Elevation Worship is the worship ministry of Elevation Church, a multi-site church based in Charlotte, NC, led by Pastor Steven Furtick. Their previous album, Here As In Heaven, featuring the song "O Come To The Altar," was named one of the top Christian music albums of 2016 by iTunes, Worship Leader Magazine, and others. Now with their latest release, There Is A Cloud, Elevation Worship is echoing their passion to see a new season of spiritual awakening rise in our hearts, our churches and in our world. Elevation Worship has become an influential voice in churches around the world with CCLI charting songs such as “Only King Forever,” “Give Me Faith,” and “Unstoppable God.” Founding members and featured vocalists Chris Brown and Mack Brock recently talked with us about the increasing momentum at Elevation Church, the process of writing their new record and recent tour experiences.
You guys have released a number of really powerful, high-quality records over the last nearly 10 years, but it seems these latest two records Here As In Heaven and There Is A Cloud have reached new heights. What has this journey been like and do you feel like there is increased momentum and excitement with Elevation Worship?
Chris: We feel it too. We started writing Here As In Heaven almost three years ago. I think at that time we started to sense a shift. The song “Here As In Heaven” was one of the first ones we wrote for that album, and it felt like we were stepping into a new season in our church. In terms of songwriting the last couple of years, we have tried to figure out how we can say the same things in fresh ways. If we want to build an album around God’s faithfulness, which There Is A Cloud is really centered around, how can we say it in a different way and frame it in a way that registers with people a little bit differently, so they don’t hear ‘God is faithful’ again and again? Pastor Steven has written a lot with us specifically on these two albums, and so I think his input lyrically has been significant. So many of our songs come from specific passages: “There Is A Cloud” coming from 1 Kings 18, “Do It Again” coming from Joshua 6, and “Fullness” coming from Acts 2. So I think we are trying to pull out stories and scripture and make it come alive in a different way through song.
With all of this new music to choose from, how do you go about designing a set list for a night like this?
Mack: That’s been difficult for us. We got out here and the first night did one set of songs and then realized the energy and the flow for the night. We’re the opener, so we had to change our expectations for the atmosphere of the room, so we ended up changing up our set. I think the biggest thing for us is it’s a balance playing the songs that everyone knows and wanting to create a good worship flow experience. We wanted to have a journey that we would go on together every night. So for us in this go around, we have about a 30 minute worship set, which is tough to not make it feel jerky or all over the place. For us, it was more important to create moments and space for the Holy Spirit to move and for us to follow his prompting than to do song after song after song and plow through a set.
Chris: Night one we did seven songs, and since then we’ve done five.
Mack: Right - with the same amount of time. We just felt it was too much and wanted to create some space.
Chris: We’re coming from all we’ve ever known is a church setting and this is new, as opposed to being artists who started making records and touring and then went into church. So as we are creating a setlist for a night like this, our only perspective is ‘what would work in a church setting.’ And so our hope night after night is that we would just have church together.
Going back to the latest release, There Is A Cloud, what kind of response have you seen and heard at your home church and on tour with these new songs?
Mack: So on Outcry, the two songs we’ve been doing that are brand new are “There Is A Cloud” and “Do It Again.” And back at church, those have been staples for us for about a year now. We were kind of curious how they would translate on the road, and honestly, it’s been good and encouraging to us. We set up each night with sharing a bit of scripture and the story of where “There Is A Cloud” comes from. It’s seemed to tear down a little of that wall of ‘spectator mode’ to we’re all going to worship together.
How would you say this album stands out in your discography?
Chris: Sonically, I think it’s a big step forward from Here As In Heaven, which I think was a big step for us internally. Here As In Heaven, for us, was different because all of the albums before it we had started with an upbeat song. With the last album, it seemed a bit of a risk to start the album with “Here As In Heaven,” but we were trying to create an experience for the listener to journey along. And I feel There Is A Cloud does the same thing. I’ve talked with a number of friends who aren’t at church in Elevation, and they have mentioned when they listen to it, it feels like they are coming along on a journey. So the biggest step forward for this album was we accomplished what we set out to accomplish in terms of creating the journey experience. We are proud with how fluid it feels.
Thinking back to the writing and recording process from that record, was there a track on the album that you remember identifying with first that made you say, “This has to go on the record”?
Mack: “He Is The Lord” was the very first one we wrote. And, we went on a writing retreat, and out of that writing retreat, two songs that stand out are “Fullness” and “Do It Again.” We all walked away knowing those two songs were special. I think at the time we thought “Fullness” more so, but I don’t think we all fully understood the power that the bridge of “Do It Again” would be for people to declare. When we did it the first week in church, it elevated the energy in the room and was a special moment.
In addition to traveling with your fellow band members on this tour, at select gatherings Pastor Steven Furtick is also joining you guys. Tell us what that has been like bringing a large part of Elevation Church on the road?
Chris: It’s been awesome! We’ve never taken what we do at church every weekend on the road, so to speak, so we’ve never been together - the worship band and the preaching. We’ve tossed it around for a few years now, so this does feel like a first step. I think there will be more to come. In terms of doing it though, even in new cities, it feels natural and feels like home. We have worked hard for the last several years and so many people have played a part in learning what the dynamic is like to capture a worship moment, finish a worship song, have Pastor Steven step up, and letting him take a moment and then flowing with him. I think it’s something unique to us; I think his background has taken root, and so there’s something unique about how we do this together. It’s been awesome to see it happen on Outcry!
Here we are in Pittsburgh, about half way through the spring Outcry tour. Do you have a favorite moment of the night on this tour that is special for you?
Mack: From our set, it is special to lead some of these new songs and see them connect to people. Last year when we did Outcry, we did a lot of songs from Here As In Heaven and got to experience those at that time, so this is a progression of that. But for me, my favorite moment of the night is the new song that Kim does from her solo record, “Fresh Outpouring.” It’s just a really special song, and she leads it so well. It doesn’t feel rushed or forced; it’s a song that you can just sit in.
When fans leave the arena tonight, what is one thing that you hope they take away from your set or the night overall?
Chris: At the risk of sounding cliche, our main hope would be that they leave thinking about Jesus, with the name of Jesus in their thoughts and consuming their spirit. And to take that one step forward, I would hope that people feel they can be authentic in the presence of God. So if they see that demonstrated from stage, it is one of our biggest hopes that they are watching authentic worship take place. And if that can somehow be transacted into people, they can leave feeling like they are at home with God and in His presence. We hope that something clicks for people, and they realize they don’t have to put on a facade or make-up to come to God; they can be who they are with God. I think that would be great for a tour that is championing the local church and centered around worship.
On tours like this, you get to interact on and off stage with fellow CCM artists and bands. From tour experiences over the last year or so, who are some artists you would like to collaborate with in the future if the opportunity were to arise?
Chris: I think all of them! Hillsong immediately felt like family last year. We already had a relationship with a few of the leaders, but we got to learn more about the ones we didn’t know.
Mack: That’s what’s been cool about this tour - it feels like we are all doing this together. We feel like we have great relationships with everybody we travel with. We all hang after the shows every night; we have a group gathering beforehand. So it feels like family!
Looking forward to the rest of 2017, what will the year hold for Elevation Worship?
Mack: Church is most important to us, first and foremost. We focus on making sure our team is healthy, and our church is healthy. And so after Outcry, we are heading back and going to focus on that. We might tour again in the fall, but nothing’s locked in yet.