Time again for our annual list of Favorite Worship Albums. The 12 CDs listed here, all released since September 2002, aren’t ranked in any particular order, because different people worship in different ways. Many styles are represented here—from classic rock to soft pop, and everything in between and beyond. Whatever your preference, we hope you’ll give these standout albums a listen. These projects were chosen based on originality of songs, quality of performance, and the ability to draw the listener into closer communion with the Lord, representing a level of excellence where artistry and worship uniquely combine.

Worship Again

Michael W. Smith (Reunion)Read the original review here.Click to view artist page.

Perhaps this is an obvious choice, but perhaps not. Smitty’s first Worship album (2001) had more recognizable and popular songs, which is precisely why Worship Again is a more interesting listen and more useful to worship leaders. It reintroduces the world to a number of lesser-known corporate worship songs—namely the heartfelt confessional “Lord Have Mercy,” the rich and hymn-like “Ancient Words,” and the popular sing-a-long “You Are Holy (Prince of Peace).” What Smith lacks in originality, he makes up for with effective arrangement, performance, and communication skills—key traits in a great worship leader.

Blessed

Hillsong Live Worship (Hillsong/Integrity)Read the original review here.

The world-renowned Worship & Creative Arts team of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, produces a handful of albums annually. Unfortunately, many are repetitive and unmemorable, but here’s one of the great ones. Blessed may be Hillsong’s most energetic album yet, recorded live at the Sydney Entertainment Center in 2002. Improved arrangements and catchier songwriting (“Now That You’re Near,” “Made Me Glad,” and the title track, to name a few) make the band sound more powerful and majestic. They still haven’t come up with another “Shout to the Lord,” but Darlene Zschech, Reuben Morgan, Marty Sampson and company seem to improve with time as evidenced by this remarkable worship event.

Todd Agnew

Grace Like Rain (Ardent)Read the original review here.Click to view artist page.

Quite possibly the breakout worship debut of the year. Name another new worship artist making a bigger impact in 2003. At this writing, “This Fragile Breath” has already spent six weeks at number one. Imagine how well the title track, an irresistible rock revival of “Amazing Grace,” will do. Agnew deserves high praise for combining multiple interests into a single, cohesive worship style. Those who favor the traditional will appreciate his reverence for the old hymns. Younger listeners will love his relevant sound, remarkably emulating popular artists like Dave Matthews and Creed. He may not be the most original of worship artists, but Agnew’s talents are undeniable and promising.

House of Worship

Twila Paris (Sparrow)Read the original review here.Click to view artist page.

Though she’s never stopped writing worship songs, it’s been more than 10 years since this worship pioneer’s last praise & worship album—surprising since the modern worship renaissance began five to seven years ago. But House of Worship was worth the wait. The new songs don’t quite measure up to standards like “We Bow Down” and “We Will Glorify” (new versions of both appear on this album), but most are definitely a cut above the norm. “Come Emmanuel” and “Christ In Us” are beautifully haunting, “Glory and Honor” undeniably catchy, and “God of All” instantly learnable with a strong pop melody and simplistic lyrics. Of all the 2003 worship albums, this is one of the most concentrated for quality worship anthems you can expect to hear in church over the next few years.

Access:d

Delirious (Furious?)Read the original review here.Click to view artist page.

Okay, we all know the songs that have made this UK quintet a world-famous worship band in the last 10 years. And no, there’s really nothing new on this double-disc live album. But we include it here on the merit of the band’s incredible performance. It perfectly captures Delirious in concert, where the atmospheres of an arena rock show and an ambient worship service collide into something magical. In addition to strong renditions of favorites like “My Glorious” and “History Maker,” Delirious also succeeds in incorporating and strengthening their newer material from Touch—all while creating a truly spiritual mood by segueing from one song to another. Nobody does it better.

Wash Over Me

Jami Smith (Hosanna!/Integrity)Read the original review here.

Smith is the female counterpart to Chris Tomlin and Charlie Hall, with a husky voice and acoustic pop/rock sound that’s surely appealing to any Jennifer Knapp fan. Wash Over Mefollows the pattern of a typical worship service (atypical of most worship albums), beginning with rockers like “Only You Satisfy” and “Your Love Is Deep” and gradually moving into softer and more prayerful offerings like “Come Unto Me” and the title track. A talented songwriter, musician, and worship leader, Smith is fairly well known in modern worship circles, but hasn’t quite made the impact her contemporaries have. I’m hopeful and confident that will change in time.

Offerings II: All I Have to Give

Third Day (Essential)Read the original review here.Click to view artist page.

Some may disagree, but this live worship sequel seems superior to the more predictable first Offerings. The original songs are just as good this time, especially the ballad “Offering.” Even better are the choices in worship covers. Kudos to Third Day for popularizing Waterdeep’s excellent song of praise to the Trinity, “You Are So Good to Me.” Their rendition of Rich Mullins’ “Creed” is equally thrilling, and the worship medley of “Give,” “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” U2’s “With or Without You,” and “Your Love, Oh Lord” works surprisingly well. But perhaps best of all, Third Day sounds increasingly confident in their role as rock band and worship leaders here.

Andy Hunter°

Exodus (Sparrow)Read the original review here.Click to view artist page.

A nod of praise to British DJ Andy Hunter for helping take worship into new places, artistically and physically. Like Apt•Core’s Rhythms of Remembrance before it, Exodus

demonstrates that you can worship the Creator with computers while using lyrics sparingly. Depending on context, Hunter’s music plays as well at clubs as it does for worship events or personal Bible study time. It’s also made an impact on television and film; “Go” could well be the most used song in movie soundtracks over the last year. Which goes to show that it is indeed possible to impact the world beyond the church walls with worship music.

City on a Hill: The Gathering

Various Artists (Essential)

Hard to say where this fourth and final installment in the highly acclaimed worship series ranks compared to the others. Many of the recurring formulaic elements that once seemed endearing now seem a little tired, and some of the song choices seem less than inspired—producer Steve Hindalong once again exploits his classic “Beautiful Scandalous Night.” But relative to other worship releases, City on a Hill remains one of the most creative and collaborative worship efforts of all time in the way it smartly blends historical and contemporary praise. It may be for the best that Hindalong is done with this series (for now), but here’s hoping that it inspires other producers and artists to create similar greatness for the worshipping body of Christ.

A Beautiful Glow

Rock ‘n’ Roll Worship Circus (INO)Read the original review here.Click to view artist page.

This is hands-down the most unique-sounding worship team today. Combining simple worshipful choruses with thoughtful verses and a sound that alternates from playful to intimate, The Circus tops it off by incorporating psychedelic art rock from the ’60s and ’70s. Highlights include the Beatitude-inspired “Blessed Tune,” the bouncy Psalm jangle “Morning Glory,” and the holy love letter “Loveliest Bride.” Their creative worshipful ambience is second only to Delirious, and while there’s room for improvement in their rock sound, The Circus has made impressive strides in just a couple years. Definitely a worship band to watch, especially if you’re involved with youth.

Throne Room

CeCe Winans (Wellspring/INO)Read the original review here.Click to view artist page.

The 16 songs here are divided into two halves: “Songs of Worship and Reflection” and “Songs of Praise and Adoration.” The first half may not be what CeCe’s fans would expect—a glorious tapestry of soft-yet-majestic worship songs that more recall Enya than Whitney Houston. Winans pulls it off beautifully, especially Nate Sabin’s “Jesus, You’re Beautiful” (from Sara Groves’ All Right Here) and “How Great Thou Art”—tracks that are perfect for personal or corporate worship. The second half of the CD is more what you’d expect from the popular pop/R&B vocalist, offering music more suited for praise offerings during worship. Perhaps a little long and homogenous sounding, this is overall an album of great beauty sure to draw your heart close to the Lord.

Sacred Revolution

Passion (sixsteps/Sparrow)Read the original review here.

If you think including this album is my lame way of calling attention to all the sixsteps artists and their new releases at the same time … well, you’re probably right. Both Charlie Hall and David Crowder Band have released new projects that could have very easily made this list. However, I happen to think the energy from a live audience of thousands makes songs like “All the Earth” and “O Praise Him (All for a King)” sound that much more effective. Better yet are the songs from worship artists who are still in the process of releasing new albums: Matt Redman, Jason Wade (Lifehouse), and especially Chris Tomlin. All of this combined new material indicates that we can expect some great new songs of worship in 2004. Here’s your chance to hear some of it today.

Check out our “Best-Of” Archives to see other lists from previous years.

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Contemporary worship was already a phenomenon in Christian music at this time last year. But few could have known about the tragedy that was to come on September 11, or the comfort and impact that songs of worship would bring to so many, particularly Michael W. Smith‘s Worship project. Here then, in no particular order, is our new list of favorite worship albums, chosen for their level of artistry, their thoughtful words of praise, and their practical impact on the worshiping body of Christ.

City on a Hill: Sing Alleuia

Various Artists (Essential)

Andy: The second installment of this widely popular series stays in the tradition of joining together some of Christian music’s biggest stars in unique duets. Like the first volume, the sequel features the production work of Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd, who base the project on gentle acoustic beats and rousing orchestral crescendos. With such wonderful collaborations as Nichole Nordeman, Mac Powell (Third Day), and Jennifer Knapp on “Sing Alleluia,” and Cademon’s Call with Phil Keaggy on “Communion,” you’ll enjoy spine tingling praise.

Russ: Christians come together for the sake of worshiping the Almighty with creativity. Old hymns blend with modern worship. Inspirational songwriters duet with roots rockin’ lead vocalists. There’s even a liturgically based mini-communion service in the album’s final few songs. This album is what worship and Christian community are all about.

Psalms

Shane Barnard and Shane Everett (Inpop)

Russ: I’ve picked Psalms for this list primarily because of Shane Barnard‘s songwriting skills, specifically his gift for artful-yet-catchy adaptations of Scripture for worship. Numerous artists have used the Psalms as a source for songwriting over the years, but few have done it as well by appropriating key verses and phrases to verses and choruses. Since Shane also uses draws upon Job and Hosea for this album, I look forward to seeing what else he can do with God’s word for years to come.

Andy: What I really appreciate about Barnard and Everett’s transformation of the Psalms into these modern-day musical compositions is their strong acoustic musicianship. Clearly, the duo was influenced by the likes of Caedmon’s Call and Dave Matthews Band, and being able to pull off the vocals, guitars, and backing beats with similar flair works in the duo’s favor, giving a relevant sound to such sacred texts. Barnard is truly a modern-day troubadour whose possibilities seem endless given the vast material available in the Bible to work into verses and choruses.

Welcome to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Worship Circus

Rock ‘n’ Roll Worship Circus (Vertical)

Andy: Known for their intense live show and classic rock and roll influences (Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles) the Rock ‘n’ Roll Worship Circus is a trailblazing rollicking rock band in Christian music, void of clichés and haphazard arrangements. Instead, their spiritual themes and vertical lyrics are couched behind a blaze of guitars and drums, backed even more importantly by personal integrity possessed by each group member.

Russ: I love Rock ‘n’ Roll Worship Circus for taking a different approach to praising God, combining fun British rock sounds with times of breath-taking worshipful atmosphere ala Pink Floyd. Anything that gets people excited about coming to worship the Lord is a good thing. Given time, I think this band might be as influential as Delirious has been on modern worship.

Top 25 UK Praise Songs

Various Artists (Maranatha!)

Russ: This album calls attention to the art of arranging, an essential skill in being a worship leader. Everyone can mimic the original versions of “Shout to the Lord” and “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” for their own church’s worship, but sometimes it’s helpful to try something new musically to grab the congregation’s attention or express the personal style of the church. Might this album inspire worship leaders to stretch their artistic skills for the sake of glorifying God?

Andy: I’ve always said artists need to put just as much effort into artistry as they do ministry, and thankfully, the worship leaders on this project echo those sentiments. Because the group is based in the UK, the songs have an obvious underlying Brit-pop influence, yet the arrangements are clever and carefully developed. Keep your ears glued to cuts like “Shine, Jesus Shine” and “We Want to See Jesus Lifted High.” You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the inventive reworkings.

Kara

Kara (Vertical / Integrity)

Andy: Growing as a worship artist from her stint with the band Three Strand, Kara is even more effective as a solo artist on her Vertical Music debut. The self-titled released is loaded with groovy dance jams, bursting pop beats, and refreshing contemporary melodies that will translate well into the church setting. The production on Kara’s project is top notch and matches, if not surpasses, anything in the mainstream market, proving that musical quality and uplifting spiritual messages make for an appealing combination.

Russ: This is a different kind of worship album … one that has a beat you can dance to. As cool as the techno-pop production is on this album, don’t let that shy you away from using these songs in church. Kara’s original songwriting translates well to rock and acoustic settings. Additionally, the reverse vertical song “I Love You” is a love letter from God to us that leaves me with chills. Good stuff, especially if you’re a fan of Rebecca St. James‘s Worship God album.

If You Say Go

Vineyard Music Group (Vineyard)

Russ: I think this is easily the best album Vineyard has released since 1999’s acclaimed Hungry. The Violet Burning’s “Invitacion Fountain” is already on the verge of becoming a new classic, but it’s just one of several new songs I’d love to introduce to my own worship teams. Teenage worship leader Rachel Milstead has a wonderful voice, and her song “Make Me Whole” is one of the most beautiful worship songs since “Breathe.” And the closer, “My Everything,” is absolutely electrifying. On top of that, the enhanced CD includes a bevy of resources for worship leaders. Expect a lot of these songs to appear on other worship albums for the next three years.

Andy: You can always depend on Vineyard’s ability to cull together some of the most anthemic praise material available and put it together with the worship leaders who can get the job done right. They obviously can’t strike gold with every release, but they’ve managed to do so in the last few years with projects like Hungry and Holy. If You Say Go continues in that tradition, and it will particularly impact the high school and college crowd looking for substance beyond worship cheerleading.

Effortless

Rita Springer (Floodgate)

Andy: Rita Springer delivers penetrating worship experiences along her endless road of touring, while her recordings serve as soundtracks for believers to step into personal interaction with God. Her latest Effortless combines angelic vocals (along the lines of Tori Amos or Ginny Owens) with the soothing piano playing fans have come to love over the years. Springer wears her passion for worship on her sleeve and never once leaves the parameters of a praise experience.

Russ: ‘Passionate’ is a word you can’t use enough when describing Rita’s songwriting, and ‘poetic’ is a close second. Though her vocals are energetic, they can also be as powerful as Melissa Etheridge and the Indigo Girls. The sense of worship seeps through the speakers on this one, with a terrific band that recalls Rich Mullins’s A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band album at times. Rita’s a terrific songwriter who deserves a wider listening audience for her contributions to the church.

You Shine

Brian Doerksen (Hosanna! / Integrity)

Russ: This long-time contemporary worship leader is overdue for some recognition, and this is the album to do it. You Shine is the first solo album from the man responsible for “Refiner’s Fire,” “Lord Light the Fire Again,” and “Come Now Is the Time to Worship,” which appears at the album’s end for thoughtful reasons. It’s so clear from the songwriting, the arrangements, and the performance that Brian really understands what it means to worship lead … and how to be artistic about it as well.

Andy: In the past, worship leaders have often remained anonymous behind praise compilations, and although I appreciate their humbleness in doing so, it’s nice to be able to follow the work of favorite songwriters, especially the ones who think outside the box. Doerksen mixes up this project with new compositions as well as new versions of audience favorites that previously appeared in the Hosanna and Vineyard collections. Stylistically, You Shine runs the gamut between progressive pop and incandescent balladry.

Amazed

Lincoln Brewster (Vertical / Integrity)

Andy: Lincoln Brewster has played guitar for a list of legends ranging from Journey’s Steve Perry to Michael W. Smith, and he’s always kept his blend of alternative rock and pop on the cutting edge throughout his career. Amazed is particularly listener friendly through its course of rearranging modern-day worship standards (like Delirious‘ “What a Friend I’ve Found”) while featuring many spirited originals (including “All I Really Want” and “Everybody Praise the Lord”).

Russ: “Everybody Praise the Lord” is the coolest rock worship song I’ve ever heard. Lincoln knows how to write catchy and memorable worship songs that you’ll find yourself humming long after listening to the album. But most of all, I love Lincoln’s willingness to promote instrumental excellence in worship – he absolutely smokes as a lead guitarist. If you liked Sonicflood’s first album, you’ll love this one.

Alive

Student Impact Worship Team (Willow Creek)

Russ: We’re going with a slightly unorthodox choice by picking this independent release from the Student Impact youth service at Willow Creek Community Church, but let that be an indicator of how good it is. Twenty-something worship leader Aaron Niequist leads an impressive praise team of teens on this album of mostly original songs. The music is fun, memorable, and irresistible – great for worship services of any age demographic.

Andy: Having personally participated in several worship services at Willow Creek, I can attest to the congregation’s abundance of musical talent and infectious methods of delivery. Hearing primarily the youth of the church on this project is encouraging and shows promise that the parish will have a new generation of impacting worship leaders coming up in the ranks. Youth groups across the nation will fall in love with Student Impact’s free-flowing style and spirited moments of praise, finding themselves quickly adapting Willow Creek’s methods in subsequent services.

Click here to view our Favorite Worship Albums of 2001. You can also read reviews of the albums above by visiting our archives.

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