1969/1970 How it all started with the Continentals

It all started with the first visit of an American Continental Singers group to the Netherlands (PRESS HERE, you can see a short movie where Leen La Rivière talks and explains the whole history from beginning till now)

The encounter

Leen & Ria La Rivière will never forget the first concerts of the American Continentals in 1969/1970. It changed their lives completely: because the Continentals were

The Continentals were an incredible impact on the lifes of many (supported by a long list of testimonials each year).

Wrong approach

Sometimes people ask Leen & Ria today: “Aren’t you done with the Continentals?” It must be clear that those persons only look at the little top of the mountain: the performance and the music. Of course, the Continentals have a special performance-style, that’s unique and makes Continentals as they are. Of course you can debate about the music, but that is a matter of taste; their repertoir is quite unique as well.
In spite of these limitations the Continentals have become the largest cross-cultural music-ministry of the Century! And that is remarkable!


These first concerts of the American Continentals changed the lifes of Leen and Ria. And this experience stimulated Leen & Ria to start up a long list of new activities in the Netherlands and across Europe. They became THE founders of many blessed activities for the church, community, and others personal lifes. To honor them for their incredible contributions to the world of art and culture, the Queen of the Netherlands made them Knight (1999) and member in the ‘House of Orange-Nassau’. More you find on their own website www.koninklijkhuis.nl.

Amazing growth

Today there are Continental groups in all parts of the world. Together they select, train and send into mission approximately 2000 persons per year; 1500 and more concerts are done each year, reaching at least 1 million people… a year!
Those are all quite impressive facts, but those are not the only reasons why the Continentals have such an impact.
The proven effects on the lives of the ones who go out in this music-ministry are even more interesting.

1. History

A. U.S.A.

In 1963 Cam Floria became the musical leader of a group of young people in YFC (Portland, Oregon). His original way of making them sing was a success. After a while they participated in a song contest on the other side of the continent. To make this trip possible, they performed in churches. The music they performed was new and spiritual, and because they had to travel over the continent, they called themselves ‘The Continental Singers’. In the years to come the Continental Singers involved many young people. They were musically original and brought excitement and a musical witness to countless numbers of people.
In 1966 Cam Floria moved to California and the Continental Singers became in 1967 an independent, non-profit corporation (1967 is the OFFICIAL, LEGAL START). That was when the Continental Singers saga really started. Youth in churches wanted to be a part of such a summer programme and, more churches wanted to have the Continentals for a concert.
So by 1968, there were already 3 groups of Continentals. In 1969 there were 4 groups of Continentals (one going to Holland), and in 1971 5 groups and so it went on. Great breakthrougs came with the reli-musicals: It’s getting late(1972), The Apostle (1973), Share(1974) and The Dreamer (1983, Jozef’s life). Unfortunately, the financial global crisis hit the US ministry very hard, so they decided to stop all activities (2010) for a while, waiting for a better time.

B. Europe

In Europe it started with a visit of the Continental Singers in 1969. Leen La Rivière was asked to organize these first concerts. Leen saw the incredible potential of this new form of communication. It was a great success in Catholic, Reformed and other churches. In 1970 a legal status was given to this new ministry: it was called Continental Sound, and it’s purpose was to work with music in all its variations as a mission. More concerts with other groups were launched.
In the eighties Continental Sound was Europe’s largest music ministry. Projects ranged from classical to rock, from small events to festivals with over 7000 visitors.
Continental Sound coordinated the tours for the Continentals in Europe from the early days. This became a great success and soon, in 1974, the first Dutch Continental group started. The first European CS group went on the road in 1986, (today there are 25 European groups). The Young Continentals started in 1992. The Encore Continentals went on the road for the first time in 1994. What started as a mission became a movement for reform and inspiration in the Church. All based on the conviction that Christians working in the various forms of artistic expression should show vision, identity, purpose and the dynamics of the Kingdom, the Lordship of Christ.

In the meantime the Continentals grew to a worldwide organization with about 60 groups (on the road) per year and offices in America, The Netherlands, Hungary, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Canada, Australia, Slovak Republic, Italy and Romania, etc
Since the beginning over 20.000 Continentals have been on tours reaching more than 15 million people, producing a list of over 100 different LP/CD productions and versions in many languages.
The cross-cultural implementations are impressive: Continentals singing in French, German, Dutch, Italian, Portugese, Spanish, Slovak, Hungarian, Romanian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese…

2. Ingredients

What makes the ‘Continentals’ so unique? Why do thousands of young people audition to take part each year?
The ‘Continental’ experience combines: • aspects of faith; • contemporary music; • show- elements; • adventure/travel; • many social contacts; • group dynamics; • creative challenge; • stage experience.
All these add up to a process of transformation.

3. Structure and criteria

A. “Continentals” is not an ‘open youth work’ allowing anybody to join, no. You need to do audition!

Going on tour is hard work: it is demanding in terms of personality, motivation, input, character, conviction and musical abilities. Therefore, criteria for auditioning had to be developed, and these are: • social; • religious; • character/motivation; • musical/artistic.

B. Further procedures

  1. Having been accepted, the “Continental” regularly receives information necessary to prepare him- or herself, the tour conditions, and the music (which needs to be learnt beforehand).
  2. A 7-day rehearsal camp follows, led by professionals. This includes preparation of the concert performance, both artistically and in terms of content, as well as all other aspects. This Camp followed by:
  3. A tour of 1 week minimum, 4 weeks maximum (the U.S.A. had for a while 3 months tours.
  4. This is followed by an evaluation which is carried out by:
  1. Participants of a tour with regard to the leadership and organisation;
  2. Concert organisers/churches, regarding group/performance, etc.;
  3. Leaders, (tour leadership) about participants and concert organisers;
  4. Concert audience, with regard to the concert performance.

After the evaluation, both the good points and the bad points are taken into account, and the whole system starts again. Much time is invested in research, statistics, improvements etc.

C. There are various options for participation

8-12 year olds: ‘Continental Kids’ (since 1999)
13-16 year olds: ‘Young Continentals’ (since 1992)
16-35 year olds: ‘Continentals’, ‘Continental Orchestra’.
30-55 year olds: ‘Continental Encores’ (since 1994)
Also there are groups with a very specific purpose: the ‘Continental Vocals’ (PR and TV productions) and the ‘Continental Target Teams’ (differing ages or particular areas of Europe).

D. Board & management Structure

E. Finances

Participants are expected to provide part of their costs themselves. The covering of the total costs is made up of: • offerings and ticket sales; • profit from CDs; • copyrights; • personal contributions.

F. Programme

Minimum of 50% new material each year!


Is this just a passing fancy? Or is it more than that? Here, too, time is invested in research by means of postal selective or non-selective market research questionnaires.

A. The Audience

The first few concerts many years ago attracted a limited number of visitors. Nowadays we see an average of 300 each evening in Europe even in the summertime! Initially, only a few concerts were held in each country, but now there are more than 400 concerts per year (in Europe alone) and, in some areas, demand is ever increasing. The total number of visitors in Europe now lies around 100,000 visitors a year (all groups of all offices).

B. Participating young people

Are these consequences permanent? Through the years in the European office we have seen how deep the “Continental experience” goes. We hear stories of young people for whom it turned out to be a spring-board from which they went on into social work, into studying theology, into taking part in youth work, into becoming facilitators of local choirs, bands, groups, into becoming actively involved in the church or mission, becoming pastors, or business leaders. So, what are the long-term effects?

The results were as follows:
Musical growth: 100%

Everyone had benefitted musically from the tour, and had learned something about one area another. Each person had found it a positive encouragement in the development of talents. People had learned to make music together, to conduct music, to deal with stage fright. They had learned from large ideas as well as from small details, from stage experience, from performing, from accepting criticism, from on-the-job experience.

Spiritual growth

77% said they had become more conscious of a spiritual growth, an awareness of the meaning of life, as a result. They improved in norms & values, they got closer to God, improved in prayer, understood the Bible better, saw God at work, etc.

Social growth

64% indicated an awareness of social growth. This showed from remarks such as ‘relating to others’, ‘learning to co-operate’, ‘getting to know people from a different faith’ (e.g. through host-families), ‘adapting’, ‘learning tolerance’, ‘learning to love others’ (not everyone is likeable), ‘learning to accept different customs’, ‘learning to support others with encouragement’, - ‘friendships become very precious’ -, and ‘learning to respect others’.

Character growth

74% indicated that they had become aware of a noticeable positive influence on their own personalities. People said things like ‘being more open’, ‘more independent’, ‘less fearful of people’, ‘more confident’, ‘more peaceful’. They had learned ‘about discipline’, ‘about love and patience’, and had learned ‘to view their own behaviour relatively’.

Besides these personal experiences, participation was researched as a result of “Continentals”: in other words: what were the long-term effects:

  1. People who continued in musical activities/music studies/artistic development: 80%! Among other things: studying, taking part in or conducting local choirs, singing lessons, staging musicals, learning to write scripts, composing, producing CDs, playing in a band, singing in the St. Matthew’s Passion, teaching, starting up a solo career, becoming a professional, etc.
  2. Beginning to take part in the life of the church/congregation: 44%: setting up youth groups, taking part/accompanying communal singing, praise groups, work with teenagers, stage/platform design, leading the singing in church, motivating, choir conductor, leading praise/teams, etc.
  3. Taking part in missionary or ministry activities: 28%. Varying from supporting missionaries, following a DTS, and taking part in building projects in Romania, to having their eyes opened about the needs in the world.
  4. Actively taking part in a local youth group: 16%. A broad spectrum of possibilities, including leadership. People became aware of it’s importance as well as it’s necessity.
  5. Beginning to contribute to social help programmes: 12%. People involving themselves in projects for the homeless, building projects, caring for the poor, etc.
  6. Participating in the local (secular)community: 12%.

C. Co-ordinating local organisations

Every concert organiser fills in a questionnaire too, which information is also evaluated. The longest running well-known concerts (once every year): Zeist, The Netherlands, since 1970.

5.Pilot role

The “Continental Singers” method has seen a wide-spread effect. Many were inspired by this example, which was followed many times: Result:

These figures are based on the fact that local musicians order music, visit concerts, etc. There was nothing in these places before! In the Netherlands this had the greatest results because the European organisation set up a complete strategy to hold on to the positive impulse locally and because it supports local initiatives with advice and action.

The result:

  1. Church life focuses more on young people.
  2. Young people are approached on their own level of culture, idiom and stay in a religious structure, etc., and keep on being interested in norms, values and meanings.
  3. It is an answer to secularisation.
  4. The participants make a huge step into maturity thanks to the CS-experience.
Summary of a “Continental”:
My tour-experience was life-changing and the beginning of a new future.
By now it will be clear why Leen & Ria La Rivière are still involved in the Continentals and still promote and oversee this ministry.

6.Other segments of the CS-History in EUROPE

A. Company, see www.continentalsound.org

From concerts it is a little step to sheet music, songbooks, LPs, cassettes (and later CDs). So in 1974 a company was formed by Leen La Rivière to produce, distribute the works of the Continentals, As well the songbooks of all Continental LP-CD´s are made here And books are published.

B. Magazines

Already soon in the early seventies it happened that the church-press was not that fast to report about these new innovating ideas. So the need grew for own communication channels. In 1974 the in-house monthly “Sjofar” was started, which has appeared till today. And in 1980 the magazine Music & Art was launched, which has appeared till 2005, when the name changed in SIGNS, THE ONLY DUTCH Christan cultural and arts magazine.(www.cnvvakmensen.nl)

C. Copyrights/PRS

In the first years no copyrights were paid for the concerts of the Continentals. It was a matter of time till there became a clash with the PRS (the Public Rights Society). After a year of negotiations a law-suit was prevented and a general-agreement signed. Continental Sound improved very fast in the knowledge of copyright-laws. So they became the consultant for almost the whole Christian sector in Holland and Belgium. This resulted in the eighties in general-agreements with the PRS for the free-churches, para-church organizations, Bible bookstores, etc. More see: www.auteursrechtkenniscentrum.nl.
In 1989 the Benelux Church Copyright License System was started, which became a tremendous success, because today almost all the free-churches are member, in 2002 this was organized within the CCLI, more see: www.ccli.nl.

D. All arts for all tastes

In 1974 Continental Sound brought New Hope to Europe. A professional pop-group consisting out of ex-Continentals. This totally new style (pop/rock) became a great success: new youth reached, acceptance by the Christian sector enlarged for new styles, New Hope kept coming till 1982 (the group later changed into Act One and later into Wings of Light). In the slipstream, because of the growing acceptance, other artists were brought to Europe like Barry McGuire, Second Chapter of Acts, Jamie Owens, Silverwind, Adrian Snell, Ingemar Olsson, Deniece Williams, Scott Wesley Brown, Jerusalem, Cliff Richard, Steve Taylor, Wayne Watson , Choralerna (the first in the black-gospel music) , and the great founders of the praise & worship music like : Merv & Merla Watson, Shekinah, Dave and Dale Garratt, and many others. The wide acceptance of all music as ‘Christian styles’ is a result of that and paved the way for the Christian Artists-Seminars to take place.

E. The artists-unions

Out of the practical questions from tours and so many local concerts, a need was recognised for new training & contacts: the start in 1980/1981 of the CHRISTIAN ARTISTS SEMINAR (www.christianartists.org).
In the CA-history there is an explanation of how ‘to be part of it’ happened. That was the start to create lasting structures. In 1989 this got national recognition in Holland as artists-union: The CNV KUNSTENBOND (www.cnvvakmensen.nl) In 1992 we got the same in Europe: The CHRISTIAN ARTISTS NETWORK (www.christianartists-network.org). Here is worked on law-making processes related to art & culture, the social status of artists, income-tax problems, etc., etc.

F. The Continental Art Centre (www.continentalart.org)

In 1989 a former school could be rented (later bought). It was changed in a 550 m2 Art Centre. All divisions were housed here (before 1989 it was spread over apartments, attics, basements, garages, etc.). In 2000 the next step was taken to enlarge the building with a new section for storage & offices (275 msup>2. In 2005 a great theater/artshall (400m2) was added; the opening was done by the prime-minister Jan Peter Balkenende.


From 1963-1999 there have been 413 U.S.A.-tours (Continentals, Young Continentals, Encores, Frontlines). Those 413 groups trained 12,500 persons. Those tours did 25,660 concerts, reaching 6,5 million visitors.

From 1969-2007 154 U.S.A.-Continental groups visited Europe, doing 3100 concerts, reaching 1,8 million visitors.

From 1986-2007 there have been 162 European (CS/YC/Encore/Frontline) Continental groups, training approximately 4280 persons, doing 2756 concerts, reaching appr. 1,000,000 visitors.

From 1976-1999 there have been 27 Discipel-groups (some years 2 groups), training 675 persons, doing 620 concerts, reaching 190,000 visitors, plus 440 church-services, reaching 170,000 visitors.

Starting in 1999, this has been an amazing new success story From 1999-2007: 35 Kids groups, having trained appr.875 children, doing appr. 280 concerts, reaching appr.75.000 persons, making 8 different CD’s.

Located in Brazil, Chile, Puerto Rico, Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, etc.