Bethel Music has defined the soundtrack of contemporary Christian worship. You can hear it in churches, revivals, youth groups, and wherever evangelical Christians are gathered. Read on to learn more about the origins and evolution of this unique brand of spiritual music.
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What is Bethel Music?
Bethel Music is a musical collective consisting of artists who create and produce evangelical Christian worship music. The collective is called Bethel because it started at Bethel church, a megachurch based in Redding, California. But more on that later.
To understand Bethel Music, you must get to know the genre of contemporary Christian music and praise and worship music specifically.
The Changing Face of Worship
When you hear the words ‘church music”, what do you think of? Often the first thing that comes to mind is a choir singing a slow hymn, possibly with the accompaniment of an organ. And that’s exactly what church music was for many American Christians for generations. But church music took quite a different turn right around the time that everything else in America was in flux – the 1970s.
It began outside the church, when Christian musicians began to take elements of popular music like rock and roll, and mix them with inspirational lyrics and Biblical themes. The contemporary Christian music genre was born and began to grow in popularity throughout the ’70s and ’80s.
It wasn’t an easy sell at first. The secular world either didn’t understand the genre or judged anything labeled “Christian” as hokey and irrelevant. Meanwhile, most older Christians of that time were suspicious of mixing sacred lyrics with what was often seen as “ungodly” instruments like drums and electric guitars.
Despite these challenges, contemporary Christian music (or CCM) caught on with younger evangelicals in a big way.
In the 70s these baby boomers were ready for a change in how they approached spirituality. There was a major “falling away” from the religious traditions of their parents and a move toward a more personalized connection with the divine. CCM was a reflection of that spiritual revolution. It spoke to the emotions of its listeners.
The themes of struggle, loneliness, love, and personal growth felt more “real” when delivered in the form of contemporary musical styles. The buying power of that generation helped catapult CCM into an industry all its own, with its own studios, labels, and awards shows.
Meanwhile, in churches across the nation, the influence of CCM was rushing in.
Evangelical protestant faith had already had a long history of lively, danceable music within its churches, however, this type of worship was found mainly in African American and Pentecostal congregations and was not the majority mainstream experience. There was still some backlash against the idea of music that would make people dance, jump and shout in church.
As time went on, music labels like Hosanna Music and Maranatha Music ushered in a new praise and worship style. These labels offered original music, although they sometimes re-worked traditional well-known Christian hymns into a more modern sound.
Overall this music enabled worshippers to move their bodies to uplifting beats, while also offering slow, reverential ballads that prompted quiet reflection. It was a happy medium between wild and worshipful that seemed to please old and young alike.
Over the years, this style of worship became the norm in most evangelical churches, and the genre grew until labels like Hillsong and Bethel became household names among believers. This genre is referred to as Contemporary Worship Music or CWM.
Bethel Music Characteristics
If you’re not familiar with the genre of praise and worship music, you may be wondering what it sounds like. The best way to describe praise and worship music is soft rock/adult contemporary in terms of style, but gospel in terms of lyrics.
Over the years, different praise and worship groups and collectives have created songs with diverse influences including rock, country, folk, and Celtic styles.
However, contemporary praise and worship that has been popular for the last decade or so tends to have a specific, recognizable sound. Some praise and worship music can sound very similar to secular bands like Coldplay or Mumford and Sons, but the lyrics have explicitly Biblical messages.
The melodies tend to be simple and easy to follow, so they’re perfect for communal singing among people of all ages and abilities. That’s not to say that the songs don’t have their share of high notes.
Bethel music, like most worship music, employs what is sometimes referred to as a “built-in cry’. This means that there is a part in the song – usually in the chorus – that is similar to a chant or recitation, but with a long, emotional high note. It is often the most memorable part of the song and is meant to focus the congregation's senses on the worship experience.
Lyrically, praise and worship music focuses a lot on emotions and the human experience. Although many of the songs speak directly to God or about God, there is usually some part where the singer expresses their feelings of love, joy, gratitude, or struggle.
The lyrics can sound like secular love songs in some cases, and they’re written that way intentionally. Groups like Bethel want people to feel that they have a personal and intimate relationship with God.
8 Examples Of Bethel Music
The Goodness of God
This song of gratitude speaks about how God loves and protects us through all life’s circumstances. It calls the listener to reflect on their experiences with God’s goodness and invites them to trust him and surrender themselves to His will.
Father of Jesus
This worship song draws attention to the immense sacrifice God made when he sent Jesus to die for the sins of the world. It focuses on God’s role as a loving, sacrificial father who gave life and salvation to humanity.
No Longer Slaves
In this inspirational anthem, the singer leads the congregation in a chant of ‘I am no longer a slave to fear; I am a child of God”. The song describes how God freed his children from the shackles of sin and shame and gave them a bold spirit of trust in Him.
A soft, comforting song that sounds almost like a lullaby, Fall Afresh is a meditative tune that invites the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on the congregation, filling them with renewed love, hope, and power. It features peaceful acoustic guitars and the sweet voices of the Bethel musicians.
Raise a Hallelujah
This song begins with the powerful declaration “I raise a hallelujah in the presence of my enemies. Throughout this drum-driven marching song, the singer speaks of overcoming insurmountable obstacles by praising God and believing in his ability to work miracles.
This is Amazing Grace
This worship song is about the many wonderful aspects of God; His power over nature, his love of humanity, his justice, and righteousness. Then it sings “This is amazing grace. This is unfailing love, that you would take my place; that you would bear my cross”.
So from the all-powerful God, they turn the focus on the redeeming love he showed by sending Jesus to die for the sins of the world.
As the title implies, this song sings the praises of the three aspects of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It describes the specific ways in which each aspect of the triune God manifests itself and moves among the Christian community.
Top 5 Bethel Musicians
Jonathan David Helser and Melissa Helser
Jonathan Helser is a singer and songwriter from Sophia, North Carolina. He and his wife Melissa – who is also a musician- lead music and craft workshops in their local area, in addition to leading worship on many Bethel recordings. They have been involved with Bethel since 2014, and feature prominently in the collective’s body of work.
Jenn Johnson is a singer/songwriter, speaker, and musician based in Redding, California. She is one of the co-founders of Bethel Music. She has written and sung multiple popular songs for Bethel recordings, such as “Goodness of God” and “You’re Gonna Be Okay”. Jenn is also a businesswoman, having launched her lifestyle brand.
Brian Johnson is a co-founder of Bethel Music, along with his wife Jenn. Brian is also a talented singer-songwriter who has played a role in the praise and worship scene for more than 20 years. He has been nominated for multiple Dove Awards and had the ASCAP Christian Radio Single of 2013 with “One Thing Remains”.
Dante Bowe is a Georgia-based worship leader whose passionate heart for the gospel as well as musical talent has earned the attention of many listeners in the short time he’s been with Bethel. In 2021, Bowe won a GMA Dove Award for “Best Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song of the Year”.
Kristene DeMarco is a Bethel worship leader known for her popular songs ‘It is Well, and “Take Courage”. Kristene enjoys helping and mentoring young Christian artists, encouraging the next generation to use their talents for the glory of God.
Bethel Music: How it Began
Bethel Church, a California-based non-denominational congregation, is the home base and origin point for Bethel Music. The church had grown in popularity throughout the 90s and early 2000s for its belief in Biblical miracles and spiritual gifts as well as for its charismatic brand of worship.
The church’s worship team and unique style of praise inspired other Christians and spread to congregations around the nation. They began recording their music for use by other churches and Christian organizations, and between 2009 and 2013, Bethel went from having a standard praise and worship team to having their own recording studios and music label.
Between 2015 and the present day, Bethel Music began to truly make its mark on the genre, eventually rising to the level of popularity once held by Hillsongs, another church-based praise and worship collective.
It isn’t easy to stand out in praise and worship music. The themes are much the same wherever you go, and the style tends to follow some basic rules. It is after all a faith-based genre, so attempts to stand out can be seen in some cases as prideful or inappropriate. The only way to truly stand out in the genre is to project a true sense of connection with God.
By bringing in artists who wrote and sang their own music, and who had earned their stripes as respected worship leaders at their respective churches, Bethel had formed somewhat of a supergroup.
Leaders like Brian Johnson and the Helsers brought a real, raw and honest sound to their music that resonated with congregants.
While the themes of overcoming obstacles, being grateful for God’s gifts, and surrendering to the will of God were by no means new ones, the vocal and musical artistry of the music added new meaning and dimension to the songs. This got people’s attention.
Bethel’s focus on miracles was also an inspiration to listeners. The singers/songwriters behind the music truly believe that God can do amazing things and that miracles are not only a thing of the past. Their songs are full of faith, joy, and triumph.
Today, Bethel is a force to be reckoned with in contemporary Christian worship music. The works produced by Bethel’s group of artists have become songbook staples that are known and loved by the global Christian community.
What Is Bethel Music? Final Thoughts
Bethel music is a Contemporary Christian Worship music collective. The purpose of their music is to glorify God and spread the message of the Christian faith. The collective has established its own unique style of music that has made them popular with evangelical charismatic congregations around the globe.