By Diana Nollen
David Crowder wants to help people talk to God, through clanging symbols.
If the previous tour is any indicator, he’ll have plenty of people to talk to April 22, 2010, when the Rock & Worship Roadshow descends upon the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Last year’s event packed nearly 8,000 people into nearly every seat in the arena. With an admission charge of just $10 at the door, concert-goers would be well-advised to arrive long before the 7 p.m. start time. Two bands will play as the crowds roll in, starting at 6:10 p.m. Among the seven bands slated to play are Christian heavyweights MercyMe and The David Crowder Band.
Crowder, 38, of Waco, Texas, is leader of a six-piece rockin’ worship band that plays most weekends at University Baptist Church in Waco. He and friend Chris Seay founded the church 1995, and Crowder continues in his role as music and arts pastor there.
“Our hope is that we’re constructing songs that let people sing in a congregational setting,” he says by phone from a recent tour stop in Fresno, Calif. “We’re in a unique setting. Those are the people we’re really writing for, to help them articulate their faith.
“Music is such a natural piece of humanity, it makes sense to put our faith in an expressive, experiential way, to help people say things to God and to be formed by our ideas of God in the process, as well.”
Nine albums and six Dove awards later, the band features a mix of contemporary praise music, including the popular “O Praise Him” and “Wholly Yours,” with new arrangements of traditional hymns like “O, For A Thousand Tongues to Sing.”
Much of the music sports a hip, electronic sound.
“We can all agree we’ve been influenced by video game music, with all the blips coming from too much time spent in front of a Nintendo,” he says with a laugh.
Crowder and Seay, who is now pastor and lead elder at Ecclesia Church in Houston, started small to build on their faith.
“It’s all a blur,” Crowder says of launching their church at the Baptist-affiliated Baylor University. “We were both in college. Chris was pastor of a little church outside Waco. His intent was to be a pastor. His dad and granddad were pastors — he was destined to find his calling early in life. I had no intention (of ministry). I was going to go home and work with Dad in the insurance business.
“Chris started talking out loud about church and how environs and language had a lot to do with relationships. What if pals were hanging out and trying to figure out a journey? That came alive for me and the potential was really exciting to me.”
The Baptist mission board quickly helped them find a space, which would seat about 150. Now all they needed were people to sit in those seats.
“We didn’t have much money, so we ran to all the fraternity and sorority meetings to make the announcement that this is designed for you guys to have a space for you to ask questions. It’s not about dogma, it’s about relationships. We got a good response early on and it’s been a special, unique place ever since,” he says.
That first Sunday, their space overfloweth.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘What are we going to do about this?’ We asked them if they were coming back next week.”
They did. They’re still coming, with services drawing up to 1,000 people, especially at the start of a semester.
Crowder, who sings and plays piano and guitar, says because he was “somewhat musically inclined,” he fell naturally into the role of music director.
“I would take anybody who could play and stick them onstage. At some point, this group ended up on stage at the same time.”
Thus his band was born.
“It felt right,” he says. “It felt like music was coming from a foundation of relationships.”
He still likes reaching out to the college crowd.
“It’s one of those pivotal moments where things could go anywhere,” he says. “They’re out from under the influence of their parents. A lot of our world view is called into question, deciding what’s yours, what you’ll claim of what’s been passed on and what you’ll no longer hold onto.
“I like being with them, being able to speak to people’s lives and set them on a course when the mind and heart are in a place that’s willing to believe you can do anything. It’s pretty amazing to help someone down a path where they can change the world.”
What: The Rock & Worship Roadshow
Bands: MercyMe, The David Crowder Band, Family Force 5, Francesca Battistelli, Fee
When: 7 p.m. April 22, 2010; Sidewalk Prophets and Remedy Drive play at 6:10 p.m.
Where: U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
Admission: $10 at the door