Contemporary worship music attained popularity in the 1960s among Christian denominations in the United States. Ever since, it has evolved to include elements of other genres, such as rock, hip-hop, pop with Christian themes. Due to the growing popularity of the contemporary worship music, congregations in church services and fellowship groups have taken the trend. The aim of such music has been to introduce Christianity to people with contemporary music tastes, while maintaining relevance within Christian communities.
Korean Christian music was characterized by hymns even though Catholics still embrace them. Other denominations, particularly Protestants have moved to contemporary gospel music. In the past Koreans played church music with fewer accompaniments than today. In those days, piano and organs were the most popular instruments in church and were played to accompany formal choirs and vocal soloists and groups who sang slow traditional hymns. The music has evolved to include guitars, electric keyboards and drum kits. Further, immigrant churches are filled with worshippers who speak only Korean and led by clergymen who speak only or mostly Korean.
Korean contemporary gospel music can be traced back to the 1950s after the Korean War when missionaries from the United States introduced gospel music there. In 1969, a group of Korean pop singers became the first to sing gospel songs on Sunday service, a feat that was seen as controversial among Korean Christians. After an American gospel song, Just a Close Walk with Thee, was translated into Korean language in 1971 and released to the public, Koreans started embracing gospel music. This was followed by other translations by Roman Catholic nuns in 1974, whereby they incorporated pop music with Christian messages. As 1980 approached, more Christian celebrities came up, thus influencing the spread of gospel music in Korea.
Moreover, Koreans have a high-context culture, and as such are intuitive, contemplative and use indirect messages to pass information. This however explains why they still use their native language in most of their churches in foreign countries. Their worship music is greatly influenced by their culture with someone turning off the lights when worship music is being played. Their worship style is characterized by someone choosing the music that is to be played during the following session.
The music adopted by Korean only churches in the United States is more repetitive with a more narrow melodic range. The composers take time to minimize the harmonic, rhythmic, and speed variations within songs to give them a more Korean feel. In Korean churches, however, lay believers are open to change and are so hungry for worship experiences, which is portrayed in their singing. Moreover, the blended worshipers prefer a balance between traditional and contemporary styles of worship music.
Some of the music sung in the Korean-only churches sometimes account for cultural, spiritual and social needs as most of the worshippers are not financially well-off, as they ask God for intervention. Besides, their musical performances in churches expand beyond generational matters as the preachers may incorporate political messages about their native country. The Korean churches have also developed specific musical creation to mediate possible cultural and political contentions among the church goers.
In the Korean churches, worshippers exercise a greater degree of conservatism with more of a communal flavor and less of an individualistic one. They also combine elements of Korean Confucian heritage with their evangelism while strictly sticking Korean hymnody. Hymns are collected to feature in the Sunday services. However, majority of the Korean-American believers note that blended worship music, hymnody combined with contemporary worship music, has the most spiritual impact.