A Beautiful Noise: A History of Contemporary Worship Music in Modern America

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Reagan, Wen


Wacker, Grant

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How did rock and roll, the best music for worshipping the devil, become the finest music for worshipping God? This study narrates the import of rock music into church sanctuaries across America via the rise of contemporary worship music (CWM). While white evangelicals derided rock n' roll as the "devil's music" in the 1950s, it slowly made its way into their churches and beyond over the next fifty years, emerging as a multi-million dollar industry by the twenty-first century.

This study is a cultural history of CWM, chronicling the rise of rock music in the worship life of American Christians. Pulling from several different primary and secondary sources, I argue that three main motivations fueled the rise of CWM in America: the desire to reach the lost, to commune in emotional intimacy with God, and to grow the flock. These three motivations evolved among different actors and movements at different times. In the 1970s, the Jesus People movement anchored in Southern California, adopted the music of the counterculture to attract hippies to church. In the early 1980s, the Vineyard Fellowship combined rock forms with lyrics that spoke of God in the second person in order to facilitate intimate worship with the divine. In the late 1980s, the church growth movement embraced CWM as a tool to attract disaffected baby boomers back to church. By the 1990s, these three motivations had begun to energize an entire industry built around the merger between rock and worship.






Reagan, Wen (2015). A Beautiful Noise: A History of Contemporary Worship Music in Modern America. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9836.


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.