cre*a*tive (adjective): having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas; using the ability to make or think of new things; involving the process by which new ideas, stories, etc., are created.
For every piece of art created, there is a story. For every story told, there is an author. For Fellowship Creative--a collective of like-minded artists collaborating on music organically grown out of Scriptural teaching and the grit of everyday life--their story begins and ends with the Church. Their unique narrative is told on label debut Running to Follow (Fair Trade Services), an album introducing a distinct blend of sights and sounds to both the Christ follower and the seeker.
The framework for the collective was formed in 1990, when Pastor Ed Young set out to build a church driven by creativity. With a group of only 150 individuals, Fellowship Church was born. Today, the church averages more than 20,000 attendees weekly. In addition to a main campus in Grapevine, Texas, Fellowship Church has additional locations in Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, Fla. and London, England.
The church has become an innovative leader in using multimedia and the arts to engage people with the Gospel, and their communication efforts are shaped by a core team of individuals who also guide Fellowship Creative. Spread out across multiple campuses, these leaders are in charge of a variety of expressive mediums, including video, graphic design, web and music. However, Fellowship Creative is more than a group of individuals. It's a movement. The art is a natural extension of life-change, and transformation is a genuine by-product of art, producing a fluid cycle where it's difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. Every song, every video, every expression has a story behind it--and that story beings with who Jesus is and what He does in people's lives.
"Without Fellowship Church, there's no Fellowship Creative," says leader Derric Bonnot. "Our pastor started our church with a vision to use creativity to help people, regardless of their religious background, to discover the Bible's relevance to their lives and to lead them into a relationship with Jesus. There's no better fuel for a song than seeing life-change and being a part of it." Bonnot, like many who find a home at Fellowship Church, didn't grow up in church and had little context for the Bible when he started attending Fellowship as a 14-year-old kid. His love of music and guitar was fostered at church, and he soon met God there.
"It was the creativity that drew [my family] in," he explains. "We now want our lives and our creativity to reach those who haven't shown up yet."
The songs on Running to Follow reflect Fellowship Creative's main objective, which is preparing for a life-changing weekend experience. "We believe the church should be the most creative entity on the face of the planet," Bonnot offers. "We want to create the most creative weekend experience possible for the person who's showing up, because it could be the one hour in their entire life that they give Jesus a shot."
With every song they write and every experience they seek to facilitate, Bonnot says the members of Fellowship Creative are always thinking about three specific chairs occupied by people who attend their church and who might have the opportunity to hear their music. In the first seat, likely the most challenging is the person who has no understanding of Jesus or the Bible. The second chair is filled with the new Christian who is still learning how to make their newfound faith applicable to their daily life. The third place is occupied by the maturing Christ follower who needs to be challenged and motivated to live for God's purposes.
This three-fold goal makes the recording process far from traditional. The process of crafting Running to Follow, much like the group's previous independent projects, followed an atypical trajectory. The songs were built organically, layer by layer--one voice memo, one email exchange at a time--sometimes over the course of months or even years. In fact, so many people contributed to the process that every track's byline is simply "Fellowship Creative." In the midst of the Kingdom work the church is a part of, art is subtly birthed against a backdrop of perpetual motion.
"Our church is constantly a church that is dreaming and asking, 'What if?' when it comes to reaching people for Jesus, so because of that, we are constantly running. We are a church that is on the go, on the move," Bonnot says of the album's title. "The life God's calling us to, it's not a casual, go-at-your-own-pace slow walk. What God's doing is exciting, and we want to be a part of that; we want to follow that."
Songs like debut radio single "Glory in the Highest" began with sparks of inspiration. When Bonnot woke up before dawn one morning feeling anxious, he decided to take a bike ride to clear his head. As he crested a hill that overlooks the city, the sun came up and with it came lyrical clarity. "This view and this moment just reminded me that God is so much bigger than me. He's mindful of me. He has a purpose for our lives, and He holds that purpose together," he relays. At the time, he had nothing with him to record his ideas, so he pedaled home as fast as he could, singing the whole way so as not to forget a single line.
Tracks like "Future Back" celebrates the new life found in Christ that gives freedom from the past and hope for the days ahead, while "Home" focuses on finding a place to belong. Other cuts were birthed from personal experience. "Desperate For You" was written after one of the leaders of Fellowship Creative lost his father. "God of Rescue" came from staff members experiencing the loss of miscarriage. Meanwhile, "Beautiful" came to life after professional surfer Bethany Hamilton shared her powerful testimony of overcoming tragedy at the church.
"Hopefully these songs can serve as a soundtrack for people running to follow God's purpose for their lives, and reach people with the love of God like Jesus called us to do," Bonnot comments.
When it came time to record the tracks, it wouldn't be uncommon to find a high school student playing alongside a hip-hop artist. In the next room, a 16-year-old might be laying down drum tracks, while a father of young children in his mid-20s plays bass and another man in his 50s accompanies them on piano. Everything about the group is diverse--age, ethnicity, skill level and even spiritual maturity. The result is an album full of eclectic styles and sonic nuances. "We try to unite these different styles in order to continue to reach a diverse audience," he says.
Producer CJ Eiriksson helped bring the assorted songs together to form one cohesive unit. Eiriksson's résumé reads like a who's who list of some of the most renown acts in music period, including U2 and Matchbox Twenty. With a highly limited background in Christian music he began working with Fellowship Creative, bringing a unique dynamic to the recording process. "It created this great tension of two totally different perspectives, and that tension, I really believe, just redefined the songs and helped them land in a really exciting place," Bonnot remarks.
Running to Follow is truly the result of raw, honest collaboration at the intersection of faith and art. "We did not set out to start writing music to create some sort of agenda. We were inspired by the movement that we were part of in our church, and it's that movement that inspired this art," Bonnot concludes. "Now we're just excited to see how God's going to use that art to continue the movement, not just in our church but in the bigger picture of the story He's telling about who He is."