Tomlin is the worship pastor at Passion City Church in Atlanta. He leads worship there twice a month and beta tests all his new songs on the congregation. Tomlin is also a major draw as the worship leader of the Passion Conferences, a series of Christian conferences around the world. In January, the conference packed out the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with 60,000 college-age students. Billboard magazine noted the conference helped push up pre-sales of Tomlin's latest CD.
His songs are so sought-after that, even before they're released on CD, they start showing up in CCLI's online database.
"His songs have probably had the most immediate impact on churches that we have seen in history," Rachinski said. "Even before you get to street release [of a CD], churches are already networked and engaged with his songs."
Don't look for a crossover
Other contemporary Christian musicians, as the music industry designates them, have crossed over to mainstream pop with some success. Tomlin said he has no designs on making that leap.
He also doesn't need the money. Over the course of his career he's sold 4.2 million albums, had 6 million digital downloads, a number of sold-out tours, and of course, the copyright royalties.
Tomlin said money isn't what motivates him to write and perform.
"I feel like I have a responsibility, that God has given me a gift to write songs for his church that people listen to and that people are coming to expect now," he said. "When I make a record I feel that responsibility that worship leaders, churches are going to say, 'Hey, are these some new songs we can sing in our church?' And I don't take that lightly, and I don't go, 'Oh let's go do something else fun.'"
"I haven't invented any new instruments, I haven't created new chords that no one has ever played. I play the same chord that every band plays, we play the same instruments up there, the melodies are melodies. The difference to me in the music is that I ask that God's presence be on it and that people, when they sing these songs, sense that God does something."
The spotlight is on Tomlin even more than ever after starting the year a top the Billboard charts. As he tours the country at bigger and bigger venues, he would prefer to step out of the spotlight, away from the microphone, and let everyone else sing.
"People would be mad that they paid for a ticket for that. So I do that just occasionally, but that is what I love."
He said the night before, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, he took as much time as he could to step back and let everyone else sing.
"It was just so beautiful, because I feel like it says something. It's not just like, 'Hey, listen to me sing.' This is all of us together. I think when you step back from the mic and it is not about you - and yeah, the light may be on you, but this is about all of us singing. This is about a bigger story, it's about a greater story. It's about a greater name than my name. My name is on the ticket, but this is about a greater name."