They go to hear him. He goes to hear them.
Recording artist Chris Tomlin hosts Worship Night in America Saturday at the Huntington Center.
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That’s in some ways how Worship Night in America feels to Chris Tomlin, the prolific Christian singer and songwriter who headlines the 24-city tour that comes to Toledo on Saturday. He likes to hear concert-goers adding their voices to the songs that he leads.
“There’s something powerful when you have people in a room together, singing together, worshiping God together,” Tomlin said. “It’s the greatest sound in the world, that kind of music.”
Tomlin intentionally writes songs for his fans in turn to sing, an effort to give lyrics and melody to what he — and they — want to say to God. It’s a model that’s vaulted him to success over a nearly 20-year career that’s included more than 20 Dove Awards, a Grammy Award, and a Sound Exchange Digital Radio Award that recognizes his work for more than 1 billion digital radio streams.
He’s one of just four artists to hold the latter distinction, joining Justin Timberlake, Garth Brooks, and Pitbull.
Credits like “Our God” and “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” make him a familiar presence to those whose worship services favor contemporary music, even if, in some cases, it’s a local worship leader rather than Tomlin who’s providing the vocals; in identifying the Top 100 songs being sung in U.S. churches as of December, Christian Copyright Licensing International credited Tomlin an impressive 14 times.
What: Chris Tomlin presents Worship Night in America
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Huntington Center, 500 Jefferson Ave.
Admission: $26.75 to $67.75 via ticketmaster.com or box office
Information: christomlin.com, huntingtoncentertoledo.com
In Worship Night in America, Tomlin shares the stage with other prominent Christian artists such as Kim Walker, of Jesus Culture; Matt Maher; Christine D’Clario; Tauren Wells, and Pat Barrett. They don’t perform one after the other, as opening acts followed by a headliner, but instead remain onstage throughout the evening to add their voices to each other’s songs.
It’s a different kind of concert, Tomlin said, one that’s designed more for active worship than it is passive entertainment. He wants to see the concert-goers engaged.
“It’s so encouraging and uplifting when you see thousands of people,” he said. “You realize, man, I’m not alone in this. We’re all in this together. And the church is powerful. The church is alive. And it’s such a good thing.”
Tomlin grew up in the church. His father taught him to play guitar as a child. By the time he was graduating high school and enrolling in college, he said, he was starting to write his own songs.
At the time, the idea of a worship leader, as Christians know it today, hadn’t really taken hold. But, nonetheless, Tomlin said he found himself accepting invitations to perform and lead services musically throughout his college years.
A friendship with an organizer of the college student-oriented Passion movement led him to perform at the inaugural Passion Conference in Austin in 1997. He maintains ties to that movement, as well as his pursues his own projects, such as Worship Night in America.
Worship Night in America launched in 2015 with just a handful of performances. Tomlin said it expanded into a more ambitious tour last year, and continues this year with stops in 24 cities in April and May. In partnership with America’s Kids Belong, he meets with church and community leaders in each city prior to concerts to discuss efforts to end the foster care and adoption crisis.
His years in music and ministry lend Tomlin a degree of stature in the industry too. He launched an imprint label, Bowyer and Bow, under Capitol Christian Music Group in March. It allows him to work with like-minded artists, he said, conceived with that idea that “if the right people come along, I would love to be in a position to help and influence and develop artists.”
One of those right people is singer/songwriter Pat Barrett, who joins Tomlin onstage for Worship Night in America. The two worked together on the chart-topping “Good Good Father,” in 2016, and Barrett released a self-titled EP under Bowyer and Bow in late March.
Thinking back on the organic roots of what’s turned into a nearly 20-year career, Tomlin said he “never would have dreamed it would have grown into what it’s grown into.”
As he took a break recently from tour rehearsal and sessions at the studio, where he’s been working on his latest of more than a dozen albums, anticipated in the fall, Tomlin considered whether it ever gets tough to find new ways to write approach the same faith-oriented themes.
It might cross his mind when he finishes an album, he admitted, but the notion doesn’t take root. After all, he pointed out, finding new ways to write about God isn’t so different than a pop or country singer who keeps coming back with songs about love and relationships.
And faith, as it turns out, is a reliable inspiration source.
“When you’re writing about God, that’s an endless well,” he said. “So most of my songs are inspired by something in the scripture, a verse, something that jumps out at me. I’m always looking for that one lyric that helps you see it in a different way.”
“I’m excited by this as I ever have been,” he said of the upcoming album. “My music is writing songs that hopefully find their way into people’s lives and give people a voice to worship God.”
Worship Night in America begins at 7 p.m. at the Huntington Center, 500 Jefferson Ave. Tickets range from $26.75 to $67.75 and are available at ticketmaster.com or the box office.
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