In the thickest part of the Bible belt, smack dab in the middle of the state of Louisiana, twin sisters Kellie & Kristen are writing scripturally based songs that are bursting out of their 200-person church plant.
While writing songs, leading worship on weekends and even playing songs for the Sunday School programs takes up a lot of time, the duo also serves as "musical missionaries"--bringing their ministry near and far to whoever will hear it.
And they come at their ministry with some added educational firepower. Kristen started college as a nursing major because she never thought music could be her "Plan A," but God encouraged her to trust Him, and so she got a degree in Christian Studies, which has trained her to write biblically centered songs.
Kellie, on the other hand, got bachelor's and master's degrees in social work--an educational route that has opened her eyes to the real tragedies the people in her community face every day, driving her to tell as many people as possible about the hope Jesus brings.
Kellie & Kristen's passion for people, songwriting and corporate worship has expressed itself in their brand-new album, We Receive. All seven tracks of bright, pop/rock worship declare God's truth while being accessible enough for churches to use on Sunday morning.
To get to know these driven worshippers, I asked them about what brought them to where they are today, as well as their musical influences and their calling as they best understand it.
You've been leading worship since you were 16 years old. Tell us how you got into worship leading, and give us an idea of your musical development over the years.
Kellie: I have been singing for as long as I can remember, so I don't really know life without music. I was always involved in choirs and musicals at both church and school, and I frequently sang solos at church in a variety of settings as I got older. When I was 16, I found myself leading worship in our youth band at church with Kristen playing keys beside me.
Kristen: I have been playing piano since the age of 8, but growing up, I never thought that I would one day be a full-time keyboard player. The Lord started to develop a love for leading worship around the age of 16. I originally was a singer in our junior high praise band and Kellie was the keyboard player. When we got to high school, Kellie was asked to play keyboard for the high school band, but she really just wanted to sing.
So, the story of how I started playing keyboard is that Kellie told the youth pastor that I could play keyboard--which I could not at the time! I was so nervous at first. I remember when I first started playing that I would turn my volume all the way down so that no one would hear me. It was bad, but looking back I can see the different ways the Lord has honed my skill in that area.
Kellie: I remember feeling excited to play a part in encouraging my friends and youth leaders to worship Jesus, and I remember thinking that I could do this for the rest of my life. In fact, if you were to go back and read my journals from that time in my life you would find this question over and over: God, is leading worship what You are calling me to? It's interesting to look over these last 11 years and see how faithfully and graciously He has answered that simple prayer of a teenager.
Kristen: Over the years, the Lord has been faithful to bring some very talented musicians into my life that have strengthened me as not only a musician, but as a worship leader. I attribute a lot of my keyboard playing skills to some friends of mine who would sit with me and just let me watch how they play. I have come a long way since I was 16. My desire and passion now as a keyboardist is to train up the next generation to hone their skills and talents and use them for the Lord. I also have been playing guitar for around 8 years. The next instrument I would love to take on is the drums!
Who was instrumental in your development as worshippers?
Kellie: The Lord has always been faithful to surround me with amazing women and men who spur me on to not only lead and love well, but also to love Jesus more and more. I have no greater support than that from my parents. My parents are a huge influence of how I lead worship today. As the Lord shaped my voice and passion, they would remind me that singing is always for God and His glory, and that worship leading is for His people to glorify Him and respond to who He is and what He is doing in their lives. Before I stepped on every stage, my dad would say, "Tell them the story." So that's where my heart is: with the people that make up the Church. What role do I have if I'm not pointing them to Christ every time I lead? The gospel is the goal, not just the music. Music is simply the tool God has allowed us to use.
What's the best thing about working with your twin sister, and perhaps the most challenging thing?
Kristen: The best thing about working with my twin is that I have my best friend with me everywhere I go. She knows me more than anyone and it is great to do life and ministry with someone who loves you no matter what. I am constantly in awe that God has called both of us in to this together. He has equipped us both with different strengths that I feel help us be able to serve the body of Christ in a better way than if we were doing this on our own. I wouldn't say there would be a challenging thing for us besides that we are together 24/7 since the day we were born!
Kellie: No one knows me like she does. She knows what I'm feeling and thinking before I say anything. She knows my strengths and encourages me in them, but she also knows my weaknesses and works diligently to help me in them. This definitely transcends into when we lead worship. There really isn't anything challenging about working with her. We are together all the time, so I suppose we can get tired of each other sometimes. But that's not too often!
Who are some of the artists who influenced you to make music?
Kristen: Growing up we remember always listening to artists such as Natalie Grant, Avalon, MercyMe, Mark Schultz, and Watermark just to name a few. When I was in early high school is when "worship" music started to become big. I remember hearing Chris Tomlin's "How Great Is Our God," knowing that there was a shift about to happen in the Church. I have always admired Brooke Fraser as a songwriter as well as Bethany Dillon and Shane & Shane.
Kellie: My greatest influences in leading style were Kari Jobe and Meredith Andrews. I've been listening to Kari since she was just a student at CFNI singing on their records. In fact, it was at her first concert after "I'm Singing" released where I heard the Spirit so clearly that I would be a worship leader. Then, I was a 19 year old kid sitting in a sanctuary in West Monroe listening to her sing Revelation Song when I knew for certain; now, 8 years later, I'm a traveling worship leader singing that very same song and living out the dream God breathed to life back then. It's amazing and so humbling. God does so much more than we could think of, pray for, or imagine!
We Receive is now out! What are you hearing from people, and what's been your biggest surprise with this record?
Kellie: We are so excited that this project is finally out. It was a blast recording it. The album was recorded last summer at Uphill Studios by our producer and friend, Sean Hill. Since the CD release, we have gotten overwhelming feedback from friends and strangers alike. Daily we receive emails from people we do not even know who have found our music or have purchased our CD telling us what the Lord is speaking to them through it. It is humbling to get messages like that because we are reminded of the real kingdom work that we are doing. One of the biggest surprises is that we hit #43 on the iTunes chart in its debut weekend. Something that is exciting more so than surprising is that other church's are starting to do our songs in their congregations. That is why we do what do and write what we write. It is our desire to see the church rehearse the Gospel and exalt His name together.
You're recording a new Church album. What's that going to be like? Originals? Covers? What are you feeling led by the Lord to do with this record?
Kristen: Yes! We are in the process of recording a new EP that will feature six original songs written by ourselves and some close friends. The new songs have been written over the last six months based on what our church has been walking through. The title of the EP will be called Only Our God, and it will be the first one we've done since our church became a church plant. Our prayer is that first and foremost these songs would fill the mouths of the people in our church and equip them with words to sing that are Gospel and Word centered. Secondly, our prayer is that these songs would rise out of Wardville and fill the mouths of people in other churches as well.
For those who haven't heard you, how would you describe your sound? Fans of which artists would probably like you too?
Kristen: Our sound and style could best be compared to worship leaders like Kari Jobe, Meredith Andrews, or Christy Nockels. Our sound is crafted in such a way that it is catchy but also rich in text, that way when you find yourself humming the tunes and thinking of the lyrics, you are thinking of scripture.
What's next for you both? Touring? New projects?
Kristen: Right now, we are booking up pretty quickly through the Spring. We have some touring ideas in mind for this summer. We have also been discussing beginning a new project early 2017. We are currently songwriting for this. There are many exciting things in the works for us!
We still have some spots available for this spring and summer. We are also starting to book for the fall. If anyone is interested in us coming to lead worship for an event, they can get more information at our website (kellieandkristen.com) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Be sure to follow us on social media to keep up its the latest updates with our ministry.
Marcus Hathcock is the Executive Editor of NewReleaseToday.com, a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader living in Boise. He just released his first EP, Songs For Tomorrow, and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.