The Integrated Worship Songwriting Network

Explore a series of interactive visualizations highlighting the interconnectivity of worship music’s most powerful networks and the collaborative powerhouses that bridge them.

When Elevation Worship releases a song, we might assume it was written solely by them.  Yet, anyone who has seen a SongSelect (PraiseCharts, Multitracks, etc.) chord chart knows that many other names are included at the top, alongside the primary artist’s name(s).  These additional names belong to other credited songwriters.  Recently, the spotlight has landed on the songwriters in the secular music industry.  Many songwriters have become artists themselves, and the reality show Songland even highlighted the process of songwriters pitching songs to artists.

At Worship Leader Research (WLR), our conversations about the worship music industry have focused on contemporary worship songs and the broad contributors of those songs.  We have examined the broader landscape of the industry and how worship leaders engage with it.  This article focuses on some of the specific individuals involved in creating popular worship songs by visualizing the shift from solo songwriting to collaborations, demonstrating the growing interconnections between the Big 4 and solo artists, and highlighting songwriters who are typically hidden from the general public.

Where did we start?

When the first CCLI Top 100 list was released in 1988, most of the songs were written by one person.  Just under 20% were written by two people, and none were written by more than two. Of those by duos, six were written by Bill and Gloria Gaither.  Only 13 duo-written songs were written in collaboration beyond the Gaithers.  In the late twentieth century, the contemporary worship scene mainly was comprised of a collection of solo artists like Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, Don Moen, and Marty Nystrom.  They were all solo artists.  As WLR has noted, a significant shift in the contemporary worship music industry during the past decade was the rise of the Big 4  church worship teams.  While two of them, Hillsong and Passion, rose in prevalence in the early 2000s, their popularity contributed to the rise of other church-based bands, such as Elevation and Bethel.  One might assume that the shift from solo artists to collectives indicates a shift in the number of people involved when writing a song. On the surface, a solo artist could theoretically write songs alone, and a collective involves two or more people who could theoretically write together. However, it is worth noting that this rise in collaborative songwriting reflects the trend in popular music at large. The average number of songwriters for a secular song is 4.07 for the 2010s decade. So, the expansion of collaborative songwriting is not unique to worship songs.

The following charts demonstrate the trend by showing how the songs in the CCLI lists have shifted toward collective songwriting.

The second chart consolidates each list into one column, demonstrating the trend from solo to collaborative songwriting. Of the 18 songs from the June 2024 CCLI list with one songwriter, all except one were written before 2006.  The one song with a solo songwriter is “Way Maker,” written in 2015 by a Nigerian artist (Sinach) who had no connection to the Big 4.  So, on the current list, almost every new song since 2010 has had two or more songwriters.

2010s Songwriting Network

Since co-writing became the norm by the late 2000s, with fewer solo-written songs, this article will focus on the new songs written since the emergence of the Big 4.  The new songs from 2010-2019 reveal the prevalence of collaborations within the church bands.  Many of these bands acted as collectives, bringing artists together under one name, such as the Bethel Music Collective.  Passion had already established itself as a collective by featuring various artists on their annual albums.  For example, Matt Redman and David Crowder often co-released their songs with Passion.  What started as a large pool of individuals contributing their voices to the contemporary worship soundscape eventually became a collection of interconnected enclaves.

In the 2010s decade, 124 new songs were on the CCLI Top 100 lists written by 159 people, with only nine songs written by one person. When the entire network is shown, it includes 670 arcs across the diagram, with the colors demonstrating the various groups (including the Big 4).

To bring clarity, this interactive network highlights the “primary songwriters” as those credited on at least three songs. In the same way that we delineated “primary contributor” for our previous research, the songwriters included in this chart had to have their names on at least three songs.

2010s Isolated Networks

Swipe Below to View Various Networks

Visualizing these integrated networks establishes that collaborations happen within and beyond the Big 4.  Interestingly, though, as we examine the visualization above, we see that most collaborations happen within the artist group.  However, one or two individuals from each group have collaborated beyond their own group.  For example, Ben Fielding from Hillsong has collaborated with writers from Bethel and Elevation. Brian Johnson from Bethel has collaborated with Hillsong. From Passion, Chris Tomlin collaborated with Hillsong, and Matt Redman collaborated with Elevation.  Bethel does not have any popular song collaborations with Elevation or Passion.

In fact, members of Bethel and Elevation rarely wrote songs together in the 2010s.  Among those rare collaborations, none have charted in the CCLI Top 100.  Similarly, Bethel and Passion have seldom collaborated, with none of their joint efforts ranking in the CCLI Top 100.  Since Passion’s albums are products of their annual conference, Bethel’s absence from collaborating could reflect their absence from the Passion Conference artist roster.  The lack of collaboration between these groups may be linked to a disconnect between their record labels.

In addition to internal collaborations, solo artists also work with these groups. Notably, Phil Wickham, Pat Barrett, and Matt Maher have each collaborated with the Big 4.  Phil Wickham’s popular 2010s collaborations were with Bethel songwriters, while Pat Barrett and Matt Maher worked with Passion songwriters. Sometimes, these songs were released by the group and the solo artist, helping to reach their combined audiences. This increased exposure allows churches to discover these songs more quickly.

While collaborations between successful artists and groups might seem like the obvious reason for their songs’ success and use in churches, these collaborations are not entirely unprecedented and do not guarantee popularity.  A key example is the song “King of Wonders,” released in 2008. Despite being written by renowned artists Andy Park, Chris Tomlin, Darlene Zschech, Graham Kendrick, Israel Houghton, Martin Smith, Matt Redman, Michael W. Smith, Paul Baloche, Steven Curtis Chapman, Stuart Garrard, and Tim Hughes, the song never charted in the CCLI Top 100.

Highlighting Career Songwriters

While collaborations occur between well-known famous artists, lesser-known career songwriters have also contributed to songs with the Big 4.  Their names may be familiar from SongSelect or PraiseCharts music, but many are unaware of their influence on the contemporary worship music scene.

Swipe to View Various Songwriters

Three songwriters who stand out in the CCLI Top 100 are Jason Ingram, Jonas Myrin, and Ed Cash.  Their names are highlighted in the visualization above. Their prominence is reflected in the size of their section on the chart and the numerous ars connecting them to various artists. Considering their lack of direct connection to the Big 4, their influence is notable.  In particular, Jason Ingram has collaborated on songs such as “Great are You Lord,” “Glorious Day,” “Goodness of God,” “King of Kings,” and “See a Victory.”  Jonas Myrin has co-written songs, including “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord),” “Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace),” and “Our God.”  Some songwriters are also producers.  Ed Cash has produced songs for many Christian artists, and while he has primarily worked with Passion songwriters, his name also appears on Hillsong and Bethel songs.  Toward the end of the decade, Cash formed the band We the Kingdom, which released two CCLI Top 100 songs.

Despite their significant contributions to some of the most popular worship songs of the 2010s decade, these songwriters often remain unknown to the public. Yet, their influence is widespread, and it is important to acknowledge their impact.  Labels will often encourage cowriting with these career songwriters because of the proven success of their songs. So it is unsurprising to see that Jason Ingram, with Essential, and Jonas Myron and Ed Cash, with Capitol CMG, frequently collaborate with artists from those labels. While one might assume that songs from the Big 4 are written solely within those churches or in collaboration with one another, some “outside” songwriters are often also involved in writing these popular songs used in church. 


This article has offered deeper written and visual insights into the songwriting networks of the CCLI Top 100 songs written since 2010.  These networks demonstrate some collaboration between the Big 4, challenging the notion of the music industry as purely competition.  Such collaborations demonstrate a willingness to work together for the greater good of the Church.  At the same time, some argue these collaborations could be creating a worship soundscape that sounds all too similar.  Beyond these collaborations, we have also highlighted the contributions of lesser-known career songwriters, emphasizing their influence.  As we explore the worship music industry, it is important to recognize that it includes but also extends beyond the Big 4 and popular solo artists.  Understanding this intricate network reveals the industry’s true complexity.  Songs attributed to a single artist or group often involve contributions from a broader array of songwriters.

The development of these integrated networks continues, with new prominent artists arriving in the 2020s.  This is the first article in a mini-series that will explore other less visible players in the music industry, culminating in a comprehensive overview of where things stand today. Stay tuned in the coming months as we uncover the hidden architects behind the music that shapes our worship experiences.