For a long time, churchgoers knew what they’d get out of their Sunday morning worship songs: two verses, a chorus and one emotionally charged bridge (and maybe another repeat of the bridge if the worship leader was feeling bold). And despite the predictable format, the lyrical focus was generally on worshipping God.
But then, sometime in the last 10 years or so, a lot of worship music began to shift focus—landing more on personal walks and human struggles. That’s not to say it’s bad to talk about that, but is that really what our praise and worship services should be about? Instead of focusing on ourselves, shouldn’t our praise be focused on the Lord?
That’s how Elevation Worship sees it.
A few years ago, the worship team sat down and challenged themselves to get out of the box they’d been in. They had found plenty of success with their albums Paradoxology, Hallelujah Here Below and Here As In Heaven. Their songs had been sung in churches all over the world.
By anyone’s measure, they’d been doing something right. A lot right.
But they felt there was still more to explore in worship. They were looking for something more honest, more raw, more authentic. Singing about the Gospel truth is great and important, but they realized there was space for something new.
“We’re not going to stop singing about the Gospel,” clarifies Elevation artist Chris Brown. “We’re not going to equate honesty to putting in our own feelings where they would trump what truth is, or putting in our own narrative or our own truth in songs.
“But there is room after having spent so many years writing with rules that felt a bit boxy — even though they served us in our songs well — for us to be a little more honest in our writing,” he says.
Their honesty led them to create 2020’s Graves Into Gardens, last year’s Old Church Basement and this year’s LION. Relying on tried and true truth with fresh beats, they found the key to turning “old hallelujahs into a new melody.”
You’d never confuse a pop song for reggae, or a rap track for folk, because the two wouldn’t cross into each other’s lanes. All genres of music seemingly have an established set of rules artists are intended to follow. There may be some wiggle room, but after a while you know what to expect.
With worship music, artists often find a sound that seems to work for them and try to stick with it. It pans out well for most, but sometimes it’s good to stretch your creative muscles.
Look at the Psalms. There are 150 songs about the love and fear of God, His promises to His people, lamenting, pleading, rejoicing, etc. Each one is similar to the other, but there’s a distinct difference in tone or voice that makes them remarkably different.
That’s what Elevation is aiming for. They don’t want to be people who only sing about one part of God. They want to dive into the reality of walking through life with Christ at your side. Despite the graves we face, He turns them into gardens. In the valleys and the mountains, the Lion of Judah will always roar.
“A couple of years ago, somewhat intentionally, we just began to challenge ourselves and ask ourselves to be a little bit more honest in some of our writing,” Brown says. “We’re not writing anymore with the mindset of like, well, we got to try this out on Sunday morning. We don’t really feel like there are any
inhibitions holding us back anymore.”
Creating a new space is a lot easier said than done, but Brown shared that the collaborative spirit within Elevation and their relationship with other artists has allowed them to challenge themselves in ways they never thought possible.
Elevation pastor Steven Furtick has begun to play a bigger role in working with the ministry to create worship music grounded in truth.
“He’s a lover of all things music. I mean, he’s a historian, in his mind, of eighties and nineties rock. He’s a historian of obscure gospel music, weird crazy stuff. So his palette is really diverse too, musically speaking,” Brown explains.
“But his impact on the writing is definitely significant, especially lyrically speaking, because he will just comb over and comb over everything to get it right.”
Outside of Elevation, the ministry has connected with Pat Barrett, Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes, Chandler Moore, Maverick City Music and more to create raw and authentic worship music. There’s no rivalry between the artists. Rather, each worship leader is focused on creating something for the Church, by the Church.
“It’s got to be about the songs we feel are meant to go out and that are hopefully meant to touch people or minister to people,” Brown says. “The songs are placed over any personality or protection of a brand or protection of an identity.”
There’s always a risk that taking a chance and trying something new won’t work out in the end. Too many artists have ventured into a new lane that crashed and burned quickly.
But Elevation’s risks have been rewarding — in more ways than one.
Elevation has received five Grammy nominations since 2019, and dozens of accolades from Christian award shows. But that’s not the recognition the worship team is looking for.
“I don’t mean to downplay awards at all. I think it’s incredible that the ministry, songs, albums are recognized in that way. I think it’s great that it reflects a measure at least of influence and impact that the songs are having and everything else,” Brown says.
“But I will say that a song gaining a certain number of streams or a song that has gone gold or platinum personally means more to me than an award, just because it feels like something I can measure and quantify.”
For Brown and Elevation ministry, seeing the number of people who have connected with a song is the real honor. Meeting someone who tells them that the song — one which they worked and prayed over for weeks — helped bring them out of a dark place or connected them with God is bigger than any award on a shelf.
It can be an overwhelming feeling for the Elevation team and especially Brown, who said that sharing a new song on Sunday morning is typically a mixture of excitement and nervousness. The team uses worship services to test out songs and see what people connect with. And after years of doing it, Brown is still shocked by the Church’s response to their music.
“As the ministry’s grown and as God’s given us influence, and He’s brought people here, what has meant a lot to me has been seeing people who are being impacted by these songs,” Brown says.
Despite the nervousness at trying something new, Elevation is pushing through and doesn’t plan on putting all their eggs into one basket. Maybe they’ll stay in their lane for a while, or drop a Christian punk rock album, or create some R&B Gospel hits.
“Who said we had to only be this? I like that we’re just challenging why we have rules,” Brown says. “I feel like the challenge has been good for us. We’re not going to change what we’re singing about and what we’re rooted in and what we believe in, but maybe there’s room to not fit the box.”