Kayla Hammerud said that it was the biggest day of her life. All morning, the Osceola, Wisconsin fifth-grader tore through her closet fretting over what to wear. By noon, she'd settled on a flower-print jumpsuit and was headed out the door with her mother. Two hours later, on a mild summer's day, they walked into a Christian bookstore in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, where hundreds of people were gathering.
Shortly before 9:30 p.m., after hours of waiting, the object of the hoopla—four conservatively clad women flashing lipstick smiles—stepped onto a small stage in the store's coffee shop. That set off a chorus of cheers and flashing cameras. Tears streaked down Hammerud's cheeks as she came face to face with her idols—the Christian pop quartet Point of Grace—who sang songs and signed autographs.
Scenes like this one used to be the domain of mainstream pop stars. But with Christian music now a growing force, religious rockers are behaving a lot like celebrities and their fans like starstruck groupies. This isn't sitting well with some Christians, who fear the evangelical music industry has created golden calves out of its artists. Christian rockers may sing about God, they say, but who are fans really worshiping?
Some of the harshest criticism comes from within the industry. "In these autograph lines, you're not going to see a lot of ministry," said Mark Stuart, lead singer of the Christian rock band Audio Adrenaline. "You're not going to see anyone getting saved. You might pray, but generally it's just kids caught up in this frenzy. It's like collecting Beanie Babies."