It is at once hard to believe that Chris Tomlin has been in Christian music for 10 years and hard to imagine the genre without him.
Since his first nationally released solo album in 2001, The Noise We Make, Tomlin has been a driving force both as a recording artist and a songwriter whose tunes are staples of contemporary worship services.
He comes to Southland Christian Church on Wednesday, just a few weeks before the release of his seventh studio album, And If Our God Is for Us ..., scheduled to go on sale Nov. 16.
"It's exciting to think we are still putting out music that is hopefully fresh and taking a new step," Tomlin says during a telephone interview. "It's something a little different and a different sound. But the heart of the music is still the same. With the lyric and the melody, it's still singable and accessible."
Tomlin describes the new album as having "a little more progressive sound. In the past, we've had a bit more organic sound, and this is a little more beat-driven and there are some exciting things in it for me."
While Tomlin has tweaked his sound on the new album, his essential mission remains the same.
"I hope worship leaders can pick it up and say, 'Man, I can play this," Tomlin says. "I hope they find the songs are powerful and have something to say. There's all kinds of stuff on there. Our first single, I Will Follow, is more pop than what we've done before in terms of beat and stuff. But the lyric is powerful — I've said before, fun beat to play, big words to say."
Tomlin emerged from pastor Louie Giglio's Passion conferences, in which he is still active. They also have involved artists such as Watermark's Christy and Nathan Nockles, the David Crowder Band and Charlie Hall. Those events leaned on songs that crowds could sing along to easily, and so have Tomlin's solo efforts, which often cross over with Passion.
During the first decade of the 21st century, Tomlin has contributed songs including How Great Is Our God, Forever and Holy Is the Lord to the contemporary worship catalog.
Much of that songwriting has been with his longtime band that is now based at Passion City Church in Atlanta, where Giglio is the pastor, after many years anchored at churches in Tomlin's home state of Texas.
For Tomlin, being church-based has been essential to writing songs that connect with congregations.
"It's what keeps you right on the mark," Tomlin says. "That's where I'm leading weekly and thinking, 'How does this relate to the church?' You can get in a 'bubble world' just sitting on the bus going town to town."
Being out of the bubble also drives Tomlin to keep creating.
"I'm so grateful for what's happened in the past and what's happened with these songs and what God's done with the songs, and that they are as relevant today as they were five or 10 years ago," Tomlin says. "But I'm also moving forward thinking how do I write new songs for the church, and not just say, well, that was my time. I want to be faithful to the gift God's given me and write, write , write, write because God's given us a platform, and that's where our heart is."