River Valley Worship is the first band to sign to BEC's brand new BEC Worship imprint, and they're kicking off their tenure on the label with new album A Million Lifetimes. I had the chance to sit down with Ryan Williams and Clinton Allen from River Valley to get an inside look at their new music, the new label and their local church first perspective.
Introduce us to River Valley Worship-- your history, how the worship ministry got into making recorded projects?
Ryan Williams: River Valley Worship is a collection of worship pastors and songwriters based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We've been making albums and writing songs for close to nine or ten years, building a culture of worship at our church. And that's been the main priority: the people of our church writing songs that stir them up. Out of the overflow of that focus came doing projects that reach outside the four walls of our home. We've seen amazing things where songs have traveled to other parts of the world, different churches singing the songs. That's been a beautiful thing to watch for us.
It all started with the vision of our lead pastor. One day he said "Ryan, we're going to be a church that's known for writing songs and recording albums." And that's been the key to some of our success: it started with his vision first. It's never been something that's our pet project on the side. It's been integrated, woven into the culture of our church.
The number one goal and value of our church is the presence of God, and our worship ministry has a responsibility in carrying that value.
When did you come on board and become a part of that vision?
Ryan: I've been at the church for 11 years, and it started as an internship role. I had no plans for sticking around. I love the big C Church, but I never had a plan of being a worship pastor or being settled in one place before I started my internship.
They said "hey, you should probably come check out the church before you start interning." So I showed up at a Saturday night service. This was a long time ago. The church now is 9,000 people, back then it was 600 people. Much different vibe. I walked into the Saturday night service, and the people had passion and vision. There was a really unique spirit in the room, and there was momentum happening. And that has been the thread that has carried us through year after year, is we still have passion, we still have great vision. The presence of God is still in our services.
I fell in love with the church, with the people, with the lead pastor, and my role has kind of morphed and changed into what it is now, which is lead worship pastor.
Along the way, who have been other groups that have inspired you guys and resourced you in the ministry you're doing?
Ryan: The easy answer for us and our whole church would be Hillsong Church-- the global perspective that they have, the global reach that they have and the fact that they have inspiring creativity that is all about the local church. Resourcing the local church, pushing the local church forward. It's been a cool thing for me to follow them along the years and see that not a lot of them are doing side projects somewhere else. It's all rooted, it all comes back to the local church. I think that's the biggest thing that stirs us up when we look at Hillsong as an example.
So we're trying to do the same thing. Every great idea we have, any creative endeavor that we think of, instead of thinking "how can I do this outside of the church walls?" We're thinking "how can we integrate this into church life back home?"
There is a massive global draw to worship right now. From your boots on the ground perspective, what do you think it is about the atmosphere of the Church right now that is making that such a draw?
Ryan: Something that we say a lot at River Valley is that we believe that one moment in the presence of God can change everything. If you listen to our songs, all the way back to our first album, almost every song has the name of Jesus in it. We believe in the power of that name. It's not just a quote or a slogan. When you lift up the name of Jesus, people will come, people will get close, and people will be changed.
I think songwriters, worship movements around the world, I think they're grasping that--that there's power in the name of Jesus. You think about the world that we live in, socially, culturally, how we're all so connected to stimulus all the time. Our phones, instagram, branding, marketing. Everything's a marketing scheme, everything's a brand. And I think worship leaders are realizing the greatest brand, the greatest name, is the name that we need to be singing: Jesus.
As you're heading into releasing your record, your first with the BEC Worship imprint, what are some of the themes God was laying on your heart specifically to contribute to this worship conversation?
Ryan: The album's called A Million Lifetimes, and we hope that that title really encapsulates the songs. When you think about a lifetime, a lifetime is a marker that means a lot to us as human beings. Within one lifetime, if you look at one person, every second, every breath, every step, every decision, it's a big deal. We look at God and how great He is, and we want this album to say "we're going to throw a million lifetimes of worship at you Lord, and we know that's not even going to be enough. But the pursuit of that, the movement in our hearts to push forward and give You that type of worship, we're going to do it anyway because that's what You want from us."
We want people to feel a desperation when they hear these songs, a desperation for Jesus, knowing that they need Him more and more every day. That's what I'm hoping for.
The first single "World Needs Jesus" has already been out. Do you want to share a little about that song in particular?
Ryan: One of our worship leaders was watching TV last summer, and the news was full of riots, full of violence, full of shootings. His response was to go grab his guitar. It was just a prayer that said "we know that our world needs Jesus." He sent me a voice memo of it on his iPhone that day, and I heard ten seconds of it and I knew "there's something in this, we have to finish it."
It took a year to finish. The song was written literally in different parts of the globe. He worked on parts of it in Cairo, Egypt, he brought it back, we finished it together in Minneapolis. And the whole team knew that there was something special in the song. Usually in worship songs, it's very common for us to sing about "here am I, send me," "God give me a passion for the lost." But this song is so timely and relevant and right now. We know right now that our world needs Jesus. So it's a pretty amazing thing to sing that truth and watch the people in our church react to it.
What is your hope for the long term trajectory now your ministry has moved to this broader platform?
Ryan: We're in Minneapolis, and I think that maybe a lot of people's perception of worship music right now is that it comes from Nashville to resource the world, or maybe it comes from the east coast and that will resource the world, maybe it comes from the west coast, L.A., and that will resource the world. We really want to be a resource in middle of the great white north of Minneapolis, Minnesota. We believe we have something to add. Not to compete with anybody-- we look up to a lot of worship movements around the globe. But we just know that we're the local church first, that's what we've always cared about. We've seen God do amazing things as we've opened ourselves up to Him and started writing these songs.
So I pray that five years down the road, River Valley would be known as a resource to worship leaders and worship pastors. This is how you lead with authority, this is how you lead valuing the presence of God. Again, we're pastors first. So I hope people would listen to our album and say man, Jesus is lifted up, and man, these people are pastoral musicians.
What does the co-writing process look like for you guys?
Clinton Allen: I love the culture that Ryan has fostered in the fact that we are a family first. We all bring unique perspectives and unique gifts, personalities and flavor that God has obviously had His handprint on. So I love that He values and fosters that collaborative community within us. I think this is pretty unique, the fact that this album only has probably one song that has one sole writer. The other ten songs are all co-writes that include 2 to 4, maybe 5 even different co-writers. That could probably get a little messy. But I think that's just a testimony to God orchestrating it all, that even though we had so many hands in the cookie jar, we all were in unity, which is a big value of our church.
For me, it was just an honor to be a part of a project like this, because as we are trying to relay, we feel like we have a voice to this generation. A message of hope. We've always said, from the beginning of this project to the end, we feel like this is one of the most hopeful, joy-filled things that we've ever written or been a part of.
How did you get connected to BEC? You're the first on their new imprint. What has that been like?
Ryan: We have a great relationship with the guys at BEC, John and Brian. I connected with those guys first just as a writer. And then through the obvious, I just said man, I'm a part of a church, and probably the thing that I'm most proud of is the work that we're doing as a team. And John and Brian quickly connected with the music.
It just felt special all across the board, because like you said, this is a new imprint for BEC. So for us, to feel like we're on a new frontier pioneering something along with them? That feels so fresh to us. This is our fifth album, and we've enjoyed immensely the first four albums and what they've done and how God has used them. But before we even started the process of making this album, I said "this is going to be different on many different levels." Being a part of BEC Worship is a huge part of that.
As people who are local ministers, who are involved in the local church, what are some of the ways your church is involved in ministry in Minneapolis?
Clinton: It's funny that Ryan passed me the mic, because my wife is actually on staff at the church as well. She's the local projects director, which means she just oversees what we do in the community, trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus outside of the four walls of our church. We partner with local food pantries. Our heart is global-- it's one of our core values, so we're very missions-centric church. Generosity is another of our core values, so we love the opportunity to support. I think we support over 200 missionaries. We're always trying to be the local expression of the church to the community. The old saying is "people don't care what you know until they know that you care."
We happen to be a multi-site church with 8 locations. So it's really cool and unique to be able to have your hand in so many different communities, different suburbs, different cities. I think that's the practical way we try to spread the love of Jesus and the gospel and the influence even of our church and what God is doing through River Valley.
For people who are listening to your music, who will be reading this interview, how can people be praying for you guys and partnering with your ministry?
The goal for us really first is pastoring people through these songs. If we're in Minneapolis, we're not worrying about pastoring people in California, or that's not our first goal. We've seen God do that in the overflow of what we're doing in our local church, but we're thinking about our people. So I guess partner with us by praying for our people: the average, normal, amazing people who come to our church. The single mom who's having problems with her kids, the dad who has been away from the Lord and hears a song like "Hope Has A Name" on our album and he gets stirred up once again, coming close to Jesus. Pray that real ministry happens when people hear these songs. We're not interested in anything else except for Jesus changing lives through the music. Pray that there'd be anointing there. I feel honored if anyone would pray for us.
You can get A Million Lifetimes on iTunes now here, or stream it on Spotify.
Associate Editor Mary Nikkel’s love for writing, photography, videography and rock and roll have all been bound together by her love for Jesus, leading to her role with NRT. Her favorite things include theology and Greek language studies, obscure Nashville coffee shops, all things related to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and pushing the boundaries enacted by societal norms. She blogs at Threads of Stars.
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