The mystery, music, and markets of contemporary worship songs : an interdisciplinary comparison of the CCLI Top 25 and number-one songs from 2010-2020.


Access rights

Worldwide access

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Many churches in America use contemporary worship songs (CWS). As worshippers connect with God through these songs, the continued use of some CWS across churches elevates specific songs into the Christian Copyright Licensing International’s (CCLI’s) Top 25, which is created based on church reporting. Scholars have used the CCLI lists to analyze contemporary worship in the church. This dissertation proposes a unique approach by comparing the Top 25 with the number-one songs to answer the question: what makes a contemporary worship song popular? The songs analyzed were taken from the CCLI lists from 2010 to 2020. The 2010s decade was selected because of the rise of church worship bands and music streaming services. The CCLI lists from 2010 to 2020 provided a collection of seventy songs that acted as the standard to which the eleven most popular number-one songs were compared. To answer the primary question, this research required interdisciplinary methods from digital humanities, theology, music theory, and ethnography to analyze the songs and their use. First, the lyrics were analyzed using a Trinitarian theology lens. Second, the music was analyzed using music theory and popular music studies methods. Third, the song’s engagement with the music industry and creation was explored using ethnographic interviews. Lastly, the chapters about the content and creation of the songs are supplemented by an additional chapter that addresses the reception and use of CWS in the church. This chapter provides insights from a survey and interviews about worshippers’ engagement with CWS and the process by which worship leaders find, select, and use new songs. This dissertation provides foundational information about CWS from 2010 to 2020 and proposes new methods for analyzing contemporary worship songs in the future.