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It's ok with me!

Where Are All The New British Worship Songs?

Posted at 13:11pm on 11th March 2020

Last year I was attending a gathering of (mainly) British worship songwriters. The established, published ones, rather than those new to the craft. We began sessions by worshipping together in song and those leading us chose songs we’d probably all know. Wisely selecting familiar classics that would gather us all in one voice. So far so good, but by the final session I began to notice something.

For a gathering of worship songwriters, it was perhaps strange that we hadn’t sung any songs by anyone in the room – except one or two where the person leading the song had also written it. This could, of course, have been some excellent diplomacy, choosing to treat everyone on the same level by not showcasing the work of any one person or group. But I wasn’t convinced this was the reason. Surely it was about which songs we all knew?

Looking around the room, my colleague, Chris, and I realised we would struggle to name a song by 95% of the people in there. And no doubt the same would be true when they looked at us. Was there anyone in the room whose songs the two of us sang regularly in our own churches? Maybe one or two. But even those were songs we’d introduced at least 10 years ago. Other than our own (Resound Worship), we struggled to think of a single song by a British writer(s) that had become established in the repertoire of our own churches in the last decade.

Here we were, all the British songwriters, but where were all the new songs?

And why aren’t the rest of us singing them?


Faced with questions like this, it’s good to work with some statistics rather than just anecdotal evidence. There’s one source of data that trumps all the others - the CCLI rankings. Every six months, CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) updates their list of the most popular songs in churches, showing you the results for your region.

It’s a very useful list. If I’m leading at an event gathered from several churches I’ll use it as a reference to help me choose widely-known songs. I often assume that if it’s in the top 50 there’s a reasonable chance that many people will know it. Top 50 = widely sung.

On that basis, it should be fairly simple to analyse the CCLI top 50 according to ranking, country of origin and date published.

Here’s what I discovered.


[For a brief discussion of how I categorised the information, see below*]

If we begin with the two most popular songs it all looks pretty good. We sing British.

10,000 Reasons and In Christ Alone are the two most popular songs. But expand it to the top 50 songs reported by UK/Eire churches and a different picture begins to emerge.


We can see from the chart that 44% of the top 50 are from UK/Eire writers. Again, that sounds pretty good. We live in a big worshipping world, but we sing a healthy chunk of home-grown. That’s what you’d hope and expect.

But I’d been interested in how many of the more recent songs had become established in the UK church. So I examined the dates of publication.


Of those 22 homegrown songs, only 3 were published in the last decade. In fact, three-quarters of the locally-sourced material in the list is more than 15 years old. Compare that with the 28 songs from the rest of the world. This time we find a much higher proportion of recent songs, with 19 (66%) having appeared since 2010.

It’s perhaps easiest to see the contrast in a chart focusing only on those songs less than 10 years old.


That appears to confirm what we had suspected to be the case.

Considerably more (nine times as many) non-UK songs than UK songs have entered regular circulation in the last decade.

If we’d chosen the last 7 years, instead of 10, we would find no songs at all from UK/Eire. Scrolling the down the entire list in date order the first ‘local’ song comes in 13th place.

It appears that there has barely been a song written in the last decade by British/Irish writers that has made it into the highest circulation list of worship songs in churches. Just three.

Build Your Kingdom and My Lighthouse by Rend Collective, a Northern Irish band.

And 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin (Sweden).



Why aren’t we singing British?

There could be all kinds of reasons. Bear with me while I make some brief, speculative suggestions.


It could that we’re simply not exposed to British songs because the new ‘gatekeepers’ like Spotify aren’t including many on their influential playlists. Same with YouTube. Maybe even CCLI?


It may be that the Australian and American songs dominating the list are simply better songs. For whatever reason, quality writers have emerged in particular locations. The British songs just aren’t as good as the imports.


At other times in recent history (eg 1990s) Britain has been a net exporter of worship music through the likes of Matt Redman, Tim Hughes and Delirious. This might just be a season. It might be God's idea.

Local Focus

It’s possible – and I’d love it to be true – that British songs are not travelling so widely because the writers are so focused on their local church at the expense of national or international ministry.


Perhaps the comparative lack of money available in the UK scene translates into less effective marketing, lower production values, fewer live videos, or even a limited opportunity to be a professional writer?


It may be that we have lost a cultural identity in our worship music. A lot is being written, but it mimics the sound and style of the imported mega-church music instead of creating something authentically British. If we mimic, we probably can’t compete.


It could be indicative of a tribalism in the UK church where we resist bringing in songs (or other resources) from a stream or denomination different to our own. This is possibly even true of the UK worship song writing scene where we have to work so hard to be noticed that we become unaware of each other.


There are hundreds of thousands of new worship songs created every year. Without an obvious frontrunner among UK writers, the saturation of the market can turn us off. It’s just not worth wading through. How do you know which are the good songs, if the playlists aren't telling you? So perhaps we stick to those that the market has already presented.


Final Reflections

I don’t know if all, or any, of those things are true. But they are worth thinking about in the light of the statistics. Some we could address in various ways. Or we might have to say it is divinely ordained, that’s how it is for now.

But I am concerned.

When I gather in that room full of writers who, like us at Resound Worship, are working hard writing, honing, recording and publishing new worship music that few of us are singing, I do begin to wonder what we’re doing it for. I believe in the local church and trust that it needs those songs, but I’m not sure the national or global church is paying all that much attention. And if not, then why all the albums? Why all the energy into a consumer product?

I do want to know if we’re doing something wrong. Are we missing a trick somewhere?

I’m also thankful.

There is a team of writers in the UK who regularly call the rest of us together for a residential in order to raise the bar of quality, deepen our relationships and seek God for his direction in this small portion of his kingdom. That gathering has made me ask these questions, but I think it is surely part of the answer.

I have two final suggestions. One for songwriters, one for song choosers.


Write different

Songwriters: To paraphrase a famous advertising slogan, figure out what your 'different' is and do that. Don't settle for the norm, parody or imitation. What is your unique contribution? Contribute that. Find the local sound, listen to the land, sing with the people.


Sing local

Song choosers: In these days of increasing awareness of the global enironmental situation, we're often encouraged to 'buy local'. It will be good for us, good for our communities and good for the planet. Perhaps it is time to begin intentionally applying that advice to our consumption of worship music. It takes more effort, but it could be the start of something new.


[With thanks to Chris Juby for the initial observations]


*For those who are interested, I took the list of top 50 songs from the CCLI UK website in February 2020. Depending on where you view the website from, you will see a list that represents your region (try it!). UK/Eire is counted as one region so, while I was chiefly interested in the British scene, I worked with this data on the assumption that it would be broadly representative. The site also gave me the publication or registration dates along with the authors. I went through the list checking the nationalities of the authors and/or the publishers. Once or twice there was a British name among several on a song that obviously originated in the US, or vice versa, so I applied a bit of personal judgement. I considered songs registered from 2010 onwards as having been written in the last decade.

Not every song is registered on CCLI and not every church uses their services, but in considering the newer songs I struggled to think of a better and more frequently updated source of statistics. My choice of the top 50 for anaysis is also an arbitray number, but choosing a round number always feels best!