I've been involved in leading and playing Christian worship music for over twenty years, and have witnessed how worship music has changed and developed over the years. And the changes have been fantastic. No doubt, I've changed and developed along with it, musically and spiritually.
We are in a wonderful era when it comes to contemporary praise and worship music. Because of the internet, there is now more availability, more access, and more exposure to Christian music than ever before. And because of technology, the development of mp3 players, phones, computers, and music software has made tons of music available at the touch of our fingertips. There are so many great bands and song writers today.
The style of worship music has changed radically over recent years. Even the chord progressions have changed. So many churches, including the one where I lead music, have decided to keep pace with the current Christian music culture. Musically, this keeps a church relevant and fresh. After all, if your church isn't playing at least some of the songs that your members are purchasing and listening to during the week, isn't there a disconnect?
What I do to keep relevant to our immediate demographic, is to monitor what is being played on local radio. Also, I monitor the iTunes top 25 Christian music downloads. I also check things like YouTube music videos for popularity.
I like to classify Christian songs into 3 categories, somewhat based on Colossians 3:16, which separates songs in 3 categories, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
My 3 categories are somewhat different, they are: Spiritual, Praise and Worship songs. Spiritual songs are songs whose lyrics are mainly about Christians. Praise songs are songs about God, but not addressed directly to Him. Worship songs are songs whose lyrics are addressed directly to God. Worship songs, if they are sung with sincere hearts, are what I call "melodic prayers", and are the most intimate. (Note that some songs combine the 3 categories.)
Here are examples of all three categories, using Chris Tomlin songs as examples.
1. A Spiritual song: "Amazing Grace - My Chains Are Gone" - (a song in the first person, mainly about one's condition, and uses "I" and "me" a lot)
2. A Praise song: "How Great Is Our God" - ( a song mainly boasting about God, addressed to each other, uses "He" and "God" a lot)
3. A Worship song: "Your Grace Is Enough" - (a song addressed directly to God, uses "You" and "Your" a lot)
Each of these 3 categories can be used strategically in developing the flow of a worship service. For example, a spiritual song can be one to start the service. Praise songs can then be used to deliver energy and conviction. Worship songs can be used in intimate settings, such as Communion or Prayer times. Spiritual or Praise songs make great endings to a service.
Below is my top ten list of "congregational songs" for the first quarter of 2013 - those which seem to be currently working effectively in prompting our congregation to participate in singing and worshiping God. This list doesn't include songs that are used for "solo specials', which are meant to deliver a particular message in song, without the congregation necessarily singing along.
Realize that this is my list, for my church. Your lists are probably different than mine - that's ok, because each person and each church is different. Also realize that this list will change as time goes on - and as new songs are written - and probably change every few months. And one of these days, I'll post my top ten "personal listening list", but for now.........
My Top Ten List (First Quarter 2013)
Current Best Contemporary Christian Songs in a Congregational Setting.....
1. "Our God" - Chris Tomlin (Spiritual/Praise/Worship combined)
2. "One Thing Remains" - Kristian Stanfill (Worship)
3. "Whom Shall I Fear" - Chris Tomlin (Praise/Worship combined)
4. "10000 Reasons" - Matt Redman (Praise/Worship combined)
5. "You Never Let Go" - Matt Redman (Worship)
6. "Revelation Song" - Hillsongs (Praise/Worship combined)
7. "Your Grace Is Enough" - Chris Tomlin (Worship)
8. "I Give You My Heart" - Hillsongs version (Worship)
9. "Amazing Grace - My Chains Are Gone" - Chris Tomlin (Spiritual/Praise combined)
10. "How Great Is Our God" - Chris Tomlin (Praise)