There was a time when the majority of music ministry occurred during Sunday services or in exclusively Christian bands. More commonly now, ministry is appearing in secular venues featuring heavy rock bands, or pop stars.
Bands are emerging that consist of Christian members, but do not consider themselves to be a “Christian band.” They sign to secular record labels, tour with secular musicians, and have fans from all kinds of religious (or non-religious) backgrounds. One might occasionally hear their music in a church service, but are more likely to hear it on a pop radio station.
Understanding the dichotomy of Christian-secular bands begins with first understanding the industry in which they work.
Switchfoot is a well-known pop-rock band from San Diego. They’ve been together since 1996, tour internationally, and have released nine studio albums. Switchfoot has experienced years where they solely belonged within the Christian music market. They released their first album, The Legend of Chin, as one of the first bands signed to Rethink Records, a label formed to distribute the work of Christian musicians beyond a strictly Christian audience. Soon after, Rethink Records was bought out by Sparrow Records, a staple in the Christian music market.
As a result, Sparrow distributed Switchfoot’s second and third releases, New Way To Be Human and Learning To Breathe, to Christian vendors and radio only. This meant that generally only Christians were hearing their music.
Lead singer and guitarist of Switchfoot, Jon Foreman, commented on this transition in an interview with Christianity Today International.
“When Sparrow bought out Rethink, half of who we were was lost,” he shared. “As a Christian, I have a lot to say within the walls of the church. But also, as a Christian, I’ve got a lot to say just about life in general.”
Switchfoot eventually earned mainstream attention after the film A Walk to Remember featured their music. They signed to Columbia Records, while simultaneously maintaining their contract with Sparrow. This allowed the band to distribute to both the Christian and mainstream markets.
Since then, Switchfoot has released six more full-length albums, continues to tour internationally, and is currently preparing their tenth album release.
The band’s legacy has exceeded their commercial success. Their thought-provoking songs and committed lifestyles continue to inspire fans worldwide. Due to their extensive audience base, this happens both inside and outside of the church.
Junior Christian Ministry major Josh Morgan finds their hit song “Dare You To Move” to be meaningfully convicting.
“Sometimes we get to a point in our faith where we’re complacent and don’t feel like doing anything,” shared Morgan. “That song makes me want to go out and do more; live out the Great Commission.”
Switchfoot isn’t the only seasoned band of Christians using their careers to make a difference in others’ lives.
Anberlin, an alternative rock band formed in 2002, has recorded and performed in a dominantly mainstream environment. Their sound blends rock, pop, metal and electronic, appealing to a diverse crowd of listeners. Anberlin toured with many different types of bands and often played in venues most Christians would never enter.
The band released seven albums in their career, received critical acclaim from many reviewers, and has a highly dedicated fan base to this day. They are best known for their rock hit, “Feel Good Drag.” The heavy-hitting song contemplates the regret of an affair and serves as an anthem to resist lust.
Anberlin recently disbanded last year to pursue other passions. In reflecting on their career, they’ve expressed a hope for their music to extend beyond their legacy and influence the world.
“Anberlin will be forgotten in fifty years,” lead singer Stephen Christian predicted in their recent farewell documentary Don’t Try To Wake Me Up. “But the cool thing is, maybe we had a chance to help someone set a chord.”
Drummer Nathan Young shared similar sentiments in the short film.
“I really think what Anberlin is to people, and what it’s meant to so many different humans throughout the years, is so much bigger and beyond any personal stuff.”
As veteran bands like Switchfoot and Anberlin leave behind an example for Christians in the mainstream music industry, a new and larger generation of bands is emerging with the same goals.
An eclectic duo named Twenty One Pilots is not only one of the most popular of this Christian’s performing secular music genre but currently one of the most popular pop acts in the world.
Twenty One Pilots began their musical career back in 2009. Consisting of only two members, the band blends elements of pop, rock, rap, electronic and reggae into their style.
Twenty One Pilots discusses themes like depression and insecurity in many of their songs, while simultaneously emphasizing hope for these hardships.
“We don’t want to get on stage and tell people what they should believe,” Tyler Joseph, band member explained. “We want you to think…to figure out these questions. If any one person was helped or encouraged in any way by our music, then our careers are completely justified.”
Twenty One Pilots is accompanied by an ever-growing list of Christian musicians encouraging their audiences to attack major problems regarding their personal faiths. While some listeners might criticize these bands for “holding back” their beliefs, many praise their efforts for expanding a positive message beyond the church setting.
“There are people out there that will see a band labeled as a ‘Christian band’ and decide they don’t want to listen to them because they’re Christian. So I think that some of these bands decide not to label themselves ‘Christian’ in order to reach another group of people,” Morgan commented.
Music ministry will always remain a vital tool within the church, but bands like Switchfoot, Anberlin, and Twenty One Pilots continue to expand this potential to the rest of the world, offering a refreshing and opening avenue toward faith.