A New Sound in Christian Rock

MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard almost quit the band, but instead reinvented the group’s style.

If you grew up listening to Christian rock music, chances are a few songs from the band MercyMe have a spot on your most-played list. The Texas-born group features lead singer/songwriter Bart Millard and band members James Bryson, Robby Shaffer, Nathan Cochran, Michael Scheuchzer and Barry Graul, who have been cranking out hits and collecting fans since they combined their talents back in 1994. Twenty years, eight studio albums, eight Dove Awards and numerous Grammy nominations later, the band is still making music and continues to dominate the charts.

Their latest album is all the more significant thanks to its tumultous beginnings. Before production began, Millard made the difficult decision to step away from the band, which could have been the end of the road for fans of their music. Instead, walking away led to the creation of a new album, Welcome to the New, which has garnered two Grammy nominations, debuted No. 1 on the Billboard Christian Album charts and helped reinvent the veteran group’s sound.

Millard spoke with about how close he came to leaving the band, the message behind this new album and why he’s having more fun than ever praising God through song.

Why did you want to make this album?

After [the album] The Hurt & The Healer, we kind of hit a wall. I grew up in a somewhat legalistic church and it taught me that faith is enough, but here’s three more things left just in case. There’s always things left to do to be closer to God. You start a band and do all this stuff to try to please Him and I just hit a point where I thought “Man, I don’t think I can keep up.” It felt like my family life was hanging by a thread. There had to be more to it.

While writing The Hurt & The Healer, a friend of mine came back into my life. We hadn’t seen him in a long time and one of the things he said to me that really stopped me in my tracks, he said “Hey, you guys work really hard but in case you’ve forgotten, there’s nothing you can do to make Christ love you any more than He already does, so maybe you just need to stop and just rest in the finished work of the cross.” No one’s ever told me to stop before, they’ve always said to try harder. It took a couple of years to understand what that meant and I really thought, at that time, that MercyMe was coming to an end. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Literally stop and just take it all in.

At that point, my wife and I had kind of jokingly said we stopped caring what people thought, what radios thought, what labels thought, and we just decided not to keep up with this image and focus on our fellowship with Christ. The second that MercyMe stopped being my identity, instead of quitting, I started falling back in love with it. About that time we had gone back in the studio and started making this new record and that’s the message, from beginning to end. Hence the name Welcome to the New. We wanted the message and everything to be different. We said, what’s the [album] we’d love to make, whether it ever gets played on the radio or not? So we just started making that and luckily people are okay with it.

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