Bluegrass band ‘Chosen Road’ collaborates with NAMB for church revitalization

By Timothy Cockes

NASHVILLE (BP) – Chart-topping bluegrass band ‘Chosen Road,’ is passionate about using music to glorify Jesus, but also about finding practical avenues of ministry to serve the local church.

Hailing from West Virginia, the band started with founding members Jonathan Buckner and Zachary Alvis simply playing Appalachian-bluegrass style music – music they describe as “authentic and honest” – as a way to lead people in worship.

The bluegrass band, Chosen Road, has become one of the more popular bluegrass bands in the genre. Zachary Alvis, left, and Jonathan Buckner, second from right, are the band’s founding members. Chosen Road photo

“We use the music we all grew up on as a vehicle to share Jesus and to make much of Him,” Buckner said. “A big thing for us has been wanting to create music for the local church to help facilitate corporate worship and congregational singing.

“Over and over again in Scripture God commands His people to sing, and it’s very powerful when you hear a room full of believers in Jesus joining together in song to Him. It’s one of the most powerful things you can ever hear. It’s something so beautiful that I hope we never lose it completely.”

From humble beginnings playing in small churches 12 years ago, Chosen Road has become a leading band in the bluegrass genre.

Their 2018 album “The Storm in Me,” produced six top-10 singles on Bluegrass Today’s airplay charts, and the album reached No. 1 on Bluegrass Today’s Bluegrass Gospel chart.

“We care about those small churches because they were there for us when we first started 12 years ago,” Chosen Road member Jonathan Buckner says. Baptist Press photo by Brandon Porter

The four-member band continued that success in 2020 with “Appalachian Worship,” which spent 30 weeks on Billboard Magazine’s Top Bluegrass Albums chart, peaking at number four.

Their follow-up album – “Appalachian Hymns,” released Nov. 12 – is highlighted by classics such as “Be Thou My Vision,” and “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”

Despite their musical success, the band insists their greatest desire is to serve the local church, particularly struggling, rural churches in the South.

“We care about those small churches because they were there for us when we first started 12 years ago,” Buckner said. “Those were the churches that gave us a platform and that really encouraged us to continue on in ministry.”

Band member Zachary Alvis reiterated the importance of local church ministry by remembering the impact church had on his own life.

“One of the reasons that we do this is to be a ministry more than a band,” Alvis said. “I know the impact that Christ and the church has had on my life, and it’s impossible for me to say where I’d be without that.”

“I know the impact that Christ and the church has had on my life, and it’s impossible for me to say where I’d be without that,” band member Zachary Alvis says. Baptist Press photo by Brandon Porter

It was this passion for the local church that led the group to eventually partner with the North American Mission Board in its church revitalization efforts.

The band met Mark Clifton, NAMB’s senior director of church replanting, at a bluegrass music convention in late 2018.

Clifton spoke to the band about NAMB’s church replanting and revitalization ministries and asked them if they would like to get involved.

Since then, Chosen Road has become what Clifton called “the unofficial bluegrass band of the replant team at NAMB.”

Ways that Chosen Road ministers with NAMB include playing music at NAMB-sponsored revitalization events, performing at multiple Southern Baptist state and associational meetings every year and even recording a song meant to encourage those at struggling churches.

Per Clifton’s request, the band released the song “International Harvester,” as part of their “Appalachian Worship,” album. The song invokes imagery of a struggling church pastor resting in the truth that Jesus will one day return as the ultimate harvester and rescue His people into eternity.

Mark Clifton, senior director for Replant at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), speaks at a Replant Summit at NAMB’s building in Alpharetta, Ga. NAMB photo

The band has even assisted churches with finding pastoral candidates through relationships formed by the ministry.

Clifton praised Chosen Road for the impact they have made both on NAMB’s ministries and himself personally.

“Chosen Road has used their platform as nationally recognized bluegrass musicians to draw attention to the opportunity to replant and revitalize churches across North America, specifically pointing people to the resources of the North American Mission Board,” Clifton said.

“The members of Chosen Road have become some of my closest friends, and they pray for me and our team on a regular basis. Their music speaks directly to my heart and encourages me greatly. They have a heart for revitalization and a love for the leaders of those churches. They have consistently encouraged churches that are struggling to be revitalized.”

Chosen Road said they continue to see the impact “International Harvester,” has made on small-church pastors.

“We hear over and over from pastors that it was this song that helped give me the strength to not walk away from my office this week. Stories like that are just humbling to see how God has used it,” Buckner said.

One such personal example comes from Jason Rumbough, lead pastor of Hope Church in Nashville.

(Left to right) Chosen Road band members Jonathan Buckner, Tyler Robertson, Zachary Alvis and and Josh Hicks speak with Baptist Press during a visit to Hope Church in Nashville. Baptist Press photo by Brandon Porter

Planted in the early 1900s as Eastland Baptist Church, the church congregation slowly started to decline until the average attendance hovered around 25 people just a few years ago. Rumbough said the church was just trying to survive.

Through a slow process that included reaffirming its core ministry values and opening up its building’s office space to be used by other businesses, the church grew to almost 100 members, most of whom are relatively new to church.

Rumbough was later invited to share Hope Church’s story at a NAMB revitalization event. It was there that he met and connected with Chosen Road, whose music and friendship has been inspiring him ever since.

“I think so much of what Chosen Road’s music does is give music expression to the journey that we (revitalizing churches) are all on and their music just really reminds me of home,” Rumbough said.

As an adjunct professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary working on a Ph.D. in worship and theology, Rumbough spoke to the value and importance of music as a way to communicate God’s truth corporately.

“I firmly believe that music is a catalyst and one of the tools God uses for spiritual formation in the life of an individual,” Rumbough said. “Music can take you places that mere words or conversation can’t, and it can be a tool to communicate the story of God from creation all the way to the second coming.”

Buckner concluded his thoughts on ministry by encouraging other worship and music bands to make a positive impact on churches beyond merely playing instruments.

“The reason that we exist and that music exists is for the edification of the local church,” Buckner said. “The music has to come second to the mission, and sometimes what God is calling you to do on mission for Him might not even involve music.”

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Published December 3, 2021

Timothy Cockes

Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press staff writer.