Tony Cummings reflects on what the statistics of the CCLI copyright organisation reveal

The British Worship Invasion: The popularity of UK songs in US

The setting up of an efficient licensing scheme through which local churches can pay for the copying of modern worship songs has not only become a key means for songwriters to gain recompense for their work. It has also become an important snapshot of the worshipping habits of the world Church. For although the renowned Church Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) schemes operating in a number of countries obviously don't include non-copyright songs and hymns - and large numbers of churches still stick to a repertoire of pre-copyright public domain hymns - the Top 25 Songs "charts" published on the CCLI website since 1997 do give a clear indication of what particular modern worship songs are impacting the Church worldwide. And one important change that is revealed by studying the listings is the ever increasing popularity of worship songs by British composers not only in UK churches but also in the American church.

When the listing for UK churches covering the period 1st October 1996 to 31st March 1997 was published there were a very impressive total of 17 British origin songs shown. Number one was "Be Still" by David J Evans while also in the in the Top 25 were three Noel Richards compositions and an amazing six Graham Kendrick songs. Yet this popularity was not reflected across the pond. In the USA a solitary Kendrick song "Lord The Light Of Your Love" (better known as "Shine Jesus Shine") was in the American listing for the same period, and that at 20.

Fast forward to the royalty payment period 1st October 2010 to 31st March 2011. Although the UK listings were still indicating the popularity of indigenous composers with 15 songs written or co-written by Brits and with Stuart Townend and Keith Getty's "In Christ Alone" now claiming the greatest church use, British origin songs were now breaking through in the US. The American Church listing showed six songs written or co-written by British songsmiths.

Stuart Townend
Stuart Townend

The UK songwriters spearheading this change in American church worship - Matt Redman ("Our God" and "Blessed Be Your Name"), Tim Hughes ("Here I Am To Worship"), Ken Riley ("Everlasting God"), Stuart Townend ("In Christ Alone") and Vicky Beeching ("Glory To God Forever") - have clearly been helped hugely by their music publishing being taken up by US owned multi-nationals. But it's also an undeniable fact that the new wave of British worship leaders - with their ability to fuse pop song sensibilities and rock music rhythms to the timeless declarations of biblical truth - are increasingly showing that their songs of worship and praise aren't just relevant for British churchgoers. They are, along with the works of Australia's Hillsong, opening up the US Church to a wider expression of worship, geographically at least, than ever before.

Said Jonathan Brown, managing director/vice president of Kingsway Music, "The success of UK songwriters in recent years is in part due to the quality of the songs being written and part due to the relationship that Kingsway has formed with strategic partners like EMI CMG that has allowed us to make greater impact than in previous years. As the world has grasped the digital age, the way the local songwriter has sourced worship songs has changed and the development of sites like have become a major platform for British worship songs. Also with more US CCM artists recording these songs and the profile this gives through Christian radio in the US has lead to this significant impact."

Brown pointed out that Britain has a centuries old tradition in composing music, intended for worship, which travels around the world. He said, "Britain has a rich history in literature and hymnody with the likes of Wesley, Newton and Watts; I believe this legacy impacts today's songwriters and enables them to write songs that have genuine substance and that carry a strong biblical curriculum within its content."

The Kingsway exec believes that the current list of British worship songwriters impacting the American, and indeed the world, Church is likely to grow. He said, "As God continues to move through the Church and as new movements and ministries are raised up, I believe we will continue to unearth new songwriters and songs that will have global impact."

Ken Riley, one-time frontman of Yfriday and the composer who with Brenton Brown wrote "Everlasting God", spoke about the connection between certain worship songs and congregations, "Sometimes these things are just God's will - I remember being at the first UK songwriters gathering and a word was given that 'a whisper in London will become a shout around the world' - that's pretty direct stuff and we've seen that happen. It's certainly not that our brothers and sisters in other nations aren't great writers and it may well be a seasonal thing. I do feel one other area is the influence of Les Moir and Thankyou music. Les always said to let what's in you come out, rather than trying to be successful - that's incredibly liberating is a writer, responding to God rather than commercial pressures."

Despite all the recent success of British worship songs in US churches, Jonathan Brown is reluctant to call the current breakthrough of UK songsmiths an "invasion". He commented, "I never was a big fan of the phrase 'British invasion' as these types of labels have always proven to be short lived. We continue to believe in the local church and that God will continue to raise up worship leaders, songwriters and songs that reveal his presence into all of our lives no matter their origin or culture." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.