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MercyMe Christian Musicians and Singers

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The psalmist, King David-perhaps the original “worship leader”-may have said it best, when he wrote “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Such times of desolation and estrangement often give birth to a deeper and more satisfying relationship with our Creator. And it was a period of physical and spiritual brokenness that would birth the heart of a worshiper in Bart Millard; a heart would lead to the formation of MercyMe and launch this band down on the journey to Almost There.

Some might argue that the modern praise and worship explosion has been co-opted by marketing schemes and promotional plans. But for the men of MercyMe -Millard (vocals), Jim Bryson (keys), Mike Scheuchzer (guitar), Nathan Cochran (bass) and Robby Shaffer (drums)-worshiping the Lord and leading others in His praise is very much a life-long calling. That commitment has guided the band through the creation of six independent projects (which have amassed total sales of 100,000 units) and led them to sign on as one of the flagship artists of INO Records.

But let’s lets take a moment to retrace the steps that have brought MercyMe this far-beginning on the plains of football-hungry Greenville, Texas. “My dad and my older brother were both football players,” Bart recalls, “so naturally, that’s what I wanted to do as well. But I broke both my ankles in a high school football game and that ended my career. Our football practices took place during the school day-sort of a substitute for Phys. Ed. So since I couldn’t dress out for practice, I had to move into another elective class, and choir was the only thing open at that point in the semester. I reluctantly joined the choir and as it turned out, I had a great choir teacher and also had a very encouraging music minister at my church, who both prodded me to get more involved, do solos and so forth.”

During his freshman year of high school, Bart’s father had contracted cancer, which five years later claimed his life during the first semester of Bart’s college career. “I felt like I needed to get away, start fresh,” remembers Bart. “My youth pastor had moved to Lakeland, Florida and asked me if I’d be interested in coming down there and working with his praise band. I moved there at the end of my first year of college. That was the first time I ever did anything with a band-just a local youth group who played for a Wednesday night service. But I fell in love with it immediately.”

After becoming friends through a series of weekend youth conventions, Jim and Bart were picked to head a worship team that traveled to Europe in the summer of 1994. Their praise team was so well received that the duo began sensing the Lord leading them into full time musical ministry. Mike came on board in August 1994, and the three, now relocated to Jim’s hometown of Oklahoma City, became MercyMe.

By the time a year had passed, MercyMe was attracting the attention of local promoters. An opening stint for an Audio Adrenaline concert led to the band forging a friendship with AA manager Scott Brickell, now also filling that role for MercyMe. Bart says that at Brickell’s encouragement, the band made its next major move-to Nashville. “It took almost a year to get a showcase arranged,” recalls Bart. “When we finally did, we played at a little church for some label representatives and a few hundred kids. We basically played all the songs on our one little album. The kids demanded an encore and since we had been playing praise and worship songs for these youth conventions and camps, we went back and began to worship. As we left the stage a second time with all of them still singing the choruses, I think that was the very first time the band realized how important praise and worship was to us.”

At the invitation of an evangelist friend in Dallas, MercyMe again moved, this time to Texas. Quickly, the band found itself playing as many as 200 dates in a year, with their musical focus now praise and worship with a modern rock/pop flair. “I could see a difference immediately after that showcase,” affirms Bart. “We had always thought ‘you do a showcase, you sign a deal, you make records for the ccm market.’ God made it clear the role MercyMe was to play was to help meet the growing hunger for praise and worship music.”

Nathan and Robby have also been a vital part of the mission of MercyMe, Nathan joining the fold over three years ago and Robby a little over two years ago. “I think these are a tremendously talented group of guys,” Bart enthuses, “but from the beginning, we’ve always said we know there are lots of talented musicians out there. But spiritually, it would be hard for me to find four more godly men. I really believe all five of us have been called to be worship leaders. Each of us has a unique gift that kids relate to in different ways.”

Bart says that having enjoyed success as an independent act, it took an astonishing set of circumstances to convince MercyMe it needed to sign a major label deal. “We were literally fulfilling all the roles an artist usually hires out-management, booking, marketing. We finally realized that we had played for nearly 200,000 people during 1999 and were selling copies of our last album, The Worship Project, at the same pace as many nationally known artists. Administratively, we were in over our heads to the point where we couldn’t have CDs printed as fast as we were selling them. We knew we needed help in fulfilling what God had called MercyMe to do.”

So MercyMe began charting its future course with INO Records and Brickhouse Entertainment. Even as those negotiations were wrapped, the band released its final indie disc, Look, which has sold more than 5000 copies in its first few weeks of release. But God had yet another unexpected blessing in store when Amy Grant sought the group’s permission to record “I Can Only Imagine” (from The Worship Project). “She told us the song ministered to her in a way that she hadn’t felt for a long time,” Bart relates. “Knowing that a lot of people would hear the song who wouldn’t normally listen to Christian music, she thought it would lead to them examining their faith. We sure couldn’t argue with that.”

For the recording of Almost There, MercyMe engaged the services of producer Pete Kipley (Audio Adrenaline, Rebecca St. James). “We had steered the ship for so long that it was hard giving up control in the studio,” admits Bart. “But Pete has just been amazing with how he integrated our opinions and really pushed us to play beyond what we thought our abilities were. This is definitely a guy who doesn’t ‘settle.'”

Almost There contains fresh versions of “In You,” “Call to Worship,” “Cannot Say Enough” and the band’s own update of “I Can Only Imagine.” Along with those proven favorites, you’ll find songs such as the infectious mission statement “Send Me” and the acoustic psalm “How Great is Your Love.” Bart says the band’s goals for the ministry of MercyMe are quite simple. “I pray that God would use us like psalmists-it would be an immense privilege to think that a song we write might outlive this band. I pray that when people look at these five men, they see the hand of God. MercyMe wants to lead people to His throne through worship. It’s not about us. Any time I can step away from the microphone and listen to the body of Christ sing, I’ll do it. I’d rather hear that than hear myself sing any day of the week. We hope to be doing this when praise and worship isn’t ‘popular’ anymore-but why shouldn’t it continue to be? It’s the reason we were created.”

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