Mercy Me is, from left, Robby Shaffer, Barry Graul, Bart Millard, Mike Scheuchzer, Jim Bryson and Nathan Cochran.
By Theresa Shadrix
Popular contemporary Christian pop band Mercy Me will perform at Harvest Church of God on Friday night.
Bands are usually formed by happenstance. There are no business plans or meetings with bankers before deciding if the idea has merit. It is the music, and sometimes the mission, that guide members to create a union.
Such is the case with MercyMe. In June 1994, Bart Millard and Jim Bryson traveled from their hometown, Greenville, Texas, to Switzerland on a mission trip. With Millard singing lead vocals and Bryson on keyboard, they lead military kids in praise and worship at a summer camp. Maybe it was the positive reaction from the campers or the spirit in the air, but the pair decided they could possibly make a go with a real band.
"We prayed about it being possible if we could do this full time," said Millard. Speaking by phone from his home in Texas, Millard said when the duo returned home, a friend, Mike Scheuchzer, joined them and their praise and worship band was born. All they needed was a name.
Millard was living briefly in Florida and his grandmother from Texas called to check up on what he was doing with his life. He told her, almost jokingly, that he was going to be in a band. "She said, 'Well, mercy me, why don't you get a real job?'" recalled Millard. The name stuck and the following year, Millard, Bryson and Scheuchzer returned to the same camp in Switzerland. However, this time they played as MercyMe.
The trip home brought more additions with Nathan Cochran on bass and Robby Shaffer on drums. It wasn't overnight success, but MercyMe gained a loyal following and signed with INO Records in 2001. That same year they released their debut album, Almost There and the song "I Can Only Imagine," penned by Millard, brought success from both Christian and mainstream radio. MercyMe won music industry awards and sold more than 2 million records in three years. Their success continued as a multi-platinum band, with albums featuring chart-topping hits in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
Millard said it is the mission behind the music that keeps them singing, and adds that nothing has happened by chance, including their current number one song. While in the studio recording their 2007 release All that is Within Me, he said he only had two songs prepared.
"I was scrambling around trying to find songs and got an online instant message and talked to Steven Curtis Chapman," he said. "He said he had 40 songs leftover from his album. Who has that many songs but Steven?"
The first song Millard heard had lyrics that compelled him. "I listened to it 20 times, over and over." He called Chapman and told him about a simple chorus he'd written but hadn't done anything with yet. When the lyrics and chorus were joined, the song "You Reign," which is number one on the Adult Contemporary Christian Billboard this week, was created.
With all the success, the accolades, the fans and the honors MercyMe has received, Millard said the band's core message is still all about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He also feels that being good messengers shouldn't conflict with being the leaders of their families. The band members have 13 children among them, and two "on the way," so trying to maintain schedules around their families is a priority. The balance between touring and being fathers comes from learning to say no.
"The family wins every time. We've been blessed that we can pick and choose," he said.
However, he remembers a time when saying no wasn't an option.
"In the beginning, we had to do 300 shows to make ends meet. I thank God that I can see my family during the week." Typically, MercyMe is on the road Thursday through Sunday, then they spend a few days at home, then go back on the road. It is the life they only dreamed about in 1994.
Millard said coming to Anniston Friday night is part of a new journey. Recently, the band members talked about the need for father's and men to have conferences like Women of Faith that target Christian women. So, he feels it is no coincidence they received a call that a church in Alabama wanted them to perform a concert and speak at a men's conference. "It seemed a right fit," he said.
MercyMe will play a mix of songs at a concert at Harvest Church of God on Friday at 9:30 p.m. The following day the church plays host to the "Conquering Heroes" conference, where Millard will be a featured speaker.
"I'm never nervous about singing to a crowd, but speaking is a first for me," he said. "I just pray that I do a good job."