If you were part of a worship team during the 80s, 90s and for much of the 00s, there’s a good chance that you’ll know all about the Song Of Fellowship songbooks.
Long before we started crouching over our phones, we turned to Songs Of Fellowship to teach us how to play and guide our song selction. For decades it has been the go-to resource for worship leaders and musicians in churches across the denominations.
But it very nearly didn’t happen.
Songs of Fellowship was not born in a brainstorming meeting, nor did it arrive with a fully fledged marketing plan. Instead, it emerged when a bunch of Christians who ran the Musical Gospel Outreach Label (MGO) were getting seriously depserate.
“We made gospel pop albums with artists like Graham Kendrick and Adrian Snell. They had been big in the UK Christian music scene, but by 1977 we’d had a bad collapse in sales,” says Nigel Coltman, one of the staff team at MGO. “We could no longer afford our office or staff overheads. We gradually reduced our staff to three; CEO Geoff Shearn, me as marketing and jack-of-all-trades and the excellent Pat Herridge.”
All was not lost, however, as in the midst of falling sales of gospel pop albums, Geoff, Nigel and Pat felt led to take a risk with an entirely new type of project.
“We were almost broke, but I started thinking about all the great songs we sang at my church that had never been on an album. I asked Gerald Coates, the leader, if I could work with the worship team to create an album. It cost us £1000 and we called the album A New Song. It was very ropy but it had all the latest songs that the charismatic churches were singing. We’d never had an album sell so fast, and within a year and a half we made a second one, called City Of God.”
Though sales were good, they were not enough to keep MGO going on its own. MCO moved their sales and distribution over to Kingsway, a Christian book publisher based in Eastbourne.
“We began to move records and cassettes to Eastbourne and part of my job was to keep an eye on the stock.”
While wandering around the Kingsway warehouse one day, Nigel spotted something that caught his eye; a pile of twenty or thirty, slightly pink covered books called Songs of Fellowship. Remembering that people had been asking for a songbook to accompany the two albums, Nigel started thinking.
“I thought it was an interesting title and looked and saw it had put out ten years before by Fountain Trust. I got in touch with them and asked if it was in print. They said it wasn’t. So I asked if we could use the title for a parallel songbook that accompanied the two worship albums we had put out.”
Nigel took his idea to Geoff; a mini songbook called Songs Of Fellowship that would accompany the two worship albums. It was a logical way to continue to help churches introduce new songs to their congregations.
Geoff was keen, but he knew that the project would be expensive. “He talked to Kingsway and said we’re broke, would you fund the printing of a songbook? The MD was a cautious guy who said we’d need to find a co-financer. We had a good relationship with CWR and Selwyn Hughes, so we approached him and pitched it. They agreed to buy 3,000 copies approx and that was enough to convince the CEO.”
The result was a little book, as thin as two fingers, but it sold stacks.
“Even that mini version reached far and wide. It even made it out from the Protestant church to the Catholic church. By 1980 everyone had it, and in its heyday it was one of the most significant songbooks around. It was non-denominational which gave it acceptance, and we had churches all over UK using it with their worship team.”
CS Lewis once observed that ‘seeds grow in dark places’. Facing bankrupcy could easily leave most people feeling as though they are on the brink of defeat. But for Nigel, Geoff and Pat, it ended up being the beginning of something that God was able to use in wonderful ways.
Just 53 songs in it. A small format book but sales take off – and Kingsway Music UK discover that the church needs this superb resource.
Geoff Shearn and Nigel Coltman have travelled and networked with church work to develop the new full size songbook with 159 songs. Song number one was "Abba Father' written by Dave Bilbrough in 1977.
Released as a follow up under the leadership of Kingsway Music's new Music Department Director, Geoff Shearn.
Establishes the songbook in the life of the worshipping church. It was the first time that songs like 'Father God I Wonder' written by Ishmael and 'From Heaven You Came (The Servant King)' from Graham Kendrick were published in the songbook.
It's a busy year as in response to criticism that new contemporary guitar led worship had forgotten about hymnody, 'Hymns of Fellowship' was published as part of the Songs of Fellowship range.
This book marks a new season and includes songs like 'All Heaven Declares' written by Noel and Tricia Richards and the remarkable classic 'Lord The Light of Your Love' - more well known today in churches and schools around the world as 'Shine Jesus Shine' written by Graham Kendrick.
Featuring the best of songs and hymns published in editions between 1979 and 1989 and adding new songs.
200 new songs including 'Lord You Have My Heart' from Martin Smith, 'Faithful God' written by Chris Bowater and 'We Want To See Jesus Lifted High' from Doug Horley.
Songs 614 to 1150.
This take the song count to 1690! Songs that appeared for the first time in a Songs of Fellowship songbook included 'Light Of The World (Here I Am To Worship)' from Tim Hughes, 'Blessèd Be Your Name' written by Beth & Matt Redman and the new hymn 'In Christ Alone' from writers Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.
a further 510 songs and hymns taking the count to 2200. Kathryn Scott's 'At The Foot Of The Cross', Brenton Brown & Ken Riley's 'Strength Will Rise' and 'Mighty To Save' written by Reuben Morgan and Ben Fielding.
Launched as a separate songbook of Christmas carols and songs.
Brings the songs up to 2710 and reflects the new generation of worship songwriters from around the world.
Released with a new message which acknowledges that the Songs of Fellowship songbook has songs for every season, every reason and every type of church service. It is indeed, the most faithful member of your worship team.
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