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Recession Forces A-List Christian Music Stars Onto The Same Stage

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By Steve Rabey
Religion News Service

(RNS) Fans of Christian music and books may see a divine hand at work in bringing together all-star talent for the "Make a Difference" tour that's scheduled to hit 20 U.S. cities by Oct. 30.

But there's a more pragmatic reason the A-list stars are sharing the same stage: the economy.

"We're all hunkering down right now," says Toby McKeehan, or tobyMac, the former front man for rap/rock trio DC Talk who's teaming up with megastars Third Day, Michael W. Smith and best-selling author Max Lucado for the tour.

"We're all downsizing and trying to be wise about what we do moving forward. Artist promotion and recording budgets have been cut in half. This is the reality of where we live. We're adapting to what's happening around us."

As a best-selling writer and president of the Gotee Records label, McKeehan knows the challenges facing the Christian recording and publishing industries today.

Under normal conditions, any of the four acts would be able to headline their own events. Lucado recently surpassed 100 million copies in print and McKeehan has sold 10 million albums during his career.

Third Day has played for the pope and for Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show," and Smith has spent the past 30 years racking up more Grammy and Dove awards than most people can count.

The tour is sponsored by World Vision, the giant evangelical relief agency that hopes to use the concerts to recruit attendees to sponsor needy children.

It kicked off Sept. 30 in Youngstown, Ohio and wraps up Oct. 30 in Fayetteville, N.C. Ticket prices range from $22 to as high as $115 in some cities.

Lindsay Williams, a former editor of CCM, the magazine that has covered contemporary Christian music for 30 years and moved online in 2008, said fans should expect to see more joint appearances like the "Make a Difference Tour."

"People just aren't spending money on Christian entertainment," she said. "Very few artists have the ability to fill up larger venues outside of churches, so by providing a show that has a little something for everyone, big-name artists can provide an experience that attracts a wider age range and encourages families to attend shows together."

The tour's speaking duties are handled by Lucado, the pastor of San Antonio's Oak Hills Church and one of the most successful names in Christian publishing.

"It's not enough for you to do well," Lucado writes in "Outlive Your Life," his latest book. "You want to do good. You want your life to matter. You want to live in such a way that the world will be glad you did."

McKeehan says the musicians are glad to have a card-carrying wordsmith addressing the crowds.

"Max brings a wisdom to the whole thing," McKeehan said, "and his speaking takes the pressure off us musicians so we can focus on what we are called to do."

Deborah Evans Price, who has covered Christian music for Billboard magazine since 1994, says the artists on the "Make a Difference" tour are bumping up against the same financial realities as their peers in secular music.

"All sectors of the music industry--CD sales, video, downloads, concerts--are pinched these days," she said, "so it makes sense to put multiple headliners together."

Reality, however, might be a little harsher than expectations.

When the tour stopped Sunday (Oct. 3) at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., 4,337 people turned out, according to the Southeast Missourian. The arena has a capacity of 7,000.

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