirational genre, Hillsong is a staple. Founded by Hillsong Church based in Sydney, Australia, these guys were one of the first churches to release their original tunes to the masses. Their first album came out in 1989, and as they went through the big hair, shoulder pads and long jackets of the 90s, they moved into the 00s with a vigour that made them globally recognized. Most notably, their 2013 release Zion cracked the Top 5 on the US Billboard charts. Some of the biggest Christian artists in the world feature at their yearly conferences, and even Brooke Fraser spent a few years on the United team. With a new album out every year (at least), two associated acts (Hillsong United and Hillsong Young and Free), and church plants going berserk as congregations eat up their music, Hillsong is the crème de la crème and a good place to start in this genre.
Planetshakers: Clearly there is something in the water in Australia, because this band/church has only gained ground since their first release in 2000. Initially releasing music to coincide with their church’s youth conference, the conference soon turned into a church. Today Planetshakers has established itself as one of the most contemporary and vibrant churches in Australia and more recently, Los Angeles. A little more youth-oriented in sound from Hillsong, Planetshakers stands out from the pack due to its insatiable melodies and quality musicianship. Most recently, their album This Is Our Time topped iTunes charts in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa, and cracked the Top 10 in other countries like America, Canada and New Zealand.
Bethel Church: Hailing from Redding, CA, Bethel has made a name for itself in the church music scene over the last few years. Their vocalists are unique and distinctly talented, and their style of music has an alternative edge which churches have embraced. Spawning the band Jesus Culture which (surprise, surprise) initially began as a youth conference, big names like Kim Walker-Smith and Steffany Gretzinger have stepped out with their own solo releases, bridging the gap between the corporate and personal elements of faith in their music. Bethel’s 2013 live release You Make Me Brave chartered at #10 on the US Billboard charts.
Passion City Church: Founded by Louie Giglio, this church in Atlanta, GA is well known because names like Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman are featured on its releases. Boasting some of the best worship leaders and singer/songwriters in the global church scene, these guys have penned well known songs like “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone),” “God of This City” and “Awakening.” They are eclectic and have an organic feel to their music which is aimed at young adults.
Elevation Worship: Rising in the last few years as a poignant force within the industry, Elevation Worship is the band from Pastor Steven Furtick’s Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC. With the intimacy of a small studio band, but possessing a quality that transcends arenas, this band pushes the envelope with their new take on modern worship. Their new live album Wake Up The Wonder is out on November 25.