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The Changing Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) Scene


It's hard to believe when one walks into a 21st century Christian bookstore, and sees the rows upon rows of Christian music recordings, that in the early 1960s there was nothing of that sort.  And I mean nothing.  Today, most Christian bookstores in the UK (as well as the US) will have a massive Christian music section with worship songs, devotional songs and evangelistic songs in a variety of styles from rap to reggae, country to classical.  There is Christian music for all tastes and all purposes, with numerous artists and organisations whose jobs are financed by an industry which has what amounts to a massive annual turnover.

Realise, if you will, that in the early 1960s, Christian bookstores in the UK were themselves few and far between (not every town had one), and they sold ...... well ....... Christian books.  There may have been an occasional store that would sell the odd LP record by some choir or other singing hymns or Christmas carols, or maybe an American gospel singer singing 'spirituals', but that was all.  Some might sell books of Christian music, such as Western Style Songs or Favourites.  Perhaps it's worth noting that even the secular music charts were determined in the UK by the sales of sheet music rather than discs.

I recently (2008) came across a 'Cathedral' recording (on tape) of some pre-beat Christian combos, which I have have converted to MP3, and these show what was probably felt to be 'cutting edge' CCM in the pre-beat era.

The summer of 2001 saw magazine (in the US) run a cover article called "The Glorious Rise of Christian Pop".  In it, the article reported that for every ten country-music CDs sold in 2001, seven Christian CDs were sold - outselling jazz, classical, and New Age music put together.  This is a far cry from the early Christian music of the 1960s, and has inevitably cultivated a crop of what might be termed Christian celebrities (as opposed to celebrities who are Christians) - people who are known throughout the Evangelical Christian world for their 'up front' performimg of Christian music for worhip, devotion or evangelism, and many young Christians today seem to want to become 'worship leaders', or to be part of the Christian celebrity scene.

The crossBeaTs, or the 'Seekers' as they were first called, grew simply out of a desire of the members to witness to their peers in the 1960s.  We were young Christians in our mid-to-late teens, who simply wanted to communicate our faith through the medium of (what was then) modern music.

The Beatles were just beginning to 'happen' in our own town of Liverpool, and the Liverpool music scene inevitably had an influence on us.    Yeah!     Yeah!     Yeah!

The Gospel had recently turned our lives upside down, and it was natural for us to think in terms of communicating the message of the cross through the medium of modern music.  There was no real precedent for this of course, or pattern that could be followed, and it felt very much like a pioneering work.  There were many prejudices to overcome; many Christians were fearful of guitars and, of course, drums were definitely 'of the devil'.  Even the 'Youth for Christ' organisation in the UK was quite traditional and suspicious.  A 'snapshot' of the gospel music scene can be seen on the reverse of the ticket for Merseyside YFC in 1963, where future bookings (for young people) were noted as the "Wheaton College Men's Glee Club (USA)", and later as "Jimmie McDonald (USA), a coloured Gospel Singer.  A Diadem Recording Artist".  Later still, there was to be the "Merseyside Youth for Christ (MYFC) Choir".

There were some Christian instrumental groups around at the time, but they seemed to us to be more like 'dance bands'.  To caricature them, they would have a double bass, a saxophone, a seated guitarist etc - all in front of music stands with some motif displayed.  They read music!  This kind of set-up seemed to us a far cry from the emerging youth music scene in Liverpool.  We therefore determined to witness with the basic set-up of drums, (electric) bass, rhythm and lead which was becoming so common - besides, we couldn't read music!

Other groups followed, of course, and the Liverpool CCM scene went on to develop in the 70s and 80s.

In the early days, however, the crossBeaTs never particularly wanted to play in churches, or to influence church music.  The songs we wrote were essentially evangelistic, and we felt more called to 'outreach' situations, either where outsiders were brought into the church, or we played in secular venues.  Inevitably, the ministry was more of the former, and we played a lot in church settings, either in special services or special outreach meetings run by churches.

Playing in churches in the 60s and 70s occasionally meant playing in what was often termed 'Beat Services', where the old turgid liturgical service (especially of the Church of England) was replaced by something more modern, and included modern 'tunes'.  Some people were excited by this, but although we took part in such services, we never really felt that our aim was to 'change church music' or worhip styles.  In that sense too, we never really liked playing to Christians.  When we first started, our particular emphasis was on witness and evangelism so that, at that time, playing to a hall full of Christians seemed to us to be 'wrong'.  We called it 'Christian entertainment'.  This attitude influenced the way in which we 'took on' bookings.  I have since been told that our music, and that of other groups, was often a great encouragement to young Christians, and I'm sure we were probably wrong to be embarassed at playing to a room full of Christians.  And, certainly, the modern Christian music 'celebrities' of today do a fine job in helping to encourage and strengthen young Christians through worship, praise and devotional music.

This move towards groups and individuals writing and playing worhip and praise music specifically for Christians took place gradually over the 70s and I suppose 80s, fuelled perhaps by the charismatic movement and an emphasis on worship.  By 1971, for example, people like Graham Kendrick had emerged and were about to start writing specifically for Christians and church worship in the UK.

Others, better able than me, can debate the issue whether the church has become more introspective and less evangelistic over this period and, given all the other influences (the further secularisation and liberalisation of society, the rise of post-modernism, and even the emergence and consolidation of the charismatic movement), whether any emphasis in the current Christian music empire is a cause or consequence of such an introspective shift.

If you can help to supply any extra information, please get in touch. Email

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