Just in February of this year, California-based station Radio Nueva Vida [New Life Radio] and a number of sponsors and bookstore chains organized the third edition of Los Premios a Nuestra Música Cristiana [Awards to Our Christian Music], Hispanic Christian music’s version of the Gospel Music Association (GMA) Awards.

Though it’s a branch of music that doesn’t even have a main trade organization such as the GMA overseeing the preparative details that go into an event of this caliber, organizers still delivered an A-level show. They booked The Forum in Inglewood, and filled more than 9,500 seats for the Feb. 22 gala. A production company was hired. Lighting equipment was rented. Promotional items were distributed. Camera crews were hard at work. Volunteers were deployed. Statuettes were designed. Invitees were flown in. Were it not for the lack of a red carpet reception, it possessed all the makings of the GRAMMYs.

Co-hosted by a charming Jaci Velásquez and Venezuelan pop singer José Luis “El Puma” Rodríguez, the festivities boasted the presence of the biggest and brightest luminaries in the field of Hispanic Christian music, with live performances, elaborate staging and the right dose of glamour to cap off the evening.

Whether in the form of presenters, performers or nominees, nearly all the big players from the genre were there, including praise-and-worship legend Marcos Witt, pop songstress Lilly Goodman, singer-songwriter Roberto Orellana, worshipful troubadour Samuel Hernández, versatile rocker Annette Moreno and balladeer Alex Campos, among others.

Perhaps none of these names rings a bell, but they’re all part of the growing Hispanic Christian music scene, a circuit that in recent times has developed significantly.

“It’s grown a lot in the last five years,” says Betty Meza, director of promotions for the Radio Nueva Vida Network. “Now the Latin GRAMMYs have a category for Hispanic Christian music, and so do the Latin Billboard awards.”

Unlike the GRAMMYs (which depend on a recording academy to choose the winners) or the Billboard awards (which are more dependent on sales tallies and airplay), these Premios have neither. Since there isn’t a “centralized government” – a la the GMA – casting ballots or a system such as SoundScan accounting for the units sold, organizers have to rely on composite data such as call-in requests, emails and sales survey reports sent out to bookstores to determine the victors.

Still, the show got the job done, and its magnitude is causing people to sit up and take notice.

“[Lately] many things have changed, and doors have opened so the Christian market can be known,” says Meza of this growth. “A lot of people have learned about the Gospel, given their life to Christ, come into this market and wanted things of quality like they’re used to.”

This quality is palpable in many of the hottest projects to come out of Hispanic Christian music in recent years, including the latest offerings by award-winners Witt and Goodman, but also through other salmistas [psalmists] such as worship music veteran Jesús Adrián Romero, pop singer Julissa and tropical sensation Juan Luis Guerra.

The latter, highly renowned for his celebratory merengue output in the ‘90s, has recently crossed over into the Hispanic Christian music scene, and people have embraced him as if the genre had been his home from the get-go. In May, he received a Latin Billboard award for his work "Para Ti" ["For You"], and his single “Las Avispas” [“The Hives”] has caused a lot of buzz in stations and even churches across the nation.