When worship leader Chris Tomlin met Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard at the gym, he had no idea he and the country star would end up collaborating on a mainstream country album.
“In May of last year, Tyler and I were both at the same vacation spot in Florida and happened to meet at the gym,” the Grammy winner and multi-Platinum singer-songwriter told The Christian Post. “He told me how much my music meant to him and his wife, and I was floored. I mean, he’s a huge country superstar.”
Growing up, Hubbard sang Tomlin’s songs in church. As a student at Belmont, Hubbard attended a Passion Conference where the “How Great is our God” singer led worship — and there decided to become a worship leader himself.
“Tyler and [bandmate] Brian actually started out as a worship duo because of that conference before launching into country, and the rest is history,” Tomlin said. “He said that meeting me felt like a musical full circle.”
The two soon developed a “friendship and brotherhood” and it wasn’t long before they found themselves in the writing room together.
“We started writing songs and realized that, 'Wow, this is really different, really fun,’” the 21-time Gospel Music Association Dove Award winner said. “It really felt God-ordained, because we weren’t looking to make an album, but that’s exactly what we did.”
The result of the duo’s chance encounter was Chris Tomlin & Friends, an album Tomlin — who has sold over 7 million albums over his career — described as “the perfect smash up of the country and Christian genres.”
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For the album, Tomlin, Hubbard and FGL’s Brian Kelley rounded up their superstar friends, including Thomas Rhett, Lady A (formerly known as Lady Antebellum), Brett Young, Cassadee Pope, RaeLynn, NEEDTOBREATHE’s Bear Rinehart, and others.
Florida Georgia Line also collaborated with Tomlin on multiple songs and served as executive producers on the album, while chart-topping songwriter Corey Crowder produced 12 out of 13 tracks.
“So many of these people grew up singing in church, and I know they have the same heart of faith and love of God that I do,” Tomlin said. “They all said they would love to be a part of the album. It’s been so beautiful to see this whole thing come together. It’s an album born organically out of friendships and relationships.”
For the Nashville-based Texas native, venturing into country music felt natural. He told CP his “dream” duet would be with Johnny Cash.
“I grew up on country,” he shared. “Country and Christian really have the same audience, yet I don't think there's anything like this where it's really a collaboration of getting them in the room and writing songs together, making an entire record of original brand new songs.”
With titles including “Thank You Lord,” “Who You Are To Me,” and “Be A Light,” each song on Chris Tomlin and Friends seeks to “bring glory to God,” Tomlin said, adding: “I’ve always been about encouraging people to use their voices to worship God. That’s been my focus and the vision that God put in me since I was young.”
Still, he admitted he was "floored" when every country star he encountered was "so in tune" with worship music.
"They all wanted to bring glory to God and share their faith and express their heart in a way that was really cool,” he said.
Less than two months after its release, the album has already topped both Christian and country charts.
“This album allowed my music to go places and audiences I never thought it would ever go into,” Tomlin said.
Recording and releasing an album amid the COVID-19 pandemic — although not anticipated — was actually another “God thing,” the singer revealed.
“We finished this album in February, right before everything shut down, we put the finishing touches on it during the lockdown,” he recalled. “But the timing was incredible — I can't go out and tour this record because of COVID, but I couldn't do it anyway because I would never be able to get artists together. Their tours are so massive. It’s like, OK, here's a moment to release some music that hopefully people enjoy.”
Largely due to the way people consume music today — “people aren’t buying CDs; they’re listening to playlists where all kinds of genres are mashed up,” said Tomlin, who believes that the “us vs. them” mentality historically prevalent in Christian music is rapidly disappearing.
“I love that faith is just being able to infiltrate any genre. It’s right there in the midst of the conversation,” he said. “And that's the way it should be. It shouldn't be in its own box and bubble.”
Tomlin added that during His earthly ministry, Jesus “didn’t stay in His own bubble; He was always in the mix.”
“So I thought, ‘Why would I not do this?” he said. “At first, I was concerned about judgment and criticism — and I’ve gotten some of it, and I’m sure more is coming. But when God presents an opportunity to share my music and glorify Him to a new audience, that’s what it’s all about. It made it very easy to walk into this.”
Tomlin told CP that whether he’s working on a worship or country album, his goal is the same: To present simple songs that encourage listeners to “lift their eyes to something greater than themselves.”
“For me, it will always be worship music," he said. "I love writing, and when I sit down, worship music is just what comes out. I love making songs that give glory to God. That’s the heart of even an opportunity like this.”
“Music has a way of connecting people to God,” he added. “I’m always listening for what God is saying to me through His Word or through other people. Usually, something will pop out at me, and I’ll run with it. With this album, God allowed me to collaborate with others with the same goal. We put our best ideas together, and I think something beautiful came out of it.”