Two singles make for a historic double-up on Billboard‘s Hot Christian Songs chart.
Christian rock band Leeland scores its first top 10 hit on the chart, as “Way Maker (Live)” hops 13-9 on the list dated April 11. Concurrently, Michael W. Smith‘s take, listed as “Waymaker” and featuring Vanessa Campagna and Madelyn Berry, climbs 6-3, hitting a new high.
The twofer marks the first time in the history of Hot Christian Songs that two versions of the same song have resided simultaneously in the top 10.
Meanwhile, two other recordings of the track appear on the ranking: Mandisa‘s bullets at No. 38, back-to-back with Passion‘s (featuring Kristina Stanfill, Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes), which enters the top 40 (43-39).
Leeland’s version rocketed by 144% to 4,000 downloads sold in the week ending April 2, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. It also increased by 15% to 2 million U.S. streams. On Christian Airplay, it bumps 37-35, up 14% to 704,000 audience impressions in the week ending April 5.
Smith’s rendition bounded by 103% to 5,000 sold and 42% to 1.3 million streams. It lifts 6-5 on Christian Airplay, up 15% to 9.5 million impressions.
Despite the unprecedented feat of a title repeating in the Hot Christian Songs top 10, other compositions have been hits in the Christian genre in condensed time frames. Chris Tomlin‘s “Good Good Father” topped Hot Christian Songs for seven weeks starting in February 2016, after worship group Housefires‘ version rose to No. 29 in July 2015. Plus, Zealand Worship‘s recording reached No. 29 in March 2016.
Such occurrences aren’t coincidences, as anthems gain momentum by being sung in churches all over the globe by worship groups. Even while converting to social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, church services continue, with worshipers streaming their services from home. In many cases, worship bands are still in place, just with members spread out from one other as they perform.
The original version of “Waymaker” got traction in churches in 2016 by the song’s writer, Nigerian artist-pastor Osinachi Okoro, whose stage name is Sinach.
Rob Wagman, a veteran radio programmer who now consults Christian stations, says that just because a song has been performed in churches doesn’t necessarily mean that radio listeners are familiar with it. Radio, thus, is a key part of bringing songs that might be popular in services to much wider audiences.
“Not all churchgoers are listening to Christian radio, and vice versa,” Wagman says. “Certainly, [church] is influential and programmers should be taking that into consideration. It’s definitely an important piece.”
Wagman also isn’t surprised that stations are playing multiple “Waymaker” recordings. “Both the Smith and Leeland versions are researching extremely well, and stations [that I consult] make the call of which to play. And if a programmer gets hung up on the fact that Smith is a heritage act and may not be a fit for their younger audience, I’ll quickly dispel it. Fact is, he’s a legend and the audience loves him. There’s some of that bias, but it’s just a myth.”
The Hot Christian Songs and Christian Airplay charts launched in 2003, around two decades after Smith had established himself as a genre superstar (including his crossover hit “Place in This World,” which reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991). If his version of “Waymaker” reaches the top of either Christian chart, it would mark a first for the singer-songwriter.
“It’s researching through the roof and peaking with other consumption metrics at just the right time,” Wagman says. “It can definitely get to No. 1, which would be great for him.”