The No. 8 debut on the national album chart of Amy Grant's "Behind the Eyes" last week, with sales of more than 80,000, is being touted by the Christian pop community as one more validation of the strength of its market. This is the first album released by Grant--the biggest seller in that market and by far the biggest Christian artist in terms of pop mainstream crossover--since the SoundScan record sales tracking firm instituted its ChristianScan service in 1995.

That service, inaugurated and operated by the Nashville-based Christian Music Trade Assn., tallies sales from 600 Christian-oriented music and book stores--outlets that had not previously been included in SoundScan charts. That's a small number compared to the 14,000 retail outlets in the overall SoundScan survey, but the impact of their sales figures is huge: The first-week sales for Grant's new album represent a nearly 50% increase over 1994's "House of Love," which debuted at No. 13 (the highest at that point for a Christian artist) with 55,700 sold.

ChristianScan had already demonstrated the power of the Christian pop market with albums from such acts as DC Talk, Michael W. Smith and Kirk Franklin's "God's Property." The latter, a gospel project, debuted in June at No. 3 with first-week sales of 119,000. And more than 60% of the 1.1 million sales of DC Talk's 1995 "Jesus Freak" album came from Christian stores, with the set debuting at No. 16.

A comparable increase in reported sales for Grant would be astounding. Even without ChristianScan, her 1991 "Heart in Motion" has sold nearly 4 million, while 1992's Christmas collection "Home for the Holidays" sold more than 2 million and "House of Love" is at 1.2 million.

Al Cafaro, chairman of A&M; Records, for which Grant records, thinks it's unrealistic to expect the first week's boost to continue over the life of the new album. With Grant well-established as a hit artist in the mainstream, he suggests that a 10% to 15% increase in overall sales reported would be reasonable.

April Hefner, managing editor of the Nashville-based Christian pop magazine CCM agrees. Still, she says it demonstrates how overlooked the Christian market had been in the past.

"It's similar to when country albums started showing up on SoundScan that hadn't been reported as much before," she says. "I'm not saying that there will be an explosion of Christian music like there was with country, but I don't think [the media and the music business] would have noticed the success of 'God's Property' as quickly without that, which in turn gave that a higher profile.".

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