15 Greatest Christian Crossover Artists

Hi, we're a band of Christians.  Not a Christian band. But don't tell anyone, or we'll lose record sales.
Hi, we’re a band of Christians. Not a Christian band. But don’t tell anyone, or we’ll lose record sales.

The Christian crossover phenomenon is a unique one indeed. But the line is very wide and very, very grey, so we need to set some parameters immediately:

  • This list consists of bands that have been played on both Christian and mainstream radio stations and have sold music in Christian bookstores.

  • The bands don’t necessarily have to say they’re Christians — but they have to be associated somehow with the “Christian market” (hence the omission of bands like Creed, Coldplay, and OneRepublic, who have never seen radio play in the Christian circles)

  • Artists don’t have to “continue” with their Christian marketing.  This eliminates any argument about how “Christian” a band is. Some artists get airplay outside of the Christian market, yet are still included on Christian radio stations.

  • However, outright shunning of associating with Jesus eliminates them from the list (Evanescence and Chevelle come to mind: both bands found themselves on Christian charts, but publicly avoided the stigma–both were soon removed from the Christian store shelves)

This guy explains everything else:

How did I compile this list?  Math, of course.

There are three factors that determined rank:

Bandwagon: Christian markets love to say “mine” to popular artists, even if the religious undertone is remote. The more far-reaching this is, the higher they’re ranked.

ChristCreds: Every artist loves to give a shout-out to the Big Man at the Grammys, but the truly faithful ones will talk about God in their lyrics, vaguely or otherwise.  Some even say “Jesus”. Furthermore, public confessions of faith are factored in.

Sellin’ Out: The most calculable way to determine success is record sales.  This removes bias about “quality” — obviously, people believe some bands are better than others. I took cumulative record sales and divided it by the number of albums. I thought it would create problems with some of the artists that peaked and fell, but it actually worked out nicely.

I created quotients from all three of these categories, and this is what popped out.  So, behold, the 15 greatest Christian crossover acts.

15) Underoath

They toured with some of the best hard rock bands in the mainstream market, yet retained their Christian values on a public scale.  Their extreme genre helped in intangible ways — keeping them off the big Christian stations in particular.

14) Owl City

His song “Fireflies” is a whimsical, light-hearted, and completely unspiritual song.  But he’s written others that are pretty blatantly worshipful in nature.

13) Relient K

The core of their success came from “MmHmm” (featuring “Be My Escape” and “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been”) and “Five Score And Seven Years Ago” (featuring “The Best Thing” and “Must Have Done Something Right”), all making it to mainstream stations at some point.  Their Christian roots are undeniable, and their lyrics attest to it.

12) Jars of Clay

These guys were on MTV.  MTV!! In 1996.

11) Stacie Orrico

When Stacie went pop, CCM gasped a little. But it worked for her, and she rolled out some excellent sales for being a relatively unknown pop artist.

10) Switchfoot

Air1 is still playing a handful of tracks from their successful “The Beautiful Letdown” album. The mainstream has moved on.

9) Skillet

Skillet has been working hard to get noticed for a long time.  It’s starting to work. Touring with high profile bands and getting high debuts on the Billboard charts help. So does having two chicks .

8) Kirk Franklin

Mr. Franklin should be called the godfather of gospel, which sounds a bit idolatrous.  I’m sure every hip-hop artist has at least one of his soulful tracks or compilations under their beds.

7) Flyleaf

They beat Paramore to the punch with the whole edgy chromatic-haired frontgirl, and Flyleaf has the spiritual tone that the other lacks. While they’re a little funny about their definition of being a “Christian band”, you can’t ignore their incredible talent and profoundly worshipful songs.

6) Daughtry

It’s pretty clear that Daughtry uses Christian metaphors in their lyrics, and they get hits charted on the Christian radio ranks. I call no foul.

5) Lifehouse

What is “Hanging By A Moment” really about? I know.  But Jason Wade won’t tell ya. So they sell more records, and Christians are kept guessing.

4) P.O.D.

Abbreviating their moniker to shirk the possibility of seeming too dogmatic, these pioneers of Christian nu-metal surprised everyone with their remarkable talent, and at least one person on every one of their YouTube videos have written, “Those guys are Christians??”

3) dc Talk

“Jesus Freak” remains their only mainstream hit, but their impact on Christian music is undeniable, bridging the message of Jesus and the sound of awesome for the first time.  They were so talented, in fact, that all three of their members are now heads of highly successful Christian acts.

2) The Fray

These guys have done something clever: be talented and write incredible songs while making a stand for Jesus. Wait, hasn’t someone else done this before? Well, not like The Fray has.

1) Amy Grant

This chick pioneered the crossover move, notoriously going pop as the church wagged its big orthodox finger. She eventually came back, however, and the Christian music market gave her a big hug and said, “OURS.”

21 thoughts on “15 Greatest Christian Crossover Artists

  1. really i knew about flyleaf and skillet and sorta suspected about sixpence and daughtry but see and this is good it gets more people to know about the lord also where is p.o.d they were pretty big for awhile in mainstream and flyleaf actually had a video that was doing extremely well and skillet had a song for the first wwe hell in a cell event but still awesome list

    1. Good call, I completely overlooked P.O.D. I think I’ll update this accordingly. They had two platinum albums — something several of the bands on this list can’t say.
      I think the Flyleaf video you’re referring to is for “All Around Me” — has over 30 million views on it, and most people don’t seem to care that it’s a blatant worship song. =)

  2. This needs to be updated and lecrae needs to be in here somewhere after becoming the only guy to top the billboard album chart, billboard gospel chart and billboard christian music chart at the same time. Also winning a gospel grammy and now being nominated in the same category as drake, eminem and kendrick lamar (best rap performance 2015 Grammies)

    Also Mary Mary needs a mention too!

    1. I considered Mary Mary, but they haven’t had as much success as others on this list, and Lecrae has certainly proven his worth more so lately. I’ll have to check his record sales and see how he fares, but he’s certainly worth considering. The only “issue” I might have is whether he’s getting good crossover exposure – I’ve heard absolutely nothing from him besides on Christian stations, but it’s possible I’m listening to the wrong ones. Please let me know, and he’ll likely get on here. Thank you!

  3. Some bands you missed:

    As I lay Dying. Huge in the extreme Metal scene…probably the biggest ever as far as sales. Wont various MTV awards, and would be getting close to 1 million sales. (unfortunately broken up now, and singer has become an athiest).

    August Burns Red. Huge in Extreme Metal scene, also in secular.

    Brian Welch (solo) and Korn. And his band ‘Love and Death’. May it be noted that half of Korn the band are openly Christian, and practise ministry at their shows and backstage. The backlash they have been getting from “fans” on Facebook about their beliefs and their Christian statements have been strong.

    Bands to watch:

    For Today
    Theocracy

    1. Thank you for your suggestions.
      It appears you love your metal (and the two bands you mention at the top epitomize quality “Christian metal”), but neither of those bands, despite having moderate crossover success, have a gold record. Underoath, the lowest entry on this list, had two of them, putting their record sales at well over a million. This puts Underoath at the top of the hard metal acts in my list. Any extreme metal is considered alternative and not mainstream, which makes really effective crossover success difficult. Just about every other artist/band on the list has had considerable success, and, as you might guess, is of the pop music variety.
      The Korn thing is a complete farce. Brian Welch is legit, but because two of the band members are practicing Christians, by your account, does not make them a Christian act. If they’re getting backlash from non-Christians, why would they be considered a crossover band? Korn still puts out, and has a history of composing, highly explicit stuff, and you would never see their work in a Christian bookstore. Welch as a separate entity? Sure, but he’s not having any success on the “other side” as of yet.
      I’ve heard For Today — they’re alright, but I don’t think they’re doing anything interesting or innovative. The “problem” with acts like that one, along with other attempts at emulating so-called secular music or getting the attention of non-Christians, is inherent — they’re copying the pioneers. The reason why the bands on this list have been successful is because they’re doing something new, which is interesting to the mainstream, while somewhat alluding to Christian ideals. Once again, it is very, very hard for metal bands to do this effectively. They must have a morsel of pop savvy to even get an eyebrow raise from the “other side”.

  4. If you want another band look into NEEDTOBREATHE theyre similar to Switchfoot they are openly christian play christian festivals and they have also play mainstream things like when they were on the Macy’s Day Parade and they have also opened for Taylor Swift before.

    1. Yes, NEEDTOBREATHE is EXCELLENT. I recently looked into adding them to this list, and they’re getting closer, that’s for sure. I saw them play at the parade (not live, of course) — gave me goosebumps, in a good way. =)

  5. No Sixpence None the Richer? lol Kiss Me was huge and got them mainstream attention but they def got airplay on Christian Stations…

    Also…idk bout sales and such but MxPx had a mainstream moment I think…
    Then you got bands like Family Force 5 who have “are they Christian” debates on just about every video they have up on youtube lol…

  6. How bout a band I just found called Heartist? I couldnt find anything saying they are openly christian but Killswitch is a big influence of theirs and when I first listened to the song “Skeletons” and watched the video it touched my spirit and moved me to tears. God is definately present in this song.

  7. Where’s Rich Mullins? He wrote many of Amy Grant’s songs and had many hits of his own like “Awesome God,” “Sometimes by Step,” and “Creed.” I feel like he gets overlooked often but he is a huge figure in Christian music.

  8. Nice list except Jesus Freak wasn’t the only dcTalk mainstream hit. They had a lot of songs from JF and Supernatural get AirPlay on mainstream channels and MTV/VH1 plays. And Between You and Me was in the Top 40 on the Hot 100 for a little over 2 months. Nice list though

    1. Yeah, I checked out Stryper and they didn’t seem to have a ton of crossover success. But twentyone pilots is certainly a recent candidate! We’ll see how that one plays out. =)

      1. NGEN radio, a Christian radio station, plays Twenty one Pilots music on their station. As far as I know NGEN is an online, free, streaming Christian Pop, Rock and Rap station.

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