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From Petra to Kanye

March 18, 2010

I grew up listening to Christian music back in the days of Audio A’s “Bloom”, DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak”, and Newsboys “Take Me To Your Leader”. These were the days that you begged your mom to drive you to the nearest Lifeway or Family Christian Bookstore so you could spend hours at the listening station scouring what seemed to be an endless selection of new up-and-coming Christian bands. (OK, maybe I was a weirdo) The days that the whole youth group loaded up in the church van and went to see O.C. Supertones at the local arena.

I’m not trying to have a reminiscing party about the “good ole days” of Christian music, or even my personal youth. What I’m really wanting to look at is the cultural shift in youth church culture over the last ten years regarding Christian music.

Some of these shifts are happening globally and not just in Christian music. Naturally, musical styles change and morph into something new and fresh. Also, technology has been a huge factor in the way we consume and feel about music as a whole. We don’t have to drive to the bookstore anymore to get our music fix. It’s all at our finger tips. Above, I mentioned some albums that shaped my youth. Today, it’s single songs that are ripped onto an ipod or iphone and half the time you don’t even know what artist or album it’s from. This is an important piece to the decline in sales of Christian music, but it’s an effect that’s happening globally across all genres.

What ultimately inspired me to take a look back at my own youth group experience happened last summer. I was scouting several bands at various youth groups around the country and what I saw and experienced was similar in format and teaching to what I grew up in, but different in my musical experience. Typically, you’d expect to hear Toby Mac or Switchfoot playing as the background music when you walk into the youth room. Instead, I was hearing songs like: “Glamorous” by Fergie, “Hello Seattle” by Owl City, and “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. Please don’t hear me wrong. I listen to plenty of non-Christian music.  None of these songs were overly offensive, but they’re not what you think of when you think youth group music.

What was even more surprising for me was the worship songs that were being sung at some of these youth groups. Of course there was the typical Tomlin and Crowder songs, but other songs I heard during worship: “Fix You” by Coldplay, “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, and “Apologize” by One Republic. Keep in mind this was not over the speakers, but being led as corporate worship and hands raised to Bon Jovi.

It’s important to note that these were regular churches with different denominations. Not all the churches I went to were this extreme. I’m curious to know if my experience was unique? What shifts regarding Christian music in your youth group are you experiencing, if any?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2010 4:14 PM

    I never really had the youth group experience, but I did intern with a youth group and currently work with teens.

    I think it’s a matter of relevance. During Young Life (a youth group of sorts at my workplace) we listen to Black Eyed Peas, Miley Cyrus, and Queen alongside LeCrae and modern worship tunes. We usually open up our singing time with a few secular songs before leading into worship.

    It works… mainly because our kids have had very little exposure to Christ. Most are coming from abusive, turbulant childhoods and grew up in the American ‘hood. They aren’t going to respond to total Jesus saturation. We’ve gotta give them something they know (popular music) before they will give us the time of day.

    Sometimes I wonder if some American youth groups struggling with the same desire to remain relevant. Fewer teens are making it to church or have families to back them up. They are coming from broken homes and messed up schools and have constant ‘contact’ with everyone without any real relationship. Music is that one thing that everyone can identify with- it’s very difficult to live in our culture without being exposed to the popular songs. Maybe some youth groups are adapting to keep kids from turning away- so they have a chance to reach them?

    Christian-music wise… I see a lot more teens making it to concerts. I think kids look for musicians who can serve as role-models… and who create cool music that mirrors the popular stuff!

  2. worshipleader permalink
    March 18, 2010 5:52 PM

    That is definitely my experience. Though we don’t do secular songs as worship songs, we definitely have as offering songs, etc. Our background music that plays sounds very much like the list you mentioned.

    My first “tape” was the Sandi Patti Hymns album, and the first tape of my teen years was Michael W. Smith’s “Eye to Eye”. I was not allowed to listen to secular music, and I find most kids who were not allowed to listen to secular music resented it. These kids have grown up to be, well, youth leaders and worship pastors (like me).

    However, we have to be very careful in the church the sort of world view we unknowingly espouse through songs. We have to be careful not to let the overwhelming emphasis on “me” in music to keep us from dying to ourselves and worshiping Him. Not sure if Fergie takes us in that direction.

  3. March 24, 2010 2:36 AM

    I totally grew up to all of those too! I remember my brother and I begging my mom to take us to Walmart so we could buy tapes of DC Talk and Petra – and then we’d sit in the car for hours playing them over and over. Youth group – they were all about those as well.

    I don’t know about youth groups today…but that does disturb me a little. With how society seems to makes secular music artists (and sometimes Christian ones too) into idols, I would be weary of kids praising to their music and “lifting up hands” to “living on a prayer.” Not saying it’s bad music, I too love to sing it as loud as possible when I’m driving my car, with my windows rolled up – but to worship to that just does not seem to be good…

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