Jesus Culture, a Sacramento, Calif.-based worship band, performs for the Outcry Summer Tour at the Mississippi Coliseum on Friday, Aug. 25. Photo courtesy Jesus Culture
Music and worship have been intertwined topics for Chris Quilala, one of the primary vocalists and leaders of the band Jesus Culture, for most of his life.
He began playing the drum at age 12 and dove further into music after finding his mother's old guitar in a closet. He taught himself to play through the chord diagrams on praise-song sheet music. However, it wasn't until a few years later that he gave his life to Jesus at a youth camp and realized he wanted to lead worship.
"I was just like, 'What is this that happens when we worship? God shows up, and he also responds and pours out his love on us,'" he says. "So for me, I was about 14 or 15 when I decided that was something I wanted to give my life to."
Quilala, 34, says that in the early days, Jesus Culture, a ministry that started in the youth group at Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., mostly played for the youth. When they had opportunities to travel, though, their experience didn't differ much from other bands.
"We'd be so stoked to hop in a van and drive nine hours to play somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and traveling to play music was like, 'Wow, this is the coolest thing,'" he says with a laugh. "But we were sleeping on floors in churches, and we loved it. It was something that felt just pure and honest. ... We were just being faithful with what God put in front of us."
While that goal remains the same, a lot has changed for Jesus Culture. The ministry, which also includes leaders such as Kim Walker-Smith, and Bryan and Katie Torwalt, currently hosts conferences around the world, and launched a church plant in Sacramento, Calif., in 2014.
Jesus Culture also created its own record label in the mid 2000s and has released more than a dozen albums, the most recent being "Love Has a Name," which hit shelves on Aug. 11. Quilala released his first solo album, "Split the Sky," on the label in November 2016.
Perhaps the biggest change, though, is that there are a lot more eyes watching. When the band first started, Quilala says it seemed like no one cared what they did, so they could do anything they wanted musically as long as they pointed listeners toward God. Although the latter point is still the focus, they also want to make sure that worship teams around the world can share the songs with their churches.
"There is a balance, I think: one, being excellent (as musicians) and being good stewards, but ultimately, just trying to follow the Holy Spirit," he says. "... We want people to encounter (God's) presence and leave talking about Jesus. If the music at all gets in the way of that, we have to step back and figure out how we can adjust."
Another balancing act comes with being both a touring band and worship team with a young home church. It's something that they are still figuring out, Quilala says, but the change has been a positive one.
"For years, Jesus Culture was more of an events-based ministry or a conference (and a band) touring albums," he says, "and I think the thing we love about having a local church is that we feel so much support and strength from the team at home, from our local community."
Jesus Culture performs for the Outcry Summer Tour on Friday, Aug. 25, at 7 p.m. at Mississippi Coliseum (1207 Mississippi St.). Lauren Daigle, Bethel Music, Martin Smith, Chad Veach and Local Sound also perform. Ticket prices start at $24.95. For more information, visit outcrytour.com.