With 50 issues under its belt, CROSS RHYTHMS magazine took the opportunity to reflect where it had been and pondered where it may be going.
Slowly but relentlessly contemporary Christian music in Britain has inched forward. Where a decade earlier it appeared an irrelevant religious subculture, today it is both a voice of the Spirit-fired Church who've rediscovered worship and the spearhead of a bold, new thrust into pop music's cash-bloated underbelly.
Cross Rhythms has played a key part in encouraging CCM's growth in Britain. Launched with the stated aim to be a catalyst to stimulate and expand the scene, few would argue that it's achieved that. But it's not just a marketplace that has expanded, so has the understanding of what precisely God has called the Cross Rhythms team to. Revelation, as is usual, has come bit by bit, yearly year, precept by precept, as we learn obedience to each element we've grasped.
Today, Cross Rhythms is much, much more than a Christian music magazine. Unless you're a very new reader you will know that Cross Rhythms runs one of Britain's two national Christian radio stations as well as, this year, putting on three different Christian festivals (in Devon, West Midlands and Southern Ireland) and launching Cross Rhythms roadshows. But even all this is the tip of an iceberg. Cross Rhythms has close connections with a drug and alcohol rehabilitation ministry, a joinery company. Britain's most widely read Christian devotional, a print and design company, and a growing number of local churches. Cross Rhythms doesn't "own" these companies, ministries or churches. No man does. There is a realisation that in the Kingdom of God there are no ambitious power brokers, no petty backbiting, but rather a Lord of All who communicates and empowers his stewards to run a joinery company as much as pastor a church.
Possibly for some readers that last statement will come as a bit of a revelation itself. Dualism, the utterly unbiblical tendency to decompartmentalise activities into "secular" and "sacred" is still rife in many churches. To plot the whole journey since those pioneering The Solid Rock Of Jesus Christ broadcasts on Plymouth Sound by Chris Cole or Tony Cummings' formative Christian media years with Buzz magazine would be a book rather than a magazine article. But allow us now to remind you of some of the highs and lows of Cross Rhythms from that first broadcast in 1983.
The Solid Rock Of Jesus Christ, 1983
Vision - Birth Of A Radio Programme
Chris Cole knew that he had been called by God to play Christian music on the radio. "I received a prophetic word that I would be led into a ministry which would reach millions with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Suddenly, there was a doorway of opportunity opening up on Plymouth Sound. I started with just 25 albums and a sense that God was really in this. The chief engineer said, 'It's a good idea but you will never have enough music to keep it going'. Historians have noted that back in the 16th century Martin Luther won more converts to Christ through his encouragement of congregational singing than even through his preaching and teaching while about the Wesleys in the 18th century it was said that for every person won through their preaching, 10 were won through their music. Yet in 1983 there was cultural incomprehension in many churches. Even in my own church when I told my pastor that I was presenting a weekly radio show playing Christian rock and pop music and reading Scriptures, his response was, 'I do not agree with contemporary Christian music'. Those early days were tough."
The Scene - Rock Music Pioneers
America's The Resurrection Band and Petra were pioneering Christian rock while in Britain Buzz magazine tried to tell its readers that there was much more music beyond Cliff Richard.
The Bottom Line - Public Service Broadcasting
Christian radio was still in the "public service broadcasting" era with religious broadcasters gleaned from local churches and given no payment by the stations and usually attracting listenerships too small to measure.
Rhythms 1, May/June 1990
VISION - THE BIRTH
Cross Rhythms' first issue was issued to a resounding lack of interest (70% of the Christian bookshops contacted said they wouldn't bother to stock it). The magazine spelt out its observations in its first editorial, "Today there are thousands of people who give testimony as to how God has blessed, encouraged, rebuked or even healed them through the vehicle of contemporary music." It's launch leaflet expressed a desire for Cross Rhythms to be "a catalyst to expand and develop CCM in Britain."
The Scene - Stagnation And False Dawns
CCM had been around in Britain as long as the American variety. But where in the US, with a coast-to-coast network of radio stations exposing the music, in Britain, with no radio station exposure, the growth of the scene was tortuously slow. To be fair it had progressed a little from the Cross Beats, and the Glorylanders of the '60s church coffee bars but it was still small-time with the occasional flashes of mainstream exposure like BBC TV's The Rock Gospel Show (1982-1984) or the successful establishing of the Word Record Club (today called Premier), barely disguising the fact that British CCM suffered from severe under financing. With slick and expensive American albums and cheap-and-cheerful live worship albums gleaning the sales there were to be had. A handful of UK acts struggled to survive in a tiny marketplace.
The Bottom Line - Hard Times
Cross Rhythms lost a small fortune. Not once but twice miraculously orchestrated loans after "chance" encounters with sympathetic Christian businessmen staved off the seemingly inevitable bankruptcy. But by issue four it had incurred debts of nearly £40,000 and with no assets to speak of bankruptcy and closure seemed inevitable.
Rhythms 5, April/May 1991
Vision - Survival
The Cummings At Ya... editorial read "Every natural law of business should have seen Cross Rhythms go bust 10 times over. The reason we haven't can only be attributed to divine intervention. And now I can at last report that a little financial stability has been found. Cross Rhythms is now owned by Cornerstone House, a Plymouth-based company with many years of experience in marketing and advertising."
There were two more developments. The launch of the Cross Rhythms Festival (held that year in July at the Okehampton Show Ground). And Plymouth Sound's Sunday Experience programme (the successor of The Solid Rock Of Jesus Christ) changing its name to The Cross Rhythms Experience. The programme's presenter (and from that issue Cross Rhythms' publisher) was Chris Cole. Interviewed, he said. "We want to demonstrate that Christian music speaks into all the issues of today and that the singers who sing the music aren't would-be megastars or pious religious escapists but concerned, creative people who care passionately about the world in which we live."
The Scene - Nashville Rules
Amy Grant was CCM's biggest female star and Michael W Smith the male version. At the other musical end of things, British thrash metal team Seventh Angel began work on their second album.
The Bottom Line - No Financial Return
Chris Cole knew only too well the cold financial reality of a UK CCM scene that had almost bankrupted Tony Cummings. And he had no delusions that adding a festival and a weekly sponsored (paid for airtime) radio programme were suddenly going to turn things around. He'd seen the Rock Gospel festival (the forerunner of Cross Rhythms) lose money while about Christian radio he said in CR5, "To put it bluntly, there will be little or no financial return for Christians involved in Christian broadcasting. " Cross Rhythms magazine's huge losses each issue were dramatically cut by tightest-of-tight housekeeping though it was still a loss making publication financed by Cornerstone House's "secular" business activities. The first Cross Rhythms festival lost to the tune of £6,000 and was rescued only by the sacrificial giving at the event's communion service. The Plymouth churches benefiting from a weekly Cross Rhythms Experience radio programme showed almost complete disinterest and none contributed to the cost of sponsoring the show.