In the last 25 years, Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) went from an obscure and often copycat genre of music to one that consistently produces quality artists known beyond Christian audiences.
Seeing all the growth that has taken place since 1990, we wanted to compile a list of the top 25 Christian albums from then until now.
Often times when you read these lists, you have never heard of half of the artists on the list. That’s because music critics often choose based solely on their idea of artistic greatness, with no regard for commercial success.
Our list takes into account musical achievement, legacy of the album, as well as sales and radio play. We feel this produces a well-rounded and significant list of 25 albums, but we also acknowledge our personal preferences play a role.
The selection committee also ranges from individuals with musical training (including one who was actually featured on a CCM album) to those of us who were simply fans who grew up during this era of music.
We also should note that an artist can only have one album on the list. If multiple albums were listed by members of the committee, we went with the album that received the highest score from the group as a whole.
You can see the entire top 25 countdown along with a Spotify playlist or you can look at the other groups of five and see why we chose each one:
- #1-5 – dcTalk, Jars of Clay, Steven Curtis Chapman, Switchfoot, Newsboys
- #6-10 – Caedmon’s Call, Audio Adrenaline, Sixpence None The Richer, NEEDTOBREATHE, MercyMe
- #11-15 – Third Day, Jennifer Knapp, Lecrae, Michael W. Smith, Relient K
- #16-20 – Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins, P.O.D., Jon Foreman, Josh Garrels
While we hope you appreciate our top 25, we also want to hear from you. Let us know each day what you think of the albums included. Tweet about the list using the hashtag #25in25.
25. Heart in Motion – Amy Grant
1991 – A&M Records
Every time I hear this album I recall working on homework as a kindergartener and smelling a kitchen full of Pine Sol. (AKA – Dancing to this album as a kid while my mom cleaned the house.) This album is Amy Grant’s diving board into a whole new pool of questions and answers, love and hate, pain and healing. A crossover, hit-driven blockbuster, this was impressive to her dedicated Christian following as well as her new secular fans. Being one of Amy’s biggest selling albums, driven by “Every Heartbeat” and “Baby Baby,” she still kept true to her message and sang with that genuine Grant heart we all know and love.—LM
This album starts out with talking about the Wright brothers in “Wings” – AND THIS CAROLINA GIRL WAS SOLD! 4Him was formed out of the traveling group Truth. (Who else was in Truth? Steve Green, Anthony Evans, Natalie Grant, some of Avalon, and SO MANY MORE IT’S SHOCKING!) The second side of the cassette was just as good as the first with the hit “Ride of Life.” Honestly, even if this album won very few awards and no precious metals, if you are a 4Him fan, you know every song “for future generations!”—LM
It might seem, pardon the pun, silly to have on the list an album performed ostensibly by vegetables, but Bob and Larry were inescapable in the 90s – especially Silly Songs. Kids, parents, college students, everyone appreciated the fun of belting out the songs and asking things like “Oh, where is my hairbrush?” The album itself reached no. 2 on Billboard’s kids chart, while the series as a whole changed the way we think about Christian entertainment for kids.—AE
How do you follow up a debut album that is one of only eight Christian music albums to go double platinum? Thanks to advice from Steven Curtis Chapman and Mac Powell of Third Day, very carefully. The two CCM veterans advised the new group to focus on what God wanted to say, not what would sell a lot of records. Lifesong did both – selling 1.4 million copies – and won a Dove Award and a Grammy. Singles “Lifesong,” “Praise You In The Storm,” and “Does Anybody Hear Her” all topped Christian charts.—AE
The main critique I hear of CCM music from Christians is that it is often theologically shallow. Tenth Avenue North’s The Light Meets the Dark provides a depth and substance that dismisses these judgments. The album encourages listeners to expose the sins and lies in their lives to the truth and healing only God can provide. In the first few songs alone, they take you on a journey of redemption. You travel through the pain of living in darkness to the hope in knowing “his blood can cover us” in the song “Healing Begins.” They transport you into grateful worship amid the awe and wonder of the One even the wind and waves obey in “Strong Enough to Save”. They remind you who you are as a new creation in Jesus Christ, free from the guilt and shame of yesterday, in their song “You are More.” The rest of the album may not be filled with radio hits, but it is full of the same rich lyrics and nuanced vocals that make each song special. Tenth Avenue North is willing to use space because they know they are saying something worth reflecting on and trust their listeners will meet them in the quiet places where God can speak to us.—CO
The selection committee
Zach Delph spends most of his time watching Nashville Predators hockey and Cincinnati Reds baseball with his wife and 2 dogs. When he can, you’ll find him traveling in the TARDIS to all the Disney Parks around the universe. You can reach him at @zeejaydee on the Twitters.
Aaron Earls has been known to sing along loudly to Sixpence’s “Kiss Me” and Lecrae’s “40 Deep” in the same car ride. As a writer and online editor, he also may have a slightly unhealthy obsession with dead writers—particularly C.S. Lewis, which is why you can find his blog at Tretinoin acne or on Twitter at @WardorbeDoor.
Jonathan Howe is the resident Taylor Swift expert at LifeWay Christian Resources. When he’s not belting out teenage pop-country he’s managing and building blogs and websites for some of the most well-known leaders in evangelicalism. Though his blog at HoweOriginal.com is “on sabbatical” in 2014, you can find him on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.
Elizabeth Hyndman (@edhyndman, edhyndman.com) once saw Kirk Franklin, dcTalk, and Jars of Clay open for Billy Graham. It was the highlight of her 10th grade year. Elizabeth is a writer and editor in Nashville.
Christopher Anthony John Martin is the lead singer of Coldplay and presently recovering from his conscious uncoupling with Gwyneth Paltrow. Christopher Joseph Martin, however, knows nothing about making music, but loves Coldplay, Radiohead, and long walks on the beach. He blogs at MillennialEvangelical.com and is on Twitter at @ChrisMartin17. He and his wife, Susie, are still consciously coupled.
Lydia McMillan is a gal who has wished her whole life to attend The Dove Awards with dcTalk and dreams of singing on a WOW album with Steve Green. Keep up with Lydia at @lemcmillan and lydiahatespurple.com.
Casey Oliver is the head statistician for a nationally renowned research company. A Pennsylvania native, he loves Jesus, his wife Mary Beth, and David Crowder – and he tries to keep it in that order.
Amy Whitfield (@acwhit) lives in Wake Forest, NC, with her husband Keith and children Mary and Drew. She serves as Director of Communications at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She loves to read great fiction and biographies of great people. Her iTunes playlist includes Alvin and the Chipmunks, Yo-Yo Ma and everything in between.