• Baylor prof’s project turns academic research to serve church worship leaders

    Worship service with singers and musicians

    Contemporary Christian music can unite worshippers in prayers and celebration — but how can the music connect worship leaders and the music industry?

    Dr. Shannan Baker (PhD ’22), the first postdoctoral fellow in Baylor’s School of Music, wanted to investigate this and other such topics regarding the state of modern Christian worship. The result is WorshipLeaderResearch.com, where Baker and a unique team of musicians and scholars share their research and writings on contemporary worship music.

    The website provides a home for research articles, findings and news on the contemporary worship music industry and local worship practitioners and leaders, more than 400 of whom were surveyed for a study on worship trends.

    Among their findings: An incredible percentage of the most popular worship songs are connected with a small handful of megachurch bands. During the 2010s, only 38 songs ever appeared on the Top 25 lists of songs sung in churches during the decade — and nearly all are directly traceable to four church groups: Bethel Music, Elevation Worship, Hillsong, and Passion. (One deviation from the “Big 4” was the high favorability of using songs by Phil Wickham, who is not officially affiliated with the Big 4 or a megachurch.)

    Baker’s research has been picked up by several news outlets and podcasts whose audience is, generally, worship practitioners. The team’s findings are also being published in academic journals, including a forthcoming special issue of Liturgy, a journal for pastors and educators.

    “I am proud of the unique way we are examining contemporary worship, but what I most value is asking these questions alongside this team,” says Baker, who earned her doctorate in church music from Baylor last year. “It is an honor to be a part of such a collaborative group with diverse backgrounds coming together for one purpose.”

    Sic ’em, Dr. Baker!