The “Praise and Worship” Revolution

By   /  September 28, 2010  /  No Comments

The Jesus People movement of the 1960s and ’70s generated new kinds of music that transformed worship in evangelical churches.

Larry Eskridge

Arguably the single biggest alteration in the life of the average evangelical congregation within the last 30 years has been the sweeping change in the music that is played on Sunday morning. Where organ and piano, formal choirs, and vocal soloists and groups once held sway over a slowly-changing canon of staid hymnody and peppy gospel songs, a flood of guitars and “praise choruses” suddenly came rushing in during the 1970s. An irresistible, grassroots, pop-culture-driven force met the immovable object of tradition and sentiment, and the ensuing years saw no shortage of conflict and controversy as a result.

In telling this history, people often conflate the rise of “praise music” with the rise of “Jesus Rock” and its later avatar, “Contemporary Christian Music” (CCM). This is somewhat misleading. While the two subsets of music both trace their origins back to the 1960s Jesus People movement, their different settings and purposes created two distinct musical trajectories. “Jesus Rock” was geared towards evangelism, apologetics, and entertainment. It owed its musical ethos to Memphis, Liverpool, and the rollicking rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll. “Praise” music, on the other hand, was a mellower brand of music aimed at corporate worship. It had more in common with Greenwich Village, the spirit of the folk hootenanny, and the ambience of a prayer meeting.

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