One of the most significant indicators of the use of newer music in Christian congregations in The United States is the CCLI Top 100 list. CCLI is the nation’s leading provider of licensing services for churches that reproduce songs in print or on screen for congregational singing.
As a list, the CCLI Top 100 only indicates what copyrighted songs congregations subscribing to the CCLI license are using the most. The list provides no information about the quality of the songs, either theologically, musically, or in terms of their use of language for humanity and God.
The majority of the contemporary/modern worship corpus reflected in the CCLI Top 100 list is generated by artists whose theological traditions are not generally Wesleyan-Arminian. Most could be described as charismatic, Pentecostal, Calvinist, or neo-Calvinist. These traditions have not fully shared and sometimes have taken positions opposite to our core commitments as United Methodists. These commitments include:
- an understanding of salvation in which ongoing sanctification and making use of the means of grace are seen as crucial
- a practice of corporate worship and discipleship in which sacraments are central
- an attentiveness to doctrinal and biblical accuracy in lyrical form
- the importance of congregational singing, and
- the use of language for God that is expansive, inclusive, non-patriarchal and that consistently respects persons of all cultures, ethnicities, and physical and mental abilities.
We have sought to be generous in vetting this collection of songs to affirm those we believe we can sing as United Methodists and that can be good for us to sing. We have used criteria of adherence to Wesleyan theology, appropriate use of language for God and humanity, and singability.
Here we present two lists of songs, all of which we commend for United Methodist congregations to consider for use in worship. The Green List includes those that generally scored 3.5 or higher on a five point scale across our criteria and that we have agreed present few if any obstacles, other than key register in some cases, for our congregations to sing with confidence. The Yellow List includes songs that have one or more significant issues we believe may require some conversation between musicians and pastors about whether or how to include them in worship, but are generally sound. The italicized items at the bottom of this list may require additional attention, either because they include language that could be understood as racist, or overuse exclusively male images of God, or could be interpreted as theologically problematic. We still commend them, but we especially encourage further conversation to occur around how these might be performed. Songs that appear in the 2015-2016 CCLI Top 100 but not on either of these lists we have chosen not to commend. All of our scoring and comments on all 113 songs over the past two years will be published on the Discipleship Ministries CCLI Top 100 page.
The corpus of hymns and worship songs keeps expanding. We hope our work to generate these lists and the fuller detail that will appear on our website will be a useful toolset that helps you, our pastors, musicians and worship planners and leaders, discover and evaluate and help your congregations sing old and new songs that are both true to our United Methodist commitments and most appropriate for your particular contexts.