By Joshua Maloni
North Point Worship never set out to become a Kingdom Bound mainstage act, pen a hit tune that’s now a staple at congregations around the world, or lead 40,000-plus people in song each weekend at one of the largest churches in America.
So how did all this happen?
Brandon Coker recently chatted with NFP about leading worship at Andy Stanley’s North Point Community Church in Atlanta, returning to Buffalo to participate in the Awaken Conference on Valentine’s Day weekend, and being content with where one is in life.
An edited Q&A follows.
Q: You guys are coming out this way for the Awaken Conference. … How does it work for you on a week-to-week basis, because we're talking about 40,000 people; we're talking about all these different campuses and all these partner churches. So, Is it a situation where you guys are playing in the main church and it's simulcast everywhere else, or how does it work?
Brandon Coker: There are six main campuses, and like hundreds of partnership churches; so, I don't even know where all the reach goes anymore. I used to keep up with it, now there's a website for it. But, to be honest, it’s just grown so much, I don't even keep up with it.
But there are six main Atlanta campuses, with the main campus being in Alpharetta, Georgia, which is North Point Church. Every campus has their own band every Sunday, so there's live worship every Sunday at every campus. And then, if you're not at the campus that Andy (Stanley) is speaking from, originating from, a screen rolls down that's the width of the stage. I mean a giant screen, and a 4K projector projects him, live, to the other campuses.
So, in that regard. There is a live band on stage every week, it is not always the North Point Worship band. And to be honest, until really recently, getting us together kind of took there being an event, a night of worship, something that we could collect kind of the core main faces of the North Point Worship band. And I would just consider that to be people that are primarily writing the songs, and the people that are leading every week at one of our campuses.
So anyway, usually it took an act of Congress or something crazy to get us all together. And that's kind of what started how the band kind of formed. Honestly, we thought, “Man, this is going really well.” We played … events and we played nights of worship together, and we were like, “Man, this is special.” Something was going on. “These songs are not just good for our church, they’re good for the ‘Capital C’ Church. We need to get really intentional about exploring that.”
Thankfully, we joined up with Centricity Records in Nashville, and Jeff Roberts & Associates in Nashville, as well – our booking agent. They had a similar dream to help us see these songs kind of go to the world. So, when we started doing some more travel dates, the band started becoming more and more clear, but we still weren’t meeting together at church very often on Sundays. And then recently – very recently – our main campus, North Point, decided to give the 4:30 service to us. So, if you attend North Point Community Church any given Sunday now, the 4:30 service will have the North Point Worship band – the band that usually travels. …
It’s kind of great that they gave us a new service to be able to try new songs, and be able to continue to work on our chemistry together as a band. I think it only can help us get better, when we travel, getting weekly reps like that together. It’s pretty awesome.
Q: When North Point Worship tours, like when you're coming to Buffalo, for example, is it all of you, or how does it work?
Brandon Coker: No. So, typically, I am the drummer. I'm also one of the main songwriters, and I also manage the band. So, I will try to match up or pair up who I think serves the event the best.
There's always gonna be one or two key faces, one or two key people, that are at every show; we kind of try to keep that. And I think what makes not just North Point Worship, but any collective from a church, kind of special is you're gonna have a good mix: You're gonna have some older guys that have been through the trenches a little bit, that know how to lead worship; how to steer a room and how to guide a worship set. And then you’re gonna have some young, fresh people that are just getting their feet wet, but at the same time have a passion and almost a wide-eyed wonderment at leading worship that some of us older guys still need.
We need to be reminded that this is not normal; this is not something to be taken lightly. You should always prepare as best you can, and almost find that excitement, again, every single time. So, being around these younger guys, it's always easier to find that excitement, because they're so pumped. I mean, I have people coming with me to Buffalo who probably have never seen snow like that before in their life. So, they’re super-excited about it.
So that’s what I do. I try to match the band to the event, with always key people that will be in every show. I consider those people the ones that kind of protect the mission and the vision. They know why we’re there; they know why we do what we do. You know, just carriers of the heart and passion for why we write songs that we write, how we write, what we write, and honestly they just carry a passion for Jesus, and for worship, and for students; and it's easy for me to look around and cherry-pick people, because we just have such high-caliber humans. I mean, obviously, they're all fantastic musicians and leaders, but I know their hearts, and it's easy for me to go, “Hey, you're gonna fit here, because you have a heart for that; you're going to fit here.” It's kind of a blessing.
Q: Who are some of the people that we'll see in Buffalo?
Brandon Coker: You will definitely see one of my favorite guys in the world. He's a young – he's 25, I think, so I guess he's not that young anymore – but he's pretty young. His name is Clay Finnesand. He's just a gem of a human. He'll be one of our main worship leaders.
One of our newest female worship leaders is a girl named Lauren Anderson; she's going to be there, as well.
I will be there playing drums. And then we have a couple of young guys on guitar, Alex (Thompson) and Michael (Harrison).
It'll be two main leaders, a male and female, and then it should be just a rockin’ good time. I'm so excited. Honestly, I thought the combination of Clay and Lauren are hard to beat.
Q: What do you guys know about Awaken? I mean, it is geared for students in grades 7 to 12, but what do you know about that event coming into it, and what are you preparing for the participants?
Brandon Coker: Honestly, what I really know about it is that it’s in connection with Kingdom Bound. We've played Kingdom Bound now two years in a row, and we just love that festival.
You do a bunch of festivals, they kind of all run together. Kingdom Bound does not. It stands on its own. The leadership, the way it's ran, the way they take care of their artists, is above and beyond – better than a lot that we've been part of and been able to see. So, No. 1, any time Kingdom Bound needs us to do anything, the answer is going to be “Yes,” because we just love them.
And then No. 2, you know, our old name. We are now North Point Worship, but we’ve played Kingdom Bound two years in a row as North Point InsideOut. InsideOut is the student ministry of our church back home. And the way it kind of started with the band, we were able to write songs and try them out in our student environment. And basically what we realized is, good songs are good songs. And if students like them, their parents are going to like them, and hopefully, you know the church at large will like them, as well.
So, honestly, any time we get a chance to play an event for high school students or even middle-school students – students in general – that's our heart. That's where this whole thing started was for that age group. It has obviously grown into something much larger, which we're so grateful for. But we have such a connection to that stage of life.
There isn’t a stage of life that’s more important to really help students develop a faith of their own and to get outside of the walls of what mom and dad have prepared them to believe, but to really dive into the word and really figure out what they believe about who Jesus is, and more importantly what God says of them. I think it's such an incredible age, important age, to journey in that.
Honestly, any time we get a chance to partner with an event that’s focused on that age group, specifically, from the Kingdom Bound family, it was a no-brainer. We're so excited about it, honestly. We're gonna have high-energy worship sets. They’re gonna be fun. But then, we're also gonna take turns and be very intentional about worship and diving in on things where people can seek change.
You know, people ask me all the time, they're like, “Why do you write songs? Do you feel like God forgets who he is? Why do we have to keep singing these songs?” And I said, “No, I forget who God is.” Like, I sing these songs as much for me as I do for anybody else. Like, yes, I know God. I hope God gets glorified through the songs that we write. But, equally as important, it is for us, as well.
I think, just because we’re on a stage, our lives are faced with trials and troubles just like everybody else. A lot of these songs are birthed from really real, honest places of desire for the heart of God. That’s going to be our intention at Awakening. We’re going to have a great time and have a high-energy (show), but we’re also going to really focus on worship, and deep-diving in on identity, and who we are, and who God is for us. That’s going to be the goal.
Q: As you said, your band is releasing music; you are touring with Jeff Roberts, who is an industry heavyweight; you're doing Kingdom Bound events and other things like that. I know you guys were out with Jordan Feliz last year, which is awesome. Is this normal or is this abnormal for a church worship group to sort of be propelled like this? Because a lot of the Christian artists that I work with, I don't know that they necessarily started out in a church as worship leaders. So, is this something that there was a model you guys sort of patterned yourselves after, or is this unusual in Christian music for a band to start like this and go to where you guys are at now?
Brandon Coker: It's easy to point to the people who went ahead of us, and they're still doing it. You know, bands like Hillsong, who we have loved and admired and respected for a very long time, from afar. You know, their songs are amazing, their heart is amazing, their church is amazing. Like, we are big, big Hillsong fans. But I think it would be a miss for anybody to look at the Hillsong and Elevation, a Passion, even, that's right down the street from us here, and think that, “OK, if we just got some good worship leaders together in a band at church, we can start writing songs and go see the world (laughs).”
I really – this is going to sound super-churchy – but I really do believe it – it just takes it being God's will and God's timing. And then, a whole lot of hard work and a whole lot of diligence.
There’s been times when you feel like no one's listening and no one cares. I mean, I can’t even tell you how many songs we've written that no one will ever hear, because they're terrible. Of course they are. But we had to write those songs and we had to go be diligent – we had to persevere. We had to spend time with Jesus personally, and wrestle with some of that stuff. …
We had to be OK with those songs coming out of us, and only supporting our local church, and if that’s all they ever did, that would be a win for us.
I can genuinely say, I was one of the writers on “Death Was Arrested,” I never dreamed in a million years that, when we finished writing that song, it would be as big as it is, and would take us around the world. That was never the goal. The goal was my heart, for my church, for my local people.
And I think God saw that and blew incredible, just wildfire grace on it, and took it all over the world, which is awesome. But that was not the goal. And I'm sure, if you ask Passion, if you ask Hillsong, those early guys who were kind of on the beginning – and, honestly, North Point Worship, we are in the beginning; you know, we've only been an official band for about four years – I'm sure if you ask some of those guys, “Did you ever dream? Was that ever the goal?” The answer's going to be “No.” Because I think the reason why God smiles on things like that is always the heart and the intent.
And that's not to say God can’t use people if their heart and intent is not right – he’s God; he can do whatever he wants – but, I think specifically for a local church, and a worship team that wants to write and get really involved in producing music for the church at large, it's got to be out of a drive and a passion for your local church, and to see God use songs to move your people. Because I think too many times churches, you know, they see the Hillsongs and their target gets really big. But God's called them to their sheep. “Hey, if you love me, feed my sheep.” God's called them to that flock. And I think you have to start there, you have to focus there, you got to get that part right, first and foremost.
And that's the reason, even with us, you know with Jeff Roberts, we’ve set about a 70-date cutoff. Like, that’s as much as we're going to travel in a year. And not because we couldn't travel more, not because we don't enjoy exporting what we do, but we know the importance of staying connected to our local church. And, you know, that's where God's called us to serve and be, so that's what we're going to do.
I mean, there's a million answers for the reason why I think God's using our band currently, but faithful in the little and being entrusted with much is kind of the boiled-down answer.
Q: Your press release says you're looking to put out 12 new songs this year. That would be double what you put out on your last EP. So, again, you talk about hard work. Tell me a little bit about the goal this year for those 12 songs and what you hope to get out of them.
Brandon Coker: Yeah, so we used to put out records, and I'm sure one day we'll get back to it. We used to put out full-length records. And if we had, you know six or seven originals on it, and then we’d have five or six covers on it, and put it out. You know, we’d record it live and do it that way. But, in the last couple years, we really felt like, “Hey, what if we spend a lot more time intentionally writing? What if we spend a lot more time intentionally going through the songs that we write to make sure that they're not only a good fit for what we want to say, but just, again, that our church is singing them?”
You know, that's the other big part, is like, if we write a song and our church won’t sing it, well then, we're not gonna release it. Like, we need it to work for our congregation.
So, last year was great. We wrote, I don't know, probably 30 songs, 40 songs, and got them down to six that we felt good about. And then this year, we just started immediately – after we released that project last summer – writing again. And we’ve just not stopped. I mean, we probably already have another 20 to 30 songs written for this year and we’re just in January.
So, the goal is just to keep doing it, keep at it. Writing is like a muscle, you know, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. So, we just decided that that's what we're gonna do. We have a lot of people here locally and several friends up in Nashville that we enjoy writing with a lot. And so, we've just made it a discipline to do it.
“And, you know, we may not hit the 12-song goal, but we'll never hit it if we don't make it. So, we're gonna try it. We're committed to not putting out 12 songs just to say we did that. … They’re going to have to be the right 12 songs. …
I think it's gonna be even better in 2020; I'm really, really, really excited. Our next two singles will drop Feb. 21, I believe it is. And we're gonna kind of do it that way. Instead of doing a whole album of 12 songs, we're gonna do six releases of two songs each. So, that's gonna be how we're gonna do it.
Ideally, we'll kind of package them: a more upbeat song with a more worshipful, worship-based song in there, as well, so that no matter what season any church is in, if they’re like, “Oh, we need more fast songs,” they’ll have a new one to pick from. And if they are looking for a worship song, they’ll have that one, as well.
So, we're going to try that model in 2020 and see how it works. I'm excited to see. I mean, in today's world of streaming and whatever else, it's kind of like throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks. We're just trying that model. Last year, our singles did really well with when we released those. We're hoping doing a couple of them at a time will continue that momentum.
North Point Worship is Clay Finnesand, Emily Harrison, Seth Condrey, Lauren Anderson, Brett Stanfill, Kaycee Hines, Desi Raines, Heath Balltzglier, Brandon Coker, Megan Jiles, Chad Russell, Alex Thompson, Matt Adkins and Michael Harrison.
Awaken is online at https://www.awakencon.com/.