Growing up in a Christian household, Christian music was the main genre I listened to for the first eighteen years of my life. As a kid, I loved it, but as I matured, I started to become more critical of the music I once loved without question.
Let me be up front and say that many of my criticisms of Christian music in the past have been either unfair or unwarranted. But many of the issues I take with Christian music have been more than fair, and I am far from alone in my opinions. The industry needs a change, just ask the multitudes of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) critics. A multitude of arguments could be made for the needed change, but a few stick out above the rest.
1. Christian Music is Boring
There’s nothing wrong with a little predictability, but Christian music takes this to the extreme. Here’s what often happens: the same band that’s been around forever releases another album full of songs that sound just like the ones on their debut album from more than a decade ago. There’s really nothing new. No one adapts. There’s no artistic evolution.
CCM newcomers rarely do anything to help. New bands keep popping up in the Christian scene that all sound like clones of one another. The few that are interesting rarely get popular with the CCM mainstream. Meanwhile, the same five bands that soccer moms have been listening to since 2001 get most of the air time on Christian radio stations. *cough* K-Love *cough*
Ironically, Christian music technically encompasses all genres of music, grouping by lyrical content instead of style. For such a diverse genre, it’s stylistically stale and musically boring.
2. Christian Music is Too Simple
I love simplicity, but Christian music often errs on that side of the spectrum. I’m not here to talk about lazy chord progressions or boring melodies (though those are issues that need addressing). I want to focus on the lyrical flaws of CCM.
Christian lyrics approach life from a childish point of view. Good always triumphs over evil, and it’s always easy to tell the two apart. Most Christian music steers clear of uncomfortable or controversial topics, including, but not limited to: lust, pornography, cognitive dissonance, crippling doubt, addiction, abuse, mental illness, homosexuality, and abortion.
I understand that Christian radio stations are family friendly, always uplifting and always encouraging. Yada, yada, yada. But can’t we write songs that show people they aren’t alone in their struggles? And I mean real struggles, not the “I haven’t been feeling a spiritual high lately” struggles that some Christian bands are always complaining about. How about letting people be sad for a three-minute song instead of demanding they perk up and believe that Jesus is going to make everything ok? Life sucks sometimes. It’s not a sin to acknowledge that.
CCM quickly makes sure that “We believe Jesus is going to work everything out, and it’ll all be ok. It doesn’t matter how you feel when you have Jesus.” But it does matter how we feel. Furthermore, it’s healthy to validate those feelings, regardless of how negative. The few artists that are brave enough to write these sorts of songs (respectfully honest and emotionally deep) are often relegated to the fringes of the CCM world.
3. Christian Music Doesn’t Reach People
Christian music’s audience consists mostly of middle-class families going to church on Sunday morning or driving in the car with their kids. Little to no non-Christians listen to Christian artists. Why? Because the songs they write aren’t relatable. To be fair though, it’s not relatable to a lot of Christians either. (See point no. 2.)
I went to a Christian music school. Most of my fellow classmates were training to be worship leaders, Christian artists, and songwriters. You’d think we’d be CCM’s biggest fans, but we were some of its most dedicated critics.
We understood the Christian music industry better than most, and we saw the glaring flaws so many choose to ignore. We weren’t satisfied with the quality of the music being produced or the lack of honesty in the lyrics. Of course, we’d have some exceptions to this rule, but the general consensus among a bunch of young Christian musicians was that Christian music was not good and was getting worse.
The focus of Christian music at this point is simply to minister to its already faithful listeners, but even those numbers are dwindling. The average person just isn’t attracted to CCM, Christians included.
Can Christian Music Be Saved?
How can we fix this? Maybe start by projecting outward to the world instead of inward to ourselves. One of our greatest commands in Scripture is to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Imagine the impact the Christian music industry could have if we applied the Great Commission to the music its produces. Imagine if the Christian songwriters, artists, producers, managers, etc. flooded the secular music industry with the light of Christ.
Maybe the rest of the world would hear the hope of the Gospel coming through their headphones. Maybe secular artists and producers would be ministered to and brought to a saving faith in Christ. Maybe the entire culture would shift as we actively became salt and light to the darkest parts of our society.
We can’t be sure of any of this, but things aren’t as they should be. Something’s going to give eventually, and I’d rather we change for the better than fade into obscurity. To be sure, Christian music is filled with good messages, but it’s not reaching enough people. These messages can be all over the radio waves and streaming services, but it doesn’t matter if no one’s listening.
It’s time for us to stop hiding in the safety of our subculture. It’s time for us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.