With a style initially similar to The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Kansas, Petra's sound evolved into a more energetic, driving rock sound in the early 1980s that was more like Foreigner, Styx, and Journey. Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Petra was one of the world's most popular Christian rock bands, with each of its albums during that period selling hundreds of thousands of copies while the band sold out arenas and regularly placed songs at the top of Christian radio charts.
In their own words:
The band is not in competition with other Christian bands. We feel we are competing with Journey, Styx and REO Speedwagon. We need to be aware of them, because the people who come to see Petra go to see those bands as well. We are being very naïve if we don't keep that in mind. We need to have a light system, sound system and presentation that will be competitive with those groups.
Petra's biggest hit, The Coloring Song, released in 1981, reached the top position on three Christian radio charts simultaneously, and at its peak, the band's tours rivaled Amy Grant's in popularity among Christian audiences. Petra was the first rock band inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the first Christian band whose memorabilia was included in the Hard Rock Cafe restaurant chain. By the mid 1980's, Petra was at the height of its success as they toured and released new albums. No Christian rock band had sold more records, played before bigger crowds or had enjoyed such pervasive radio airplay.
It is impossible to list all the hit songs that Petra had in those early years. In 1989 they released Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out. The result was the first-ever contemporary praise-and-worship album in Christian music, with praise staples such as Take Me In, The Battle Belongs to the Lord, and King of Kings done in Petra's hard-rock style. The band's new label, Word Records, billed it "a praise and worship record unlike any ever seen."
In 1997 they did a follow-up praise album, Petra Praise: We Need Jesus which produced some memorable hits like Ancient of Days and this hit, Lord I Lift Your Name On High (gotta love these old Trinity Broadcasting Network videos):
Petra was a true pioneer for Contemporary Christian music, influencing countless artists. With its lyrics, music and style, Petra influenced numerous other artists at a time when Christian rock experienced strong opposition from many conservative pastors and churches.
In 2004, CCM readers inducted Petra into its Hall of Fame, with the magazine noting:
Few artists had as much influence in the formation and growth of what has come to be known as "contemporary Christian music" as did Petra. ...As one of the movement’s trailblazers, Petra bore the brunt of the controversy, enduring picketers, protesters and public denunciations by prominent Christian leaders. (It is, perhaps, a telling sign of the Christian community’s former resistance to Petra that the band won a Grammy before they ever won a Dove Award!) Still, all rabble-rousers aside, Petra managed to create some of Christian music’s most treasured recordings
In more than three decades, the band experienced numerous member changes yet released 20 studio albums and two live albums, selling nearly 10 million copies while being nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning four, and winning 10 Dove Awards. Though Petra disbanded formally in 2006, incarnations have played reunion shows, did a short tour, and released a couple new albums.
If you want to learn more about the history of Petra, I highly recommend that you watch this 2011 documentary about Petra, their history, and their commitment to "rock and religion". It is not surprising that we still play a fair number of Petra's songs in church today.