Happy day, friends!
End of the year craziness has officially ensued.. I trust you are enjoying it as much as I am!!
I’m keeping with the tradition of compiling a “Best of” list. What an incredible year for worship music!! I have combed and sifted through many, many worship songs and worship albums with the intention and hope of resourcing my worship-leading friends… With churches and individuals churning out song after song after song, it can be an overwhelming task to listen to anything new at all, much less narrow down what may be appropriate for your church.
Well, I sincerely pray that this list helps you. Below are the top 20 worship albums of 2014, and the few standout songs from each album, including any key fast songs. I hope this takes some of the grunt work out of your search, and that you enjoy this list!
(I only listed albums that I felt included songs fit for congregational worship. The albums below were released between January 2014 and the time I am compiling this post.)
20. “All Sons & Daughters” by, well, All Sons & Daughters, of course
Leaning towards the folky side, chock full of ballads and strings, the self-titled “All Sons & Daughters” delivers a handful of hauntingly beautiful music.
Key Worship Song: “More Than Anything”
Simple music and a simple melody. This is going to be a great one for your church!
Key Fast Song: “The Victory”
Full of guitars and that trademark tight harmony, “The Victory” stands out as a very nice upbeat song.
Honorable Mention: “Christ Be All Around Me”
Mmm, there are not many songs like this, which makes this one stand out even more! Such a beaut. And what a prayer for all of us… may Jesus be seen in every facet of our lives.. may He receive all the glory, all the honor, all the worship forever.
19. “The Undoing” by Steffany Gretzinger
Steffany Gretzinger of Bethel Music released The Undoing, which iTunes itself recently had high praise for. This is her first foray into the world with a solo recording, but you would think she was a seasoned vet with her crooning vocals and deep messages. As a largely unplugged album, listening to this is almost like eavesdropping on a romantic back-and-forth between Gretzinger and her first Love.
Key Worship Song: “Steady Heart”
With a voice almost reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Gretzinger delivers “Steady Heart” with a still and experienced determination. We can trust God wholeheartedly because He does have a steady heart that keeps on going and a steady grace that keeps forgiving.
Key Fast Song: What fast song? Gretzinger specializes in poignant, almost romantic, songs of faith and uncompromising trust… in a slower tempo.
Honorable Mention: “No Fear in Love”
Wow! What a gorgeous and simple song! I cannot get enough of this. “Stir in me a love that’s deep… and if my heart should dimly burn, and if my feet should fail to run, call my name and I will come right back to You.”
18. “Wake Up the Wonder” by Elevation Worship
You’ll notice as the list goes on that Elevation Worship also secured a spot in my top 20… and, yes, they released two (two?!) full-length albums this year. Busy, busy! The reason I favored the other one, Only King Forever, better was because this one sounds strikingly similar to it. The lyrics, though – oh, my!! – gorgeous. Thank you for such fantastic material, Elevation.
Key Worship Song: “Jesus, I Come”
As a modern twist on the hymn of the same name, Elevation rolled up its sleeves and presented a superb offering to God and the church with “Jesus, I Come.” And – you guessed it – it would be perfect right before or during a call for people to commit their hearts to Jesus.
Key Fast Song: “Look How He Lifted Me”
In my small opinion, I usually don’t go to Elevation Worship to draw fast songs to use for my set lists, if you know what I mean. But “Look How He Lifted Me” is downright fun and dancey! Give it a listen!
Honorable Mention: “Let Us Adore”
Somewhat of a spin on the classic Christmas carol, “Let Us Adore” is a great call to worship.
17. “Banner” by Desperation Band
I usually love Desperation Band, but Banner does slightly fall below the worship collective’s usually high standards. Even so, there are a few songs that can work in your church.
Key Worship Song: “Multiply”
Powerful in so many ways! I love this song muchly! As a matter of fact, it happens to be the song playing in the background right now whilst I am writing this. :) The second bridge is such a vulnerable sound of obedience: “I say yes, Lord. I say yes, Lord.”
Key Fast Song: “Future”
Great service opener – another soon-to-be Jon Egan classic. And what a thought-provoking line: “You are the future we’re running to.”
Honorable Mention: “Make a Way”
That Jon Egan sure knows how to write powerful anthems! The melody is such that it causes a drive in your spirit!
16. “Back to the Start” by Martin Smith
In the same family of worship pioneers as Matt Redman and Darlene Zschech, Mr. Smith is such a blessing to the greater Church of God. Committed to staying relevant and committed to the greatest message of all, Back to the Start is thoroughly lovely.
Key Worship Song: “Waiting Here For You”
“Waiting” came out a few years ago and was made popular by Christy Nockels of Passion, but it was actually penned by the fabulous Martin Smith (alongside Chris Tomlin and Jesse Reeves) and has quickly become one of worship music’s most popular diddies in recent memory.
Key Fast Song: “Emmanuel”
Okay, more of a mid-tempo song, but stunning nonetheless. Get this line: “All I’ve ever known is You beside me.” YES.
Honorable Mention: “Song of Solomon”
An intimate love song, this is. (Why did I phrase that sentence like that? Good grief.) Anyway, some could argue that the biblical book Song of Solomon ought not to be taken as an allegory between Christ and the Bride – as I was taught in Bible college many moons ago – and, to be honest, I can understand why. On the other hand, every word of this song also happens to be backed by other biblical truths. At any rate, this song will not work in all congregational contexts: you must know your church before you try to pull this one off. But if you can, you should try!
15. “Running to Follow” by Fellowship Creative
FC Creative, the artistic genius of Ed Young’s church, is tremendously underrated. Total package group – and worship pastor Derric Bonnot is such a sharp dresser to boot. A few songs from Running to Follow will serve your church well, I’m sure.
Key Worship Song: “The Everlasting”
I know, I know, this version of “The Everlasting” is actually a remix from an earlier album they produced – as any FC Creative buff would testify – but it is such a powerful song, and I prefer this version to the older one. This is one that we do at CityReach Johnstown, and it just works.
Key Fast Song: “Running to Follow”
Fun, fun, fun!! Don’t think about it – just do it! Something that especially appeals to me about this song was the glorification of getting outside of one’s comfort zone to pursue Jesus to the ends of the earth – a topic often not sung about!
Honorable Mention: “Glory in the Highest”
‘Twas an incredibly difficult task to narrow down just one more song… but it had to be “Glory in the Highest.” A fast-paced gem, this is the perfect service opener.
14. “This is Our Time” by Planetshakers
Releasing roughly two full albums a year (or more), Planetshakers sometimes struggles to maintain originality and it can be difficult to tell songs apart, as they start to sound alike after a while. (In fact, I reviewed a completely different 2014 album of theirs earlier this year.) To be honest – and I am pleased to honestly say this – this album does stand out as different! The Aussie group is experimenting with a different sound (it doesn’t come across as formulaic as some other worship sounds coming out these days, e.g. the Gaither hymn “He Touched Me” and the song “Holy”), and the content of their songs has a bit more depth than in the past. Planetshakers is getting braver and braver, and really tapping into an openly Pentecostal vein, which I personally love.
Key Worship Song: “Stronger Than a Thousand Seas”
Co-written by the legendary Israel Houghton, “Your Love” is singable, memorable, and congregation-friendly.. all centered around the perfect love of Christ.
Key Fast Song: “This is Our Time”
In my book, Planetshakers’ arsenal of albums always provide some easy, go-to upbeat songs, and the title track of their latest is certainly one of those. I particularly like the positive (and theologically accurate) perspective being sung, that ‘God’s latter will is greater’!!
Honorable Mention: “Leave Me Astounded”
A very Pentecostal song – and I love it!! Also noteworthy is worship leader Sam Evans, a faithful alto, drifts up to some pretty high notes here!
13. “Sovereign” by Michael W. Smith
The iconic, Grammy-award winning Smith has unveiled quite a stunning album here, and any worship leader knows that when Smith, as one of the “founding fathers” of the modern worship movement, releases some new material, we had all better pay attention. One thing I appreciate about Michael W is that his sound is ever-changing to remain relevant, while the content is – of course – sacred and timeless.
Key Worship Song: “Sovereign Over Us”
Maybe I’m biased because I absolutely love the songwriter of “Sovereign Over Us,” Aaron Keyes, but it is a really, really, really good song. It poetically examines suffering, heartache, and trials, and resounds with a biblical declaration of mountain-moving faith: “Your plans are still to prosper; You have not forgotten us!” Worship leaders, this is a phenomenal song to add to your repertoire, seriously; it’s always good to have one or two songs like this to pull out in the event of unexpected loss or pain in your church.
Key Fast Song: “Heaven Come Down”
Maybe you expected me to suggest “Sky Spills Over,” which is indeed a fun, upbeat song, but it doesn’t have the congregation flexibility like “Heaven” does. Check this one out!
Honorable Mention: “You Won’t Let Go”
Wow, just the overall sound and arrangement of this worship anthem is breathtaking. Written by powerhouses Mia Fieldes, Seth Moseley, and Smith himself, “You Won’t Let Go” reminds the worshiper that God’s rich love hugs closely even in confusing or dark times.
12. “Take It All” by Passion
Passion has definitely secured its place next to Hillsong for its exemplary live worship. Golden songs, and some of the best worship leaders (or “lead worshipers,” as they call themselves) in the nation: Chris Tomlin, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, and Crowder… as well as one Brit, Mr. Matt Redman! You’ve probably heard “Take It All” on the radio, and the rest of the album is just as passionate.
Key Worship Song: “Let It Be Jesus”
The underrated Christy Nockels shines through with her absolutely lovely delivery of “Let it Be Jesus,” written by Tomlin, Redman, and Jonas Myrin. This stunning love song admits that we will never value another, never exalt another as highly as our precious Lord, our dear Savior, Jesus.
Key Fast Song: “Never Gonna Let Me Go”
A fast song with a very different overall sound than many other modern fast songs. There’s even an “echo part” for your church to sing! Very guitar-driven with heavy drums, this song is one that could very well work in your church.
Honorable Mention: “My Heart is Yours”
“My Heart” is going to be an easy song for your church to pick up (if they haven’t already!), with just the right amount of repetition and drive – and an important and profound message, of course.
11. “You Make Me Brave” by Bethel Music
The worship powerhouse based in California continues to get stronger and stronger – the creativity level is astronomical!! One thing that makes this album so special is the fact that, as it was recorded at a women’s conference, it features only gal worship leaders, with the likes of Jenn Johnson, Kari Jobe, Steffany Gretzinger, and more. Perhaps due to its feminine influence (which is in no way a bad thing, but actually quite refreshing!), this particular album has an emphasis on intimacy with the Lord.
Key Worship Song: “It Is Well”
Kristene DiMarco’s contemporary take on a well-beloved hymn, “It is Well” deals with confidence in the Lord’s faithfulness and goodness even in the midst of instability.
Key Fast Song: “You Make Me Brave”
Can you consider this a fast song? Well, I am, I guess. While the imagery of this song begs to be included in a medley with “Oceans,” “Brave” is a standout all on its own. This song is powerful and rousing, and I love that it calls for the believer to recognize that we mustn’t shrink back in fear or waver under chaos, but rise up in faith and boldness!
Honorable Mention: “A Little Longer”
So.. “A Little Longer” was featured on a much older album from Bethel, but it is so beautiful I just had to include. This live version is bliss. The lyrical content may be a little more personal than what some of our churches are accustomed to, but maybe that’s exactly what we need. I love the intimacy of this song. “What can I do for You? What can I give to You? What kind of song would You like me to sing? Then I hear You say, ‘you don’t have to do a thing. Simply be with Me, and let those things go. They can wait another minute.’ ” #yes
10. “Neon Steeple” by Crowder
Crowder is a prime example of someone who writes theologically sound lyrics, “congregation-friendly” music, is Christ-centric, and is musically standard-setting. Thank you, David Crowder, for this important combination!
Key Worship Song: “Here’s My Heart”
Surprisingly, this Crowder classic was penned by Chris Tomlin, Jason Ingram, and Louie Giglio, but Crowder’s scratchy and vulnerable vocals help make for a phenomenal delivery. A powerful song of surrender.
Key Fast Song: “I Am”
No surprise here! “I Am” is quickly climbing the charts.. of my heart!! Go ahead and get on the bandwagon with this one; your church will thank you later.
Honorable Mention: “Come As You Are”
Okay, so not exactly a song for corporate worship, but perhaps more like a “special.” At any rate, I’m sure you’ve heard of this one, as well. Stellar all around.
9. “Love Ran Red” by Chris Tomlin
America’s worship leader has done it again, with verve and inspiring devotion. Such a songster with a heart for corporate worship! In my opinion, most of the chord progressions are painfully simple (“Jesus Loves Me” is the exact same progression as his hit “How Great is Our God”) – but some could argue that’s how they are so accessible and popular among churches with musicians of all skills levels.
Key Worship Song: “At the Cross (Love Ran Red)”
A soon-to-be Chris Tomlin staple. What a beautiful song and beautiful imagery!
Key Fast Song: “The Roar”
I may have surprised you with this selection, but I love “The Roar.” Catchy melody, fun chord choices, and a powerful depiction of God, in the all the strength of a lion, running to meet us where we are.
Honorable Mention: “Jesus Loves Me”
Of course, no 2014 list would be complete with mention of “Jesus Loves Me.” I know the knocked the chord progression earlier, but seriously, the message is the Gospel. How amazing is the unshakable, steadfast love of our Savior!
8. “Set Apart” by Worship Central
Headed up by worship songsmith Tim Hughes, Worship Central offers another poignant collection of songs for the global church. Pay attention to Worship Central – there’s always at least a few songs that you can incorporate into your repertoire of songs.
Key Worship Song: “Worth It All”
A ballad with the drive and power of “Victor’s Crown” or maybe “Your Great Name.” This will make for a great live worship experience.
Key Fast Song: “The Way”
Get ready to dance! Tim Hughes’s sleepy vocal (which surprisingly covers almost two octaves in this song!) on a synth-driven, pulsating number will hopefully inspire you to pull this off at your own church – and celebrate the rescue of Christ!
Honorable Mention: “Awesome is He”
A powerful declaration of faith, a declaration that understands God is more than able to work miracles in the midst of His people! And our proper response is to “lift Him up, lift Him up, lift Him up!” (It’s also nice to hear a strong female vocal on an up-tempo song. I don’t know why this is getting to be so rare these days?)
7. “The Art of Celebration” by Rend Collective
Interestingly enough, it would appear that “Experiment” has been officially dropped from the band’s name – but these guys are still pushing creative bounds, and I am loving every moment of it! The style of Art of Celebration is folky and hipster, but it doesn’t try too hard! Think Mumford & Sons meets Gungor.. These songs will trigger some nice worship moments for the scarf-clad, skinny-jeans-wearing twenty-somethings in your church.
Key Worship Song: “Simplicity”
Maybe not the song you expected me to choose, but such a raw, really real song. A great song of adoration of the Savior.
Key Fast Song: “My Lighthouse”
Fun, fun, fun! Some fast songs sacrifice a rich message for a fun melody, but this one has both! You will be humming this all day, every day – it’s that catchy!
Honorable Mention: “Boldly I Approach (The Art of Celebration)”
Just… just give a listen. And grab tissues.
6. “Only King Forever” by Elevation Worship
Yaaass! It would seem that with each release, the creative collective from Elevation gets stronger and stronger. Do yourself a favor and check this out!
Key Worship Song: “I Will Look Up”
What really appeals to me about this song is poetry here: “I will look up, for there is none above You / I will bow down to tell You that I need You / Jesus, Lord of all / I will look back and see that You are faithful / I look ahead, believing You are able / Jesus, Lord of all.” How powerful.. Every direction, we are covered by grace!
Key Fast Song: “Only King Forever”
A great choice for a service opener, or even a closing song!
Honorable Mention: “Grace So Glorious”
An elegant modern hymn, “Grace So Glorious” will grab your church’s attention and focus them on the finished work of Christ. You can simply never have too many songs that do this – after all, songs like “Grace So Glorious” will be the anthem of the redeemed into eternity.
5. “Paul Baloche LIVE” by Paul Baloche (surprise!)
Paul Baloche is basically the Dad of worship music. Seriously, what pours out of him is absolute gold.. One quick listen to this live record and you can easily sense his pastoral heart.. he is not merely singing songs but substantially connecting with people and leading them to Jesus. Thank you, Mr. Baloche, for your continued contribution to worship music and worship pastors/leaders around the world.
Key Worship Song: “My Hope”
“My Hope,” a lovely duet between Baloche and Kathryn Scott (“Hungry,” “Search Me, Know Me”), is a singable, simple, and powerful rendition of the hymn “Solid Rock,” with an emphasis on trusting Jesus, even blindly.
Key Fast Song: “God My Rock”
How can I choose just one?? Every up-tempo song is such a winner! But I am a HUGE fan of Baloche’s lyrics here.. I mean, how many people in your church can relate to this line: “When I’ve struggled to believe, You have not let go of me, God my Rock.”
Honorable Mention: “Lift Us Up”
One thing I love about Baloche’s style is that it doesn’t necessarily follow trends. When worship ‘styles’ come and fade, songs like “Lift Us Up” will still be relevant.
4. “White” by Vertical Church Band
While White is only 5 songs long, the songs are so thoughtful and extravagant that I had to push it pretty high on the list! I am a big fan of Vertical Church Band because their worship offerings are beautiful and meaningful – and more so, their collective hearts always shine through.
Key Worship Song: “Lamb of God”
All in all, a song that not only you will love, but that your church will love. “The Lamb of God in my place / Your blood poured out, my sin erased / It was my death You died / I am raised to life / Hallelujah, the Lamb of God!”
Key Fast Song: “Found in You (Dance Version)”
A super fun dance remix of their song “Found in You.” I think many of our churches here in the States could use a few extra dance breaks in our church services – if indeed we truly have been set free by Jesus!
Honorable Mention: “White”
Absolutely stunning – and what a vivid mental image the lyrics create! Yet another fabulous song to add to the arsenal of songs that sing thankfulness over the work of Christ on the cross.
3. “Majestic” by Kari Jobe
Kari’s first live solo effort does not disappoint! To be honest, I get more and more impressed with Kari’s flawless vocals with each new song – she has great control. And of course, she is anointed to do what she does. Majestic also features an effective approach to the Trinity in worship: some songs are God the Father-oriented, some are God the Son-oriented, and some are God the Holy Spirit-oriented.
Key Worship Song: “Forever”
A passionate convey of the finished work of Jesus.. a fresh classic.
Key Fast Song: “Only Your Love”
Driven by pulsing drums and fun synth, the song is easily a fantastic service-opener.
Honorable Mention: “I Am Not Alone”
“Not Alone” is a simple acoustic arrangement and communicates a vital message… yes, you guessed it, that God is always, always with us.
2. “No Other Name” by Hillsong Worship
No “best of” worship list is complete without the worship junkies who started from the land Down Under and are strategically taking over the world! Like fine wine, the creativity and lyrical brilliance just gets stronger with time. The songs are clearly well thought-out and are undoubtedly giving voice to believers the world over. (I was beginning to wonder where the gal worship leaders had gone at Hillsong: last year’s album Glorious Ruins featured one – only one – song led by a female voice, if you don’t count the 26 seconds of Annie Garratt’s lead on “Man of Sorrows.” No Other Name, though, features the best of male and female vocals, with David Ware, Jad Gillies, Taya Smith of 2013’s “It” worship song “Oceans,” Hannah Hobbs, and the return of Marty Sampson.)
Key Worship Song: “This I Believe (The Creed)”
What makes this simple song so powerful is its declaration of truth, nearly verbatim from the iconic and timeless Apostles’ Creed. What great teachers songs can be!
Key Fast Song: There is a surprising lack of up-tempo songs on No Other Name! Perhaps even more surprising is that you hardly notice.
Honorable Mention: “Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)”
Delivered by the stunning Taya Smith, “Vessels” is simply gorgeous poetry, with a modern melody for the familiar “Amazing Grace.”
1. “Kingdom” by Covenant Worship
I can assure you, this was no easy choice – but this album has been on repeat for me for quite some time now! Thoroughly anointed and with the important message of Jesus’ Kingdom being here and now, nearly every song featured on Kingdom is going to be a home-run for your church.
Key Worship Song: “More, Holy Spirit”
I can’t believe I’m making myself narrow the entire album down to just one key worship song.. and this was an even harder decision than choosing to make Kingdom the #1 worship album of 2014. But “More, Holy Spirit” is a superb song, one that emphasizes vulnerability in God’s Presence and the beauty of surrender. I’ve noticed, too, a trend in some modern worship music which makes it seem as if nearness to the Holy Spirit is the ultimate end in itself (which is not theologically accurate), instead of the glory of Jesus Christ being the ultimate end. But not so with this song! “More” very carefully and very beautifully depicts that the importance of nearness to the Holy Spirit is to “lead us to the heart of Jesus. There is nothing we want more.” Trust me, your church will love this song.
Key Fast Song: “Can’t Stop Singing”
You won’t be able to stop singing “Can’t Stop Singing!” Easy to play, fun to sing.. Such a winner!
Honorable Mention: “Kingdom Come”
Well, because I made the rules, I guess I can break them. I’m having 2 honorable mentions for Kingdom, and one of those is the title track, “Kingdom Come.” What an important, not-too-often-talked-about message, that the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven is not in the distant future; the Kingdom is here and now!
Honorable Mention: “First Loved Me”
An exceedingly beautiful song, First Loved Me is the believer’s response to what Jesus has done for us. I love the opening lines: “I can’t forget… I still remember.. when Your grace covered my shame and saw my need.”
There you have it!
What songs did I leave out? What has worked especially well in your churches this year? Leave a comment and let me know!