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Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

Pastors predict bleak future if local casinos open (12/28/03)

Soap, figurines, candles keep books company in Christian stores (12/21/03)

In order to form a more perfect union (11/30/03)

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Drug czar congratulates Teen Challenge (11/16/03)

Christian fiction no long back-shelf item (10/19/03)

DREAM3 benefits churches (10/19/03)

Youth rise to DC03 challenge (10/12/03)

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Displeased viewers protest raunchy programs (9/21/03)

Grit, determination key to cities blocking cable pornography (8/31/03)

Economic slump doesn't always derail giving (8/24/03)

Ruling threatens family, Christian leaders say (8/17/03)

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Convoy of Hope reaches out to inner-city neighborhood (7/27/03)

Fight for the flag moves to nation’s schools (7/20/03)

Drama speaks volumes to alienated veterans (7/13/03)

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Tornadoes cut wide swath across nation's midsection (6/22/03)

Accountability partners provide human feedback that filters don't (6/15/03)

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Christian filmmakers pursue wider market success (5/25/03)

Intervention is key to preventing suicide (5/18/03)

Adoption often right decision for young expectant mothers (5/11/03)

Dallas-based ministry keeps inmates out of jail (4/27/03)

Medical analysis of Jesus' death generates interest (4/20/03)

Small-town church reaches community (4/13/03)

Young married couples lulled by false sense of security (3/30/03)

Virtual gambling days may be numbered (3/23/03)

Contemporary Christian music copes with its continuing success (3/16/03)

A/G prayer event set for gathering in nation's capital (3/9/03)

Volunteers give church voice in community (2/23/02)

Federal law protects churches in zoning battles (2/16/03)

Singles find cyberspace dating not always match made in heaven (2/9/03)

Predators often plan strategies long in advance (1/19/03)

The Cross and the Switchblade still makes impact 40 years later (1/12/03)

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

2001 News Digest stories

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Contemporary Christian music copes with its continuing success

By Steve Rabey (March 16, 2003)

With sales of musical CDs and tapes down nearly 10 percent, America’s music industry endured additional losses in 2002, marking two consecutive years of setbacks. The downturn was caused by competition from other kinds of entertainment as well as the growing popularity of Internet sites where people ignored copyright laws and continued to download songs for free.

But while mainstream music moguls were singing the blues, those involved in Christian music offered hallelujahs.

According to the Nashville-based Christian Music Trade Association, people bought nearly 50 million Christian CDs and tapes last year.

“The two Nashville-based genres, country and Christian, were the only two that did not have losing numbers,” says John Styll, interim president of the Gospel Music Association.

Plenty of Christian music in virtually every imaginable genre was available in 2002, including popular albums from artists such as Michael W. Smith, Kirk Franklin, MercyMe, Yolanda Adams and Third Day, all of whom record for Christian or gospel labels.

There also was music with a spiritual theme from mainstream (or secular) groups including U2, P.O.D. and Creed, as well as the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which showcased old-time gospel and folk artists.

“All truth is God’s truth,” says Sara Groves, a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter who has deep roots in the Assemblies of God. “When something is beautiful, that’s because God makes beauty.”

Groves’ great-grandmother was part of the Azusa Street revival, and her great-grandfather was an early Assemblies superintendent. Her father, Dwight Colbaugh, teaches at Evangel University.

Groves and her husband/manager, Troy, value their Pentecostal heritage, but they want Sara’s music to reach unchurched listeners as well.

“My passion is communicating,” she says. “That’s why I was a schoolteacher. I’ve always enjoyed taking complex ideas and making them understandable. I love the moment when the light goes on.”

Groves’ songs don’t preach, but they do enlighten. Tornado, a song from All Right Here, Groves’ second release for the INO label, is based on conversations with friends who dealt with a person who brought destruction and turmoil to their lives. And the song Just One More Thing deals with the common American malady: “busy sickness.”

Groves, 31, grew up listening to Christian artists such as Amy Grant, Keith Green and Andre Crouch, as well as a variety of pop artists. Groves isn’t the only CCM artist with an A/G connection. For example, Natalie Grant attended Northwest College of the Assemblies of God before embarking on a solo career in 1999 with a self-titled debut album. Billboard, a music trade publication, commented positively.

Neither Grant nor Groves had been born when contemporary Christian music first arose out of the Jesus movement of the 1960s, but Groves recently joined Randy Stonehill, a pioneering Christian artist, on his 18th album, The Edge of the World.

Stonehill first heard Groves at an industry gathering in 2002. “She was like a breath of fresh air,” he says. “I was really moved by the beauty and substance of her work.”

Stonehill and others express concern about the bottom-line orientation of today’s industry.

“I started out in contemporary Christian music in 1970, when it was little more than just a good idea in Larry Norman’s living room,” Stonehill says of the singer known as “the father of Christian rock.”

“But through the years, Christian music has bloomed into a multi-million dollar industry,” Stonehill says. “The growth and the changes have, indeed, been massive.”

Stonehill is glad Christian music is now reaching a wider public, but he fears music and ministry take a backseat to money.

“When you create a machine this big, it demands to be fed,” Stonehill says. “These days, the industry is much more focused on commerce and profit margins than it is on artistry, ministry or long-term relationships.”

Stonehill’s feelings about these changes can be found in his song We Were All So Young, an affectionate look back at contemporary Christian music’s early days that includes guest appearances from fellow pioneers including Norman, Phil Keaggy, Barry McGuire and Annie Herring of The 2nd Chapter of Acts. Herring sings these pointed lines: “We wanted to stand for what is real — for more than the money or a record deal.”

GMA’s Styll can see both benefits and problems in today’s industry.

“Before, we were more of a provincial cottage industry and we didn’t have connections to stores like Wal-Mart,” says Styll, who founded CCM magazine in 1978. “Now we’re hard-wired to Wal-Mart, which is important, because [many] churchgoers still don’t go to religious bookstores.”

Mainstream corporate conglomerates such as BMG, EMI and AOL Time Warner own the three major Christian labels.

“Some people don’t like it because the whole thing looks too worldly to them,” Styll says. “But I’ve never heard of a case of a parent company dictating that the Christian content has to change.”

Three decades ago, Christian musicians dreamed of crossing over into mainstream markets. Today, Christian music is a significant part of the mainstream industry, with all the opportunities and challenges that entails.

“It’s a case of ‘be careful what you wish for, because you might get it,’ ” Styll says.


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