Livin on a Prayer: How Bon Jovi Created Modern Worship

madewithOver(9)Atmospheric Intro
Lightly Instrumented First Verse
BIG Sing Along Chorus
Second (and 3rd) verses get more anthmatic each time.
Key Change to Make Final Chorus Even Bigger

You could call this a template for the modern worship song. Pull out a live version of “How Great Is Our God” or “Mighty To Save” and you will easily find it. But the worship writers in Brentwood, Tennessee didn’t figure this out first. It wasn’t planned out at a design meeting for the Passion conferences. Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin didn’t dream it up during the early stages of One Day.

My friends….this template comes from New Jersey and was perfected (and somewhat invented) by Jon Bon Jovi. That’s right, 1980’s hair metal drives modern worship. I first thought about this a few years ago and brought it up to a few people. We couldn’t find an earlier of example to describe what now is considered normal in worship songwriting.

Bon Jovi created Modern Worship



If you add the template above with another HUGE 1980’s influence, you can easily describe most worship that you find at big conferences and many churches. Here is my equation.

Bon Jovi (Livin On A Prayer) + U2 (Where the streets have no name)= Your Grace is Enough.

Culture drives how worship is delivered. Our bodies are tuned to accept and acknowledge certain types of music as appropriate to draw a response. “Pop” worship works just like pop music. It provides a vehicle that is accessible to a large amount of people. While I don’t prefer this type of worship, I can worship through it. As much as I claimed to despise Bon Jovi in the early 90’s (I was more of a Soundgarden guy), you will catch me rolling down the window to a few songs now. It appeals to the senses.

The context of pop worship allows for it to be consumed by a cumulative mass of people. We can get into a discussion of if this is actually good, but we have to acknowledge the cultural appeal. You can theoretically enjoy Worship Music as a genre if you are not a Christian. Aesthetics matters in worship design, because the musical vehicle needs to make sense for who the worship is designed for. Consumption strategy is both a blessing and a curse.

These songs provide a place for human involvement. U2 writes songs people’s spirits want to sing. It isn’t an overindulgent rock star singing about women or substances, but a body of people acting out hope together. These songs were meant to get people singing.

When worship is designed for small specific groups of people or is used as an identifier by a specific culture of Christians we see different forms of expression. Music matters because music defines a particular group of peoples response to what God means to them. Our definitions of what constitutes proper music for worship probably needs to get bigger.

Pop worship might aggravate us, but we have to recognize anything driving people towards Jesus is a good thing, even if it doesn’t resonate with us.

Just for fun…

  • Hey Chad —

    Great post. I think you’ve identified this perfectly. Two quick thoughts:

    1 – I’m sure you saw Billy Corgan’s recent interview where spirituality and Christian music came up. His best quote about Christian music: “Hey, Christian rock, if you wanna be good, stop copying U2. U2 already did it.” I wish we had more examples of creating culture rather than copying what was happening in contemporary culture 25 years ago. But I’m afraid your assessment is correct.

    2 – I don’t agree that “anything driving people towards Jesus is a good thing,” though I’m not sure you really mean that, either. We can celebrate when God uses bad things for good (e.g. guilt-inducing Christian chain e-mails), but that doesn’t mean we celebrate the bad things. When people have confused those points, it has led to a lot of the utilitarian pragmatism that has defined the modern evangelical church — and eroded away a more robust understanding of Christianity and the Church in the process.

    • Hey Teddy-

      Good to hear from you. Hope Spain is well.

      Thanks for the comment. I did like what Billy Corgan had to say. I think it was spot on. I do think part of Christianity has begun a copy cat culture, and it is good and bad.

      The whole idea of “pop” is mass appeal. There are two sides to the coin. The challenge is for leadership (especially worship leadership) to properly discern contextuality. I think of the conversations Jonathan Powers has had about why worship leaders need to be great theologians.

      I don’t think I trotted out the idea of “anything driving people towards Jesus” good enough. Obviously there is a line here. Where I do think the larger church needs to listen is when movements are really and truly providing elements of transformation and what are the lessons we can learn from them.

  • Andrew Dragos

    Yes. If you haven’t heard these two songs together, you should (pay attention synth + riffs)

    “Lifesong” – Casting Crowns

    “Where the Streets have No Name” – U2