American churches now house coffeeshops, bookstores, even bowling alleys—so why not a record label? Churches recording their own worship music is nothing new, so perhaps it’s not such a leap to provide the kind of support that labels, managers and distributors do. It’s a leap that finds more churches recognizing the talent in their pews, surely a good thing.
Given the church’s (ahem) complicated relationship with the arts, this emphasis on supporting arts is still rare; until recently, the evangelical community has been better known for boycotting artistic output than supporting it. But maybe that’s changing. If so, Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego may end up being a model of sorts.
Horizon pastor Mike Macintosh has a background in music dating back to the ’70s and his founding role with Maranatha Music. He also happens to be father to guitarist/producer Johnny Macintosh (whom you may remember from Luna Halo) and father-in-law to artist Sarah Macintosh (whom you may remember from Chasing Furies).
“The leaders of the church have a strong desire of giving musicians the ability to go out and play and do music,” explains Sarah. “[Mike] basically started Maranatha Music. He would go out with his car and sell CDs out of his trunk. So he has a heart to build something like that again, for giving indie artists a platform.”
When she and Johnny moved there from Nashville, they found “a huge number of talented people, but it’s not like in Nashville, where there’s a recording studio on every block.” The couple has worked with the church to nurture those artistic resources. And because Horizon is affiliated with Calvary Chapel, they have access to hundreds of churches around the world—essentially, their own distribution system. Horizon Music, their fledgling label, is currently home to Macintosh and worship artist Jimmy Robeson.
As Sarah’s latest project came together, the couple weighed signing a label deal. But with Horizon backing their recording (and doing it right: Sting’s drummer Vinnie Colauita plays on it) and Calvary Chapel distributing it—and with a little help from CD Baby and iTunes—finding a label for Sarah’s music became less imperative. “We were able with our church to do so much, we just looked at it and said, ‘We want to do this on our own.’” Given that her last record, a specialty hymns project, outsold her nationally-distributed Furies record, that might not be a bad call.
A couple months back, we talked to Ronnie Freeman, whose relationships with his home church (Fellowship Bible near Nashville) and a camp (JH Ranch in California), enabled him not only to continue in music, post-record deal, but to flourish. Thanks to its Music City location, Fellowship Bible Church has become a haven for artists. Rob Howard runs its fledgling artistin- residence program, which gives its worship leaders, including Freeman, Christy Nockels, Carl Cartee and Jason Ingram, a homebase.
Says Howard, “We’re responding to what we’ve seen in our church. Nashville’s a very artsy community, and as we started to grow, we started to see dancers and painters and writers and sculptors in our congregation. We wanted to be an equipping church, wanted to embrace that.”
The church strives to provide outlets for its artists, from their large annual Express Arts festival to arranging a showing for two of its painters in a local gallery. “We try to give a venue several times a year for artists to express their gifts—not just the ones who have a record contract.” The church already has a school of dance with 300 students in it, and FBC plans to follow with similar schools for art and music.
Other examples abound: Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn has its own label, home to rapper John Cook and others. Mars Hill Church in Seattle just launched a publishing venture with Crossway called Re:Lit and plans a companion labelette, Re:Sound. In Dallas, T.D. Jakes’ Potter’s House signed a deal with EMI Gospel to release projects from their artists.
It may be a lousy time for record companies, but for artists, the dizzying number of options continues to expand.
— Beau Black teaches English for Weatherford College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University near his home in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written about the Christian music industry for more than a decade.