(pic credit: Modern Levites ©2023 Used with permission)

The ‘Big 4’ Worship Song-makers: Maybe it Means…

Is there a deep-dark plot by ‘music-industry market-forces’ to take over every church in the English-speaking world?

Well, maybe not the entire of Christendom, but the songs being sung in church worship services?

The journal Worship Leader Research (yes, it exists) is ‘publishing research’ with confusing and ill-defined goals, and suggests something less than honorable is going on in the Modern Worship Industry.

It’s hard to say what WLR is reaching for in these two articles:

Their ‘research-based’ findings [?] assert that there are FOUR major drivers of ‘almost 100%’ of worship music being sung by congregations in the English-speaking world: Bethel Music, Hillsong, Passion and Elevation.

Yep, it’s WLR’s strong implication that four mega-churches are pretty much running the table.

[ see www.worshipleaderresearch.com ]

Bethel Music from the mega-church Bethel in Redding, CA, with hundreds of associated churches and leaders world-wide.

Hillsong, housed in Sidney, Australia, with hundreds of satellite churches around the globe, and a variety of arena/stadium touring bands.

Passion, based in Atlanta, GA, with a few satellite churches and host of a massive annual stadium youth congress in Atlanta.

Elevation is a multi-site church based in Charlotte, NC that also does arena tours.

All hail the ‘Big 4’ [WLR verbage, not mine].

If you don’t already know about these Big 4, you can easily Google them for more info.

But, What About…

The WLR writers go out of their way to tie every artist and band who were part of those ‘Movement Churches’, or have worked with the Big 4 through their touring or use of landmark-songs as ‘proof positive’ of this connection.

[Definition of a Landmark Song: a really, really amazing song that is running on all cylinders of melody, tonality, chords, lyrics, sing-ability [esp. by congregations], solid Bible theology… you know, ‘kickin’ song!’ WITH play-ability by semi-pro church musicians who make up the vast majority of small church worship ministries… the week-to-week Levites who are mostly volunteers and are pounding it out…]

Even though artists started out in one of the ‘Big 4’… many years ago… but have since launched out on their own, geographically re-located for logistics, and are to-date doing quite well… WLR wants you to believe they are still linked to the ‘Big 4’.

Their data-trove for all these ‘research findings’ are things like ‘CCLI’ charts, song-usage charts, and ‘performance use’ licensing… explaining those here… is complicated…

So, artists like Chris Tomlin, who was the worship-leader at Passion City Church in Atlanta many years ago, launching small-scale worship endeavors in the 90’s like the Passion  and 7/24 worship meetings in rainy, muddy fields and leading Sunday worship at Passion Church for a couple of hundred people… Tomlin, who now lives in Nashville [for touring and recording logistics] and hasn’t done a set at Passion’s mega-event in years… well, according to WLR, Tomlin’s in on this ‘Big 4’ conquest-taking endeavor.


WLR uses the Housefires/Pat Barrett song ‘Good, Good Father’ as one example of ‘guilty by-association’. Housefires is this worship-passionate group in Atlanta, GA [originally based in Grace Midtown Church there], and have been ‘lighting worship fires’ for years all by themselves, outside of the Big 4. Their wunderkind Pat has written a number of really solid songs, which then [yes!] captured the attention of worship leaders from the ‘Big 4’, who paid CCLI for performance/streaming rights on these amazing songs, and then used them at Bethel/Hillsong/Passion/Elevation. [Oh, my!] BUT, according to WLR, this is ‘proof’ of the ‘Big 4’ running the show.

Fear of Influence?

What seems to be the fuel behind the WLR quasi-research has ‘confirmation bias’ writ large. They appear to be afraid that these ‘Big 4’ are influencing the Church in the English-speaking world towards a Charismatic/Pentecostal theology and practice.

The WLR ‘researchers’ have yet to admit their own bias, or the limitations of their research (an important part of any valid research work!). A plenary read of their ‘journal’ seems to reveal a bias towards traditional Evangelical/Fundamental theology and practice, which tends to oppose the Charismatic/Pentecostal positions on experience and encounter.

Two of the Big 4 are un-apologetically Charismatic/Pentecostal: Bethel and Elevation. Hillsong and Passion have some (some!) Charismatic/Pentecostal leanings, but both have a strong footing in Evangelical/Fundamental praxis.

Does WLR and its’ writers fear the influence of Charismatic/Pentecostal song-writing on the Evangelical/Fundamental circle of churches?


Correlation… or Causation?

In all real research, there are foundational principles.

One is to never… NEVER… jump to the conclusions that your research is perfect, perfectly re-producable, and perfectly shows that A+B caused C.

Correlation never proves causation.

WLR definitely needs to be schooled in fundamental research method.

The Bigger Picture

WLR is missing two critical aspects of the big picture.

Firstly, there are churches, and then there are those who attend those churches. Over 90% of churches in America have 51% of the Protestant attendees, with less than 350 people attending tose houses.

The other 49% of church attendees go to mega-churches, which represent only 10% of church entities.

The data set WLR is using does not properly capture all those churches, especially the smaller and more liturgical.

Second, the sheer magnitude of ministries, bands, groups and artists ‘out there’ writing worship songs and engaging in worship ministry is sorely missing from WLR’s narrow data-set.

Maverick Music, TRIBL, Skillet, Matt Redman, Martin Smith, Abbie Gamboa, UpperRoom, IHOPKC, David’s Tent, Amanda Cook, Michael W Smith, Amy Grant, CampFire, Burn, Circle, kalley, Matt Mayer… ohhh my gosh, I could spend hours mentioning people out there, pounding it out… and totally escaping the WLR data-set, and their hasty assumptions. This massive community represent all ‘Three Flows in the River’ called The Church (Liturgical/Historic, Evangelical/Fundamental, Charismatic/Pentecostal).

The Hard Road of Professional Music

The Big 4 that has captivated WLR are all definitely top-notch music pros. The complexities of modern music business… writing, publishing, recording, musicianship, on-line, music download/streaming, gear and tekk, touring… now require more than a full-time focus to produce any real quality product.

The Big 4 that WLR call out are, without a doubt, masters of the Professional Music craft.

Yes, because of the rigors of the music business today, some music gets missed. The deeply profound and brilliantly-written song by a devout and sincere worship leader of a small, local congregation in a small American town may never be heard on a huge national platform.

But, I would ask… should it be? Does it have to be?

The Heart of GOD, who is (supposed to be) our ‘audience of One’ in worship, is delighted by that beautiful song. What else counts… really??

{side-bar: I am a HUGE encourager of local worship leaders writing songs to be sung in their own congregations, birthed out of what GOD is doing in their midst…]

Maybe it Means…?

This blog was a long way around the park, but my last point will be that WLR is missing the ‘secret sauce’ of WHY these songs are being sung out everywhere.

In the last year, I’ve been in over 25 different churches that represent the Three Flows. The funny bit is that I have sung a particular Hillsong-written tune in over half of those churches… how glorious!

WLR simply doesn’t realize that all the folks IN the Big 4… and that exhaustive list of worship peeps ‘out there’… well, they all hang out together, write songs together, co-lead with each other, record with each other, use each other’s songs, show up at each other’s churches and events, support each other.

The big secret? They like each other. They respect each other, and honor each other’s work. They like working together.

More than anything, they like worshiping the King together. Even if it’s not ‘their’ song, or the other guy or gal is leading.

The deep teaching on ‘in worship music, we write, play and sing to the audience of ONE’ is finally bearing fruit.

I work in the ‘worship industry’. The level of competition and gotta-get-ahead is insanely LOW.

So, WLR, maybe all this cross-germination and cross-pollination means that… we’re behaving in a way that pleases King Jesus.

WLR does not get that this may be a hugely POSITIVE indicator!


I have purposely avoided the conspiracy-theory nut-jobs who see the songs from the Big 4 as part of the great scheme of hell to deceive and corrupt the Church into apostacy.

It is shocking to me how much band-width is given to compassion-less and horrible attacks on various musicians and worship-song-writers, especially from the Charismatic/Pentecostal flow.

The way these extremists paint it, the heretics in the Big 4 want to deceive the Church and carry them straight into the fires of hell.

Nope, not going there.

written by crisbaj


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