Worship Leader Magazine’s 20 Most Influential Worship Albums – Reflections

Zac HicksUncategorized14 Comments

Worship Leader Magazine – January 2012 IssueThe most recent issue of Worship Leader Magazine released their list of the top twenty most influential worship albums of the last twenty years.  Many of the album-mentions include articles of reflection and appreciation written by other worship leaders and songwriters in the mainstream worship music industry.  The list is interesting and worth some analysis.




The Top Twenty

1. Delirious, Cutting Edge 1 & 2 (1994)
2. Chris Tomlin, Arriving (2004)
3. Paul Baloche, A Greater Song (2006)
4. Israel Houghton, Live from Another Level (2004)
5. Vineyard, Change My Heart, O God (1996)
6. Hillsong United, United We Stand (2006)
7. Matt Redman, Facedown (2003)
8. Gungor, Beautiful Things (2010)
9. Andrae Crouch, Pray (1997)
10. Passion, Better is One Day (1999)
11. Hillsong, Shout to the Lord (1996)
12. David Crowder Band, A Collision (2005)
13. Donnie McClurkin, Donnie McClurkin (1996)
14. Various Artists, The Heart of Worship: Live 97 (1997)
15. Jesus Culture, We Cry Out (2007)
16. Vineyard UK, Hungry (1999)
17. Michael W. Smith, Worship (2001)
18. Misty Edwards, Eternity (2003)
19. Tommy Walker, Break Through: Live at Saddleback (2006)
20. Third Day, Offerings (2000) 


  • I totally agree with #1 and #2.  Cutting Edge really is the most definable “moment” when the shift from “contemporary worship” to “modern worship” took place, and many, many songs from Arriving have become go-to tried and true anthems for the contemporary evangelical church (just check the CCLI stats).  Arriving, furthermore, is Tomlin’s seminal album.
  • I’m very surprised that, of all the albums Matt Redman has made, Facedown made the list.  If we’re speaking of influence, isn’t it obvious that The Heart of Worship (with the popular song by the same title), The Friendship and the Fear (with “Better is One Day”), or Where Angels Fear to Tread (with “Blessed Be Your Name”) deserve to be featured?  The explanation says, “Facedown [is] the epitome of his craft and anointing.”  I respectfully disagree.  The aforementioned albums have all had more influence (which is the criterion Worship Leader is using).  Granted, they mention The Heart of Worship: Live 97 as marking the introduction of the “British Invasion” of Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, and Kevin Prosch.  Nevertheless, if we’re talking about Redman’s work, at least four other albums have been more influential than Facedown.  Finally, with respect to Redman, my opinion is that his last two albums (We Shall Not Be Shaken, 10,000 Reasons) are breaking through to more complex, thoughtful, theologically rich, biblically reflective, and historically informed material.
  • Hillsong United’s United We Stand and Hillsong’s Shout to to the Lord rightly deserve to be in this list.  Darlene Zschech’s infectious song put the Aussies on the map, and Hillsong U, for better or worse, brought teenage-ish arena worship to the mainstream.  
  • Likewise, the Vineyard albums deserve their place.  Vineyard has had a strong influence on modern worship, perhaps not with music as much as ethos.  Vineyard typifies third wave Pentecostalism, whose spirituality and worship ideologies have highly influenced evangelicalism, such that denominations not historically tied to charismatic Pentecostalism (many times unknowningly) apply Pentecostal thinking to their worship theology and practice.
  • The David Crowder album that should be on this list is Illuminate, not A Collision.  Illuminate was to Crowder what Arriving was for Tomlin.  “O Praise Him” and “Open Skies” really were the worship-influence breakout for Crowder to move from semi-national cult-following to mainstream-imbibed KLOVE airplay.  Furthermore, it’s very hard to classify the concept album A Collision as a worship album.  Though two or three songs became congregational material, this album marked a decided shift in focus from producing worship songs to making their albums art pieces (which, in my opinion, they are).
  • I’m not sure why Jesus Culture is on the list.  They are too new to judge influence.
  • I agree with Third Day’s Offerings taking a place.  Here we had a major CCM band breaking relatively new ground by making a “worship album” of popular worship songs of the day.  This had several effects: (1) other artists began doing it; (2) popular worship songs started receiving mainstream radio airplay; (3) the line between congregational songs and pop-radio hits became much more blurry at this point.  This is all very significant.
  • The verdict is not out on Gungor.  Worship Leader points out a strong musical influence to shift instrumentation and style in a new direction.  Gungor is intensely musical and very creative.  I hope they do influence the mainstream more.  But have they done so yet?  Putting them at #8 seems, at best, a prophecy.
  • Where is Brenton Brown?


For an exercise as broad-sweeping as this, consensus is hard, and I recognize that.  Still, it appears to me that, while there is some validity to this list, either (a) it was hastily drawn together to meet a publishing deadline, (b) it was compiled through the grid of “the industry” which ended up using different criteria than “influence,” or (c) both a and b.

Indelible GraceBecause Worship Leader is wedded to the industry and the labels, they are only going to mention those albums which are connected to the industry.  Therefore, a highly influential grass-roots worship album like Indelible Grace (2000) won’t make the list.  Ironically the Indelible Grace movement has influenced the industry.  Several mainstream-labeled bands have re-recorded their material, including Jars of Clay (Redemption Songs) and Caedmon’s Call (In the Company of Angels I and II).  Now, no Indelible Grace song has made the upper eschelons of the CCLI charts, but influence is more than popularity among mainstream evangelical churches who report their stats to the mothership.  The hymn revival among young modern worship leaders and small startup churches (alongside older established churches) continues to accellerate while the industry train chugs on.  

CCM Magazine March 2005 – “Hymns: The New Modern Worship?”But there is even more compelling evidence than this that this hymns movement is highly influential.  In recent years, the industry has taken notice.  For instance, PraiseCharts, the dominant online resource-provider for worship music and material is in the R&D phase of liturgies.com, dedicated to worship environments that embrace hymns and a more “liturgical” structure.  Producers like John Hartley (Matt Redman, Leigh Nash) are interested in expanding the reach of mainstream-styled worship albums like Love Divine into the realm of hymnody.  These folks, too, are in the midst of some R&D for websites and albums that will resource modern worship versions of hymns.  CCM Magazine’s March 2005 issue featured the cover story, “Hymns: The New Modern Worship?”  So influence must mean more than just megachurch airplay and CCLI stats.

14 Comments on “Worship Leader Magazine’s 20 Most Influential Worship Albums – Reflections”

  1. Another one possibly overlooked?: In 2004 Passion released "Hymns Ancient & Modern," and although I'm unsure of the culture-wide influence per se, I know that in the evangelical world it provided a nice no-brainer solution to the ongoing "modern music vs. traditional music" wars many churches have faced in the wake of the contemporary worship movement. Suddenly young people were singing 100+ year old arena rock anthems, keeping their youth group cred. (thanks to their validation by Tomlin, Crowder & Co.) whilst appeasing the older generation's call for a return to the hymnal. Obviously this wasn't new to the i-grace crowd, but it gave the CCM world a mainstream version of what was already gaining momentum "underground." Of course, the CCM market is driven by songwriting, singles and royalties, so it couldn't catch on as a full-blown movement among major CCM artists, but we certainly saw a lot of them over the following years "covering" hymns, some even dropping the occasional hymnified concept album (a la "Jars or MercyMe's Bart Millard). This album certainly shouldn't get credit for the re-hymn movement, but I think it was instrumental in bringing it out into the mainstream and awakened some church bodies to the possibilities of bridging the generational gap.

  2. I think the other name missing from this list if Keith Getty/Stuart Townend. In Christ Alone is perhaps one of the most recorded modern hymn/worship songs. Maybe they aren't mentioned because the Getty's defy the contemporary worship mould, but I think they are helping modern churches sing deeper lyrics and they are helping traditional churches break into contemporary music.

  3. I also find it hard to give credence to list that omits Getty and Townend.
    Surely New Irish Hymns is worthy of a place, if for no other reason than the debut of In Christ Alone.
    Back in the day I was also a quite taken by Ron Kenoly's album Lift Him Up.

    As an exercise, though, it's interesting to see them focus on albums, which in themselves are so stylistically different from any sort of corporate worship/singing/praise situation.

  4. Thanks for your kind words Zac. I agree Getty's should have been on their somewhere. Worship Leader used to give us nice reviews and include IG songs in Song Discovery, but they completely ignored our Live CD and that was a big disappointment to me. And I haven't been invited back to the Song Discovery conference since I made my comment (taking a cue from Witvliet) on the publisher panel about looking for songs that form us for our encounter with death.

  5. It feels like the grass roots/hymns/Indelible Grace movement's very nature keeps it from reaching the mainstream. If it had the huge industry backing of such artists at Christ Tomlin and Hillsong, then it would cease to have that roots music/authentic feel.

    Just a thought. I totally agree with your ideas here.

  6. Great additions to the discussion, Kevin & Jered. Song DISCovery is another important link. They've aired Sojourn's stuff, too. I have to think that they will continue to take notice, and have to (maybe naively) hope that they will still give those kinds of albums a shot. I've submitted mine (the first was rejected, as well).

    Jered, I personally can sense/feel authenticity in the mainstream stuff, too, but I very much understand what you're saying. There's a "fittingness" to the wedding of the folk-roots style and the humble nature of so many of the hymn texts that IG has selected.

  7. I definitely agree with the comments you made–particularly with regards to the album choice for David Crowder and Matt Redman, it's hard to argue that the albums chosen are the most influential when the songs from their other albums can be found in virtually every place that plays, streams, shares or broadcasts worship songs.

    I also agree about Jesus Culture, although with a caveat that questions looking at the significance of an album in whole. While I love albums, love to see the connection between songs within a project and, even more, love to be able to hold a physical object like a cd or vinyl. I think the influence of an album as a whole is becoming an outdated way of thinking within larger society. Albums as collections of songs will always have their place, but nowadays music is by and large consumed as individual songs rather than in album form. While I don't think Jesus Culture's albums are terribly influential (yet), their versions of "How He Loves Us" and "Your Love Never Fails" are probably two of the most currently influential songs thanks to youtube, grooveshark and the like. I'd say the same is true of the Getty's. I'm not sure any of their albums in the whole is terribly influential (yet) but "In Christ Alone" definitely has to be one of the most influential recently written hymns.

    I guess some of the trouble with the list is that the way of consuming music has changed so much over the last 20 years; I'd love to see the most influential songs list that accounts for other distribution methods.

  8. I agree with your comments on Matt Redman's albums….
    However, I'd have to say that the Jesus culture group is an influential cd because it really does reflect a shift in worship from a more prophetic or mainstream type of worship that hillsongs and Tomlin have been doing….it's a little bit more raw and unfiltered and it's making a huge impact on teens and young adults….and even though the Jesus culture and Bethel songs aren't necessarily blowing up the ccli charts….a lot of people are starting to use their songs.

  9. Brandon: Great thoughts!

    Justin: Thank you. Those are helpful insights. I'll ponder the "shift to raw." There's something there.

  10. i totally agree with your input as well…great insights!!! i would simply add that for Israel Houghton, how can we have "Live from Another Level" on there, when in my humble opinion, "New Season" literally did break ground not only for mainstream worship, but for his own brand and style in the arena of 'multi-cultural' worship?

  11. Thanks, inhisname. I don't follow Houghton much, so it looks like I've got some listening to do!

  12. Excellent thoughts as always, Zach (and friends). Good call on Brenton Brown and modern hymns. While it is still growing, I would say that Jesus Culture's impact does deserve a place on the list. In talking songs with worship leaders in their mid-20s, the reaction to Tomlin is often "Meh," while there is a ton of excitement around Jesus Culture songs and arrangements.

  13. Don, thank you for those observations. I'll definitely be thinking more critically about Jesus Culture.

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