“It is separate from the industry,” says Camp about the benefits of starting out in California. “That can be a good thing because [the scene] is not influenced by any normality or structure that tends to sway a lot of artists into the ‘you-have-to-be-this-way-and-write-songs-this-way’ type situation.”

Without question, today’s California artists, which also include Noise Ratchet, Holly Nelson, Ping, Priesthood, Fernando Ortega, Kathryn Perry, Havalina, Violet Burning, Slick Shoes, Dogwood, PAX 217, Map, CUSH and the Halo Friendlies, provide ongoing testimony that Christians value artistic excellence as much as anyone else.

Upon This Rock: How Churches Helped Spark a Scene

As Christian rock started becoming popular in the ’70s and ’80s, many churches found the most uncomplimentary of words for a musical movement they viewed as too “worldly” or incapable of ministry. While resistance from the pulpit hindered the music in some places, California evolved into one of the most prolific and progressive Christian music scenes in the world. In terms of cause and effect, surely there were many influences on the growing West Coast scene, though a clear, pivotal cause was a supportive church community.

At the time, many California Christians were already comfortable with Christian rock, thanks to the influence of the “Jesus people music,” so when a host of new groups emerged in the early ’80s, many of the churches latched onto the movement and used pastoral experience to help guide these artists toward maximum impact. For example, some of the churches helped support the bands financially so these artists could spend their days traveling to public schools across the state, performing lunchtime concerts. In fact, this writer’s brother actually became a Christian at an Undercover show in the early ’80s when the band played Carlsbad High School in north San Diego.

Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa took this approach to the hilt. The Orange County-based church started hosting free, ministry-centered rock concerts every Saturday night, and they would use the lunchtime school shows to help bring kids out each weekend. The church, which already had the praise & worship label Maranatha!, eventually started a rock imprint called Broken for such local artists as Undercover, the Altar Boys, Darrell Mansfield and The Choir. Of course, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa wasn’t the only church starting record labels.

Up in Sacramento, the Warehouse Church launched Exit Records in 1982 with its inaugural release, the 77s’ "Ping Pong Over the Abyss." Artists such as Vector, First Strike, Charlie Peacock and Steve Scott soon followed with Exit releases. Likewise, the Anaheim Vineyard started New Breed Records for one of its early artists, the Violet Burning, whose original alternative sound inspired countless other California groups such as the hugely popular Prayer Chain. Though many churches helped propel the California scene, there were still some resistant to the change that indirectly helped launch a new church and yet another musical movement.

After seeing too many instances of church kids persecuted for long hair and heavy metal dress, Bob Beeman began the L.A.-based Sanctuary Church in 1984 as a place for hard rock-lovin’ Christians. Integrating rock music into its worship services, the church became fertile ground for a host of hard rock and metal bands. In 1987, these fresh new faces earned national attention with Regency Records’ California Metal compilation, introducing such headbanging favorites as Neon Cross, Guardian, Deliverance, Mastedon, Barren Cross and others. That same year, Sanctuary sponsored the first Christian hard rock fest, the Metal Mardi Gras; and the scene simply exploded, lasting more than half a decade.

By giving the artists such a supportive community, the churches were able to offer them much-needed ministry direction and help to keep them more accountable in a very positive way. Likewise, the amazing music scene provided many redemptive alternatives for young people searching out fun on the weekends or on holidays like New Year’s Eve. Rather than fight the tide, California’s Christian community embraced the music and used it to reach a new generation of young people. Sure, the bands were innovative and ambitious; but the California scene would never have reached its zenith without the forward-thinking support of the local churches.

© 2004 CCM Magazine.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.  Click here to subscribe.