Chris Tomlin may not not be a household name, but there is a good chance you sang one of his songs at your worship service this past week. Tomlin's tunes, including "Forever," "We Fall Down" and "Famous One," are among the most widely used by contemporary churches across the globe. In fact, Tomlin has registered five songs in the Top 500 on the Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) Charts (a record of songs played in churches across the country), with two in the Top 20. And his newest release, Arriving, had just released with an extremely impressive 22,000-plus sold at press time during its first week out. While these numbers would be good news to any artist, when you look at debut week sales for Tomlin?fs first release, Not To Us (Arriving more than quadrupled sales), it proves all the more just how popular this young worship artist is becoming.
With that kind of clout, you wouldn't think he'd have had trouble getting the producer he wanted onboard to helm. But that wasn't the case when Tomlin asked Ed Cash (Bebo Norman, Caedmon's Call, Bethany Dillon) to take on the project. According to Tomlin, Cash didn?ft think modern worship songwriting was up to par with "regular" songwriting; so he was hesitant to sign on. But Tomlin eventually convinced him, and the result is what Tomlin describes as his personal "best, without a doubt."
"I just wanted someone who really had a passion for the songs, not someone who just can make it sound good and has great bells and whistles," he explains. "Ed Cash was that guy for me. He's a great songwriter himself with great ideas, and he really brought out the best from the band as they played. He really caused me to grow because he challenged me to write the very best songs I could that would stand up to any song out there. There were amazing times in this recording where we would just get lost in worship to God and moments with God that were really beyond the songs."
For Tomlin, moments like those have come fairly often. The worship leader, who got his start in 1997 performing at Louie Giglio's "Passion" college events, has founded his career on such large group gatherings. He is also signed to sixstepsrecords, the record label Giglio founded four years ago. And in early 2003, he became a founding member and worship leader of the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas.
But his path to becoming a worship leader was a long time coming. "Since I was in high school, my heart has been to write songs for the church," he says. "It has been to write songs for people to sing and to play and to respond to God."
And, according to Tomlin, not just any worship song will do. "There are lots of songs out there in the name of worship songs that are really badly written," he notes. "They are uninspiring, and they just do the same thing over and over and over again. Some of the new songs are written, and they are not going to last. My thing is that worship music is Christian music in its purest form." And Tomlin seems to have found that perfect balance as evidenced by the radio success he?fs already seeing with "Indescribable," the first single off Arriving that's already hit the top 5 on Radio & Records and Christian Radio Weekly?fs charts.
"The beautiful thing about worship music is that God is at the center," he continues. "It comes out of all artists who are really living out their faith and their relationship with Jesus because they can't help but worship Him in their songs. We stand in a long line of people who have gone before us. The style and the way it's done, whether it's from the tradition of the old or the new, changes. But the spirit of it is never changing. What's important to me is putting out songs that the church can sing. It's fresh and profound, and the church can really grab onto it. That's my heart in making music."