Christianity,  Music

What happened to CCM?

tomlinWere you ever a reader of CCM magazine? I was… sort of. I was more of a casual browser than a reader. For the uninitiated, CCM stands for “Contemporary Christian Music,” and CCM magazine was like the evangelical version of Rolling Stone. In the late 90’s when I was a student at DTS, there was one particular issue on the shelf at the DTS bookstore that caught my attention. The glossy cover featured my favorite group, Caedmon’s Call. Believe it or not, I was such a fan of the band that I actually signed-up for a one-year subscription to CCM. A more thoughtful person might have stopped to ponder that fact that subsequent issues probably wouldn’t be spotlighting my favorite group. I never read the magazines that I received in the mail, and I didn’t renew the subscription. I have long since considered the expense a bad decision. Such is life.

I recently found out that CCM magazine ceased publishing its print edition over a year ago. Talk about going out with a wimper. The magazine folded, and it seems to have gone largely unnoticed. After Salem Communications announced the demise of CCM, David Sessions of Patrol magazine wrote a post-mortem on the magazine. He wrote this,

‘If you visit the places where people should be reading CCM, Christian colleges campuses and church youth groups, you’re more likely to find copies of Paste or overhear references to Pitchfork Media, the same places their secular counterparts go for music information. And with the obvious fact that the middle-aged listeners of the few still-popular Christian bands like Casting Crowns aren’t the biggest readers of hip music rags, CCM faced a double-whammy: Christian artists don’t want any part of a separate “Christian music” industry, and young Christian fans aren’t primarily interested in the music that used to be called Christian rock. With both content and readers disappearing simultaneously, it was only a matter of time until the magazine would be forced to either transform completely or fold.’

Ouch. Sessions is right though. CCM went away because CCM has shriveled up. According to one industry insider, albums sales are about half of what they were 10 years ago. The market for it just isn’t there anymore. At the recent GMA week in Nashville, attendance was down by about 25 percent. By all accounts, the heyday of Contemporary Christian Music has come and gone. Has anyone noticed?

Read the rest of Sessions’s article here. Also, take a look at Christianity Today‘s recent coverage of the decline of contemporary Christian music.


  • Paul

    (I posted a minute amount of this on your facebook link to this story, but the probable discussion here will probably be more interesting, so here it is again…)

    I can describe to you the reason for a decline in the popularity in Contemporary Christian Music in two words Denny: MUTE MATH.

    Quite possibly one of the best rock bands PERIOD to come out in the past couple of years, and the CCM community can claim them (and you can’t claim ignorance, they’ve got a major label contract, music videos and the whole deal). But, because they don’t appeal to a soccer mom who wants to hear “uplifting” or “spiritual” music in her minivan, the Christian radio stations don’t play them, the Christian press doesn’t report on them, and the young dean of a Christian college doesn’t learn about them.

    So, people keep hearing about hideously undertalented bands that fit the CCM’s version of the Johnny Bravo suit instead. Of course CCM is declining. There’s nothing contemporary about it!

    Of course, that’s always been my complaint about CCM, is that there’s never been any intent to be serious about the M in CCM. It’s always about the message, which is great. But people listen to The Beatles because first and foremost, the MUSIC is good. That makes the message far more palatable.

    So, you can get all of the talking heads together that you want. You can talk album sales this and Christian Music ghetto that, but at the end of the day, there’s a reason why this Christian/musician/music writer is a rabid deadhead and won’t touch 98% of the Christian music out there: Wharf Rat, swear word and all, defines Christ’s forgiveness and its redemptive power at least as well as any Third Day song, and the music is at least 100x better.

    What I’m about to suggest will probably get some into a lather, but, frankly, it’s the truth:

    if you want to ensure that there’s GOOD Contemporary Christian Music out there for you and yours in the coming years, go buy the 3 Mute Math CD’s. Whether you like them or not.

    If every Christian who likes their pop music to sound like modern rock bought their copies of their Mute Math CD’s new, the CCM label heads and tastemakers would HAVE TO take notice. And if they notice that the Christian band that’s selling is the Christian band that actually gives two hoots about being able to play and writing interesting and intricate music, instead of just strumming while writing interpretations of parables, then guess which Christian artists are going to start getting signed and start getting radio play?


    So, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” If you want CCM music to have any traction, start buying the CCM music that could actually produce some.

    The End.

  • Rick

    “But, because they don’t appeal to a soccer mom who wants to hear “uplifting” or “spiritual” music in her minivan, the Christian radio stations don’t play them, the Christian press doesn’t report on them, and the young dean of a Christian college doesn’t learn about them.”

    I disagree with you on that point. I think soccer moms too got tired of hearing the same music over and over, with limited variety, which help contribute to the drop off.

    It took forever for stations just to get Toby Mac on the air, and today the play of his music is still limited- not to mention that of Relient K, Switchfoot, etc…- let alone the groups you mention. Even Jars of Clay has had publicized problems with the restrictions from CCM.

  • Paul

    On the point you mentioned Rick, let me rephrase —

    “But, because radio programmers and the writers at Christianity today don’t think that soccer moms want to hear interesting music, the Christian radio stations don’t play them, the Christian press doesn’t report on them, and the young dean of a Christian college doesn’t learn about them.”

    That said, in my time as a radio programmer (different format) and a musician, it’s been my experience that soccer moms want their Jon Mayer (or the CCM equivalent thereof) and pretty much nothing else.

    And here’s the real issue: the musicians you list might be “the cutting edge” of CCM, but they’re all still at least 10-15 years behind the times of secular rock!

    This is at least one of the HUGEST problems with having a pop/rock format being based out of Nashville. (before anyone thinks that’s a shot on the south, hillbillies, rednecks or whatever, it’s not. It’s simply a recognition of the fact that you can’t promote cutting edge rock in a community built around country music)

  • Paul


    what part was mean spirited? The fact that I might have something disparaging about one of your favorite bands or something? Sorry.

    Let me put it to you this way, in terms that people here might clearly understand:

    There are a lot of pastors here. Pastors that mean well, pray unceasingly, look to The Word about everything they preach on, and study to ensure that they do not lead their flock astray.

    Now, ask those pastors about Joel Osteen.

    It’s the same thing with music. Bands that refuse to learn their craft, promoted by an industry that refuses to reward innovation — in fact, it tends to disdain it — are in fact, the Joel Osteens and their handlers of the music world.

    So, pardon me if I do not suffer those fools gladly. It does not make me mean spirited. It does however mean that I am honest when I state my displeasure with the state of Christian music today.

  • Steve Hayes

    I think this is ultimately a good thing. I agree with Paul about Mute Math and a number of other talented Christian bands that were never embraced by CCM. It’s good because I don’t think Christians did themselves or the Lord any favors by creating a sub-culture specifically for Christian music. The music and artists ended up coming across as copycats, and there was minimal evangelistic impact because Christian artists were primarily marketed to people who were already saved.
    This shift tells me that Christians are no longer interested in segregating from the world at large. Instead, we seek to engage the world, and in order to do so, we can no longer simply market to ourselves.
    So, artists like Mat Kearney, Lifehouse, Switchfoot and others are using their music to access a larger audience with Christian values and principles, realizing that all music sends a message about either the goodness and grace of God or the lostness and depravity of man. In this sense, there is no “Christian” or “Unchristian” music industry. All of life either speaks explicity of the goodness of, or the need for, God. If you’re a Christian, you see this. If not, a separate music industry probably won’t do you much good anyway.

  • Derek Taylor

    Paul, FWIW, I’m not a big fan of most CCM either. My favorite “christian music” is Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. I listen to all kinds of stuff by secular, Christian and crossover artists. Is some Christian overly derivative? Absolutely. But all modern music is derivative in degrees. One of my favorite artists, Bob Dylan, admitted that he “borrowed” heavily from artists of the 30s and 40s on his recent album “Modern Times” – to such an extent that some critics said he virtually plagiarized the entire recording (it was still a great record).

    There is a small number of artists who seek to glorify God and produce music that proclaims explicit Christian truths. I used to criticize artists that were so explicit, but lately I’ve come to admire their courage – bands like Third Day, Newsboys and DC Talk are not afraid to write lyrics and music that point to the gospel in a courageous way. I will not join in the chorus of criticism that has been directed at them by many inside and outside of CCM.

    I realize that many people look at Bono or Jars of Clay as the definitive example of how to express the Christian faith to a secular audience. Well, I am a long time U2 fan- I have listened to and enjoyed all of their music countless times – but I do not think that Bono is courageous in his witness or some kind of great example for Christian artists. Though I do admire what he’s done with the AIDs crisis in Africa, the Christian themes in his music are so generic and watered down that they actually do more harm than good, in my view – because this approach makes everyone comfortable with platitudes and are no more Christian than “footprints in the sand” is.

    I join you in your assessment that too much in CCM resembles Joel Osteen – but I don’t join you in blanket indictments and I don’t want to let supposedly courageous crossover artists off the hook – in many cases, they are the worst purveyors of forgettable, milquetoast music.

  • Paul


    outside of nudging Dylan for what really DOES amount to plagiarism on Modern Times, we’re not really on the same page at all. Or maybe we are. Here goes…

    first off, whenever I seem to get into these conversations with my fellow Christians, the conversation tends to go straight to the words. Which is fine, because “Christian Music” without a Christian message is an automatic failure, no matter the quality of the music. So, I assume we agree there.

    Where I guess we veer off is here: THE MUSIC.

    In the CCM world, right now anyway, MUSICALLY speaking (so, rhythm, harmony and melody), with the exception of Mute Math and Phil Keaggy, about all there is is the “supposedly courageous crossover artists that are the worst purveyors of forgettable, milquetoast music.”

    What that creates is, regardless of the “courage” that Third Day or DC Talk exhibits (no courage in writing the lyrics that you’d want to write for labels that want you to write them for an audience that wants to hear them), a Christian music ghetto. No one in the secular world needs to hear about Third Day because nobody in the secular world NEEDS to hear about them. They’re not doing anything musically worth hearing about at all. (that’s not mean-spirited, either. that’s the truth. They’re like Hootie and the Blowfish, but without the grit.)

    Now, contrast with Mute Math, who are playing some REALLY amazing progressive pop music, and the secular world (or at least certain portions of it) are going GA-GA over these guys. Maybe those who will listen to them will pick up on the lyrics, maybe they won’t. But THEY’RE getting the chance where DC Talk never will.

    Sadly, what does Becky the soccer mom want to hear in her mini-van on the way to school? Third Day and DC Talk.

  • Matthew Staton


    Your opinion makes sense and I don’t disagree. Except, Becky the soccer mom has a minivan because she has KIDS. She plays on the radio the best fare she can find for her kids to have drilled into their brains. Their friends are listening to the fine art that is Hannah Montana. Third Day and DC Talk gives the kids something to listen to that sounds decently cool that they can share with their friends. The friends will hear good lyrics and it may be a witness.

    I personally am weary of “family friendly” radio that is so clean it’s sterile. I like Todd Agnew’s song that says he has more questions than answers, etc. And they play Agnew once in a while but I would appreciate hearing more about real life and a Christian approach to pain, rejection, feeling distant from God, etc.

    So this is the third separate thought in one comment, but say what you will, I like Third Day, DC Talk, TobyMac, Matt Redman, etc. As a kid, my parents were the “all rock is sin, no such thing as Christian rock, etc.” One of my few rebellions was to listen to Petra. Old hymns sung by funeral singers 100 years old may be very good songs but they are hard for kids to listen to.

  • Darby Livingston

    I think ccm is just getting old. How much can it take for the creativity of any band to max out? Since ccm only has a dozen or two steady artists, eventually you get sick of hearing the same stuff. Jars of Clay is a welcome exception, and most of their stuff crosses over pretty easily to easy listening or adult contemporary. Hard rock stuff, forget it. Switchfoot and Flyleaf are about as quality as one could get in any genre.

  • Jan D.

    Wow! I didnt realize CCM mag went DOA either. I must say CCM’s explanation for why it happened does make sense.

    Here’s a few observations and ramblings from one who has been listening to Contemporary Christian Music for over 3 decades.

    I was blessed to grow up in the 70’s when “old school” Christian music came on the scene. Artists such as Chuck Girard, Petra, 2 Chapter of Acts, Phil Keagey,Keith Green, Andre Crouch, and Barry McGuire with his “Cosmic Cowboy,” brought such a refreshing depth to this genre. The music of this era really spoke to me lyrically, musically, and theologically. It challenged me to search The Word, and brought me through some trying times in my late teens, early 20’s.

    However, even back in the day, a lot of these Christian artists were not embraced by many Christian stations. Even if some artists were allowed, in some markets, the station manager would literally take a black crayon and rub it into the grooves of the LP so certain songs could not be played on the air.

    At the same time, in the secular world, one of the few “Christian” type songs played on the secular stations was The Doobie Brothers, “Jesus is Just Alright With Me.” I guess “Spirit in the Sky” would have been another.

    I must confess as much as I enjoy having Christian music as a separate genre, it was in the mid- 90’s when I noticed the music seemed to have lost it’s depth, message, creativity, and perhaps identity.

    To me, I find it interesting that I can listen to a secular station and hear a few Christian artists playing. On the flip side, there once was a local Christian station in my area that played secular music as well. At times I didn’t know if I had the secular soft rock station tuned in, or the Christian station.

    I do hope there is a way that the modern-day CCM genre can survive. There are still some good artists out there that are bringing a refreshing sound, with lyrical depth that can reach U2’s audience and show them how to find what they are looking for.

    Okay, Enough of this old timer’s ramblings down memory lane. I think I will dust off a Keith Green LP, put on those oversized Radio Shack headphones, settle into my beanbag, and listen to “Your Love Broke Through.”

  • Stephen D.

    I miss the music of the 80’s & 90’s. We have two Christian Music Radio Stations where I live in the state of Maine. Positive 89.3 and Air One Radio. They Don’t Go By The Name Contemporary Christian Music anymore They Go By the Name Positive Hits. I Hate Positive Hits. That means anyone could get on the radio if they were positive. I really wouldn’t mind if they brought back the 80’s & 90’s again. A few re-runs with their strong message of the gospel and their love For Jesus really came out in their songs. I’m talking about artists like 4 Him, Carman, Petra, aaron – jeoffrey, Bryan Duncan, DC Talk, Cindy Morgan, Clay Crosse, Crystal Lewis, Kathy Troccolli, and Many others. I could hear their songs over and over. This new stuff is OK, but more just trying to be popular and make money. The focus is off ministry and more on money. Even some of the Christian Recording Studios folded because they were more for Christian Ministry than money? We need more radio stations that Brought Christ back into Christian Music and spent less time on who was popular or got more hits. The focus should be on how can we use this music to spread the gospel. That was what the 80’s & 90’s were more all about. They didn’t care how many records they sold as long as those records could be used to bring somewhone to Christ with the music and the message in it. Peace!

  • Aleina

    I agree with Paul. I enjoy good music. I did before I became a Christian. I really seek the best of both worlds. When my friends who aren’t Christians come over to visit, I don’t want to play Michael W. Smith for them, I want to play Mute Math, Skillet, maybe some Breaking Benjamin. Crossover music, because I’d like, as a witness, for them to cross over. The message for them is salvation, albeit subliminal, but hey, we’re going behind enemy lines here. Those bands who play good music aren’t just getting me, but my secular friends, who buy the music that sounds good but also has a good message. That’s what I want. I want to rock out and worship God. I want to hear about more than just sweet nothings and how much of a party being a Christian is. I was a music major before salvation, and I’m not just listening to the pretty lyrics. I’m listening for style, sound, edge, innovation. CCM has none of that. It’s time to start infiltrating the enemy’s camp if we want to win souls for Jesus. We can’t do that with watered-down happyland lyrics and mediocre music sung by a guy with a trendy look.

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