Good stuff@ccli.com: A popular site for popular songs

When worship leaders get together, they inevitably trade favorite new songs with the eagerness of children on the playground swapping Pókemon cards. Part of this is the earnest desire to find and share with others “the good stuff” amid the staggering amount of new music available today. Another motivating factor is simply a desire to see what others are using in their churches.

One place to satisfy both these impulses is the CCLI website (http://www.ccli.com). The site is easy to navigate and filled with helpful information: a primer on copyright law (of course), links to other worship sites, excerpts from Worship Leader magazine, an online store, and the ability for license holders to search a database of 85,000-plus songs for copyright information. But perhaps most interesting is a list of the most popular contemporary worship songs in evangelical America (see box below). A few things are interesting to note:

  • It doesn’t represent the merely hip and trendy. In fact, six of this year’s top ten were in the top ten the last time RW looked at this list—in 1991. For over twenty years Christians have used these songs in worship. While that doesn’t give a deep connection to the wisdom of generations past, it does indicate some degree of longevity.
  • The songs are most useful for just one liturgical function: adoration. Songs of confession, dedication, redemption, or lament are regrettably absent. Such songs exist in the contemporary repertoire, but, apparently, aren’t as popular.
  • More than half of these songs are addressed not to God but to our fellow worshipers. There’s nothing wrong with that, and everything right about “encouraging one another all the more as you see the day approaching.” Yet a good worship service—one in which God and God’s people speak to one another—will balance mutual encouragement with direct address to God and direct address from God in Scripture and prayer.
  • An interesting exercise is to compare the U.S. list with the lists from the rest of the English-speaking world. There is remarkable overlap. The top ten in Canada has seven songs in common with the U.S., and the top ten in the U.K. and in South Africa share five songs with the U.S. People all over the world are using these songs to worship the one God who made us.
  • Of course, popularity is no guarantee of quality. The top ten aren’t necessarily the cream of the contemporary music crop. But there’s lots of “good stuff,” which, properly led and contextualized, can be deeply worshipful.

The Good Stuff

Since six of these ten were discussed in “The Praise and Worship Hit Parade”(RW 20, p. 33, June 1991), I’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of the other four.
(Visit www.reformedworship.org for a peek at the previous article.)

“Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” is a wonderful song that is almost creedal in its retelling of the redemption story. Its simplicity in tune and diction (“I’m so glad you’re in my life,”) as well as the expressive hand motions that go with it indicate that it could be led by a group of children.

“Shout to the Lord” is a powerful song from Australia’s Darlene Zschech. Filled with scriptural images, it almost feels like a psalm. It can be played up tempo or down. One weakness is the last line: “nothing compares to the promise I have in you.” What exactly is this promise? Make the most of this ambiguity by including an introduction (or a transition out of the song) that articulates one of the many biblical promises we have in Jesus.

“Awesome God” suffers from language that’s too colloquial (“puttin’ on the Ritz” and “better be believin’”) to convey awe of the Divine. But the chorus, with its memorable tune, and driving rhythm, hinting at its Native American roots, can serve as an interesting backdrop to an antiphonal treatment of a spoken psalm (29, 66, 89, 99, 109, 111, 145). It could also work as an introduction to another song of God’s majesty—”Jehovah-Jireh,” “God Himself Is With Us,” “The God of Abraham Praise,” or “O Worship the King.”

“He Is Exalted” by Twila Paris is a short and straightforward song of adoration. The unusual use of 6/8 meter provides a freshness and a distinctively worshipful feel.

Excerpt

Top Ten Songs on the Latest CCLI List

  1. “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High,” Rick Founds
  2. “Shout to the Lord,” Darlene Zschech
  3. “As the Deer,” Martin Nystrom
  4. “I Love You, Lord,” Laurie Klein
  5. “Awesome God,” Rich Mullins
  6. “He Has Made Me Glad,” Leona Von Brethorst
  7. “Majesty,” Jack Hayford
  8. “Give Thanks,” Henry Smith
  9. “He Is Exalted,” Twila Paris
  10. “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise,” Kirk Dearman

Ron Rienstra is associate professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary and co-author of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry (Baker Academic, 2009).