This is my list (I think it will be short) of greatest "Christian" albums of my lifetime. This is completely based on my own likes and opinions, mostly from an entertainment and influential standpoint.
"The Great Adventure" by Steven Curtis Chapman (1992)
If for no other no other reason than the title track, which is, IMO, one of the greatest CCM songs ever written. Just about every song (and what do you expect from SCC?) is great songwriting. This CD was the one that realy got me interested as a 10-11 year old boy in CCM. I have loved SCC ever since.
"Jars Of Clay" by Jars of Clay (1995)
This album was so incredibly different than anything else going on in CCM at the time. Poetic, raw, and such a radically different sound than everything else out there. "Rain" is still being played on a daily basis on one local "secular" station. This was one of the first albums I ever bought with my own money. Although not considered to be a "worship" album, I consider this album to be one of the foundational projects for the worship music explosion of the late 90's, early 2000's. Everything else until their latest release, "Good Monsters" was a huge frustration, but let's not go there...
"Jesus Freak" by DCTalk (1995)
Beyond the fact that we're all LU dropouts... Released just one month after the Jars of Clay debut, this is one of the few Christian albums that can stand up against the best of the "secular" world. This album took DCTalk from goofy, somewhat creative Christian rappers to seriously good, thoughtful and impacting artists. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was thinking as I listened through this album for the first time. Incredibly rare to have three lead vocalists mesh with such great sound. The break-up broke my heart.
"SonicFlood" by SonicFlood (1999)
IMO, the best of the best of the modern worship era. Groundbreaking and still just as good today as the first time I heard it, this is the album I learned to play the guitar with and the album that inspired me to become a worship leader. Every song, whether an original or a cover is spotless. It's an incredible disappointment that the original band did not stay together and continue with the same sound and focus.
"40 Acres" by Caedmon's Call (1999)
Caedmon's Call is one of the most talented CCM groups, and this was their defining album. This was the popular choice of groups and albums to be a fan of during my years at Christian colleges...any Christian of my generation will agree with me here. This album is musical storytelling at it's best, and "Faith My Eyes" and "Table For Two" bring back incredible nostalgia for me. I'm glad to hear that the prodigal band member, Derek Webb has returned to the group.
"Offerings" by Third Day (2000)
The album that made me into a Third Day fan, this is the one that took Third Day and Mac Powell from an ok band to the premier CCM group of the past decade. I have used just about every song from this album in corporate worship at one time or another. For whatever reason (I think it's because this was their first true studio album), I still can't listen to much of anything Third Day recorded before this album, and I love everything since. I also considered placing "Come Together" on this list...
"The Beautiful Letdown" by Switchfoot (2003)
The breakout album for this group (and IMO, the last real album before their "fame" went a little to their heads), this project can stand up musically against anything from this era. I can't tell you how many times I've listened to this album. "Meant To Live" (not even the best song of the album) is one of the few, if only songs from the past 10 years that the majority of people in and outside the walls of the church can recognize and sing along with.
"Downhere" by Downhere (2004)
My favorite Christian band ever, this was their first major release. While I believe this is the most overall talented group in the industry today, unfortunately, they're also the most unkown. Musically, lyrically, vocally, these guys are incredible, especially when you consider there's only four of them (in the studio and on the live stage). I love this album, and they've only gotten better since.
I could probably also put a few Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United albums on this list as well as Lincoln Brewster's "All To You: Live" album, but I wanted to try to stay away from "worship" albums as much as possible because I have a hard time listening to those albums from an entertainment point of view.
Anyway, let me know what you think of my choices, and feel free to post your own list.