Favorite Restaurant in Atlanta: Superica (www.supericaatl.com) (“It’s by our famous Atlanta chef who is opening more amazing restaurants than you can fathom. His name is Ford Fry, and it is some of the best ‘Mex-Tex’ you will ever have in your life.”)
Favorite Vacation Spot: California (“Beautiful weather all the time. Beaches, sunshine and happiness.”)
Song You Currently Have on Repeat: Adele’s “Hello” (“I’m literally obsessed. It’s so good. I’m like, How could someone sound like that? I don’t understand.”)
Artist that Made You Fall in Love With Christian Music: Amy Grant (“We’re very similar in age. I think she’s maybe two years older than me. So when she was 16 and making records, it was a phenomenon to me.”)
By Lindsay Williams
2016 marks the 19th year of Passion Conferences, and for the first time ever, this year’s event was held in three different locations simultaneously. Thousands upon thousands of 18 to 25-year-olds packed Atlanta’s Philips Arena and Infinite Energy Center as thousands more filled Houston’s Toyota Center over the course of the three-day conference, Jan. 2-4. Thanks to technology that allowed various portions to be live streamed between venues, every attendee was able to hear music from sixsteps’ stable of artists (Chris Tomlin, Crowder, Matt Redman, Christy Nockels, Kristian Stanfill, etc.), as well as Hillsong UNITED and Rend Collective, and messages from well-known speakers like Christine Caine and Ravi Zacharias, among others. Ahead of Passion, Shelley Giglio—who heads up the conference and sixstepsrecords with her husband Louie—sat down with us to discuss the core vision of Passion Conferences, why worship music is here to stay and how the Church needs to make space for more women in leadership.
How has your vision for Passion evolved through the years? Shelley Giglio: There’s a whole new group of 18 to 25-year-olds every year in life, so you’re never really with the same people. It’s always changing; it’s always evolving. All my friends love the fact that they prayed when they were a student that someday their kid would get to come to this, and sure enough, 19 years later, we’re still standing, which is crazy and such a privilege. But what’s cool about Passion is that it’s the same and it’s completely different. It’s the same in its core… At its core, Passion is really just trying to say, ‘There’s another alternative of a way to live, and we’re giving you that option early in your life so that you can see that the trajectory of your life can actually be on a different track and you can be a difference maker in the world. You can leave a legacy that’s far greater than yourself.’
How have you seen that message play out in the lives of these students? Giglio: Those students who felt that moment and have responded to that message are now all over the world in major jobs, major families, living big lives, but living in such a way that they know and understand that ‘this isn’t all about me. Everything doesn’t revolve around me. I’m not at the core of my life, but instead, Jesus is.’ And there’s a way to live like that, and now we have a whole legacy of people who are actually living that out, so it’s a beautiful thing.
When you started this 19 years ago, did you ever dream it would have such a huge impact? Giglio: In some ways, we’re surprised He would use us. Yes, is the answer to that. But are we surprised that He’s doing what He’s doing? No. Because He’s just doing what He said He would do. So for me it’s like, Of course, He did! Now, the fact that I get to stand here as close as I do and watch Him do it, that’s an unbelievable privilege. I can’t believe that part of it. But I can believe that He has been faithful to who He says He is.
You wear a lot of “hats,” as the head of sixstepsrecords, the co-founder of Passion, a day-to-day manager and with your continued involvement in leadership at Passion City Church. How do you view your “job”? Giglio: I feel like my role is an industry role, but I don’t see my job as an industry job. I see my job as a ministry job…because what I’m really here to do is to challenge both myself and the people I’m around to rise up to the greatest possibility in our life, and that is that God could actually take and use our life for something that matters… I’m not on the stage with [our artists] singing new songs and leading the Church, but I am playing a super vital role in helping them get to the place where they can. And so, it does have an industry title, but it’s really a ministry job.
“…what I’m really here to do is to challenge both myself and the people I’m around to rise up to the greatest possibility in our life, and that is that God could actually take and use our life for something that matters…”
You are one of a very small number of female managers in our industry. Do you feel like there’s a need for more women in leadership roles? Giglio: I think the Church sometimes has lagged behind [the corporate world]. Some of that is in teaching and just trying to figure out what roles are important for women to have, but a lot of that is just women have felt like they don’t have opportunities in ministry to really use their lives for something they think is important, and so they’ve gone culturally to some other atmosphere to try to contribute. I think it [would be] amazing if the Church would rise up and see all these women as resources for really changing the world and sharing the gospel in every form…and if they would open the doors wide enough for women to be able to use their gifts [and] be able to use them within the Church… [In the music industry], I would love for there to be women at every level, whether that’s sitting in a boardroom full of people running a record label or sitting in a studio with artists making music.
Worship music has really transformed the Christian music industry in the last decade or so—taking over radio, dominating sales. Do you see that trend ending any time soon? Giglio: Worship is one of those things that transcends all time and space… And I think the more of it that we can grab on earth and say, ‘This is our eternal destiny and we have the privilege to do it now,’ the better we’re going to be. So do I think it’s going to end? Never. Are people always going to play it on the radio? I hope so, because I feel like our eternal plan is worship.
Why do you think worship has become so central to the Christian music industry? What’s shifted in the past 10 years? Giglio: I think we’ve done a great job of teaching people that worship is a lifestyle and that it’s not just a song, and so all of a sudden we’re not just singing about God, we’re singing to Him. It feels really normal because we’ve created a lifestyle where our whole life can be used as worship. I don’t know that 15 or 20 years ago as many of us understood that. I think it’s a multi-layered thing that kind of broke open the window for the songs of God to really infiltrate the Church, and that’s who listens to Christian radio.
With the constant changes in how people consume music and now with the big push to streaming, do you feel the effects of all of this change—either negatively or positively? Giglio: I’ve been around for so long, I think I’ve seen several evolutions of music and the way it’s consumed and purchased and stolen—we’ve seen it all. I think the main thing is that in the back of my heart and mind the whole time has been to be a resource to people. I really believe that resources—whether that’s music, books, talks, whatever—follow ministry. When you’re ministering to people, it’s easy for them to want whatever resource you’re offering. And because I believe that’s so important, I’m going to continue to minister to people my whole life; and if I can resource them in any form for them to have something that helps them tangibly take next steps or just have courage to live in whatever circumstance they’re in, then it’s my privilege… So for me, it’s like my ultimate thing isn’t the way I give you the music. My ultimate thing is what can we give you to help you live here on earth successfully? What can we do to resource you? And as long as that’s our priority, I think it doesn’t matter the form… It’s going to change six more times in my lifetime, and I pray I’m here close enough to watch it. But I’m not fearful of that. I’m excited, because it’s just another opportunity to say to people, ‘If you consume differently, then we’ll make it available to you that way.’
In reality, don’t you agree that there are actually more ways than ever before for people to experience and discover music? Giglio: That’s right. Life is going to become tighter and tighter in that way, and the world is going to become smaller and smaller. We have the privilege, honestly, to affect the whole world with the things that we do today, and it should really inform the way we live.
Passion will head back to the Georgia Dome for one mega-gathering in 2017. For more on Passion Conferences, visit www.268generation.com.