Worship band to headline concert at Wayland's Big Weekend

Modern worship band MercyMe will headline a concert March 22 as part of Wayland Baptist University's Big Weekend preview event on the Plainview campus.

The Dallas-based band will take the stage after opening acts Ten Shekel Shirt and The Normals. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. in Harral Auditorium.

MercyMe was born in 1994 after vocalist Bart Millard and keyboardist Jim Bryson, who had been heading a worship team on a trip to Europe, joined forces with guitarist Mike Scheuchzer for full-time music ministry. Though the current praise and worship explosion has sprung up numerous worship bands and albums, MercyMe was doing praise and worship long before it was the "in" thing.

Millard might have been destined for a football career had two broken ankles not stopped him. He ended up in the school choir to fulfill his elective credits and both Millard and his teacher discovered a budding talent in the singer. He later moved to Lakeland, Florida to work with a praise band. It would be just another step toward his ministry career.

"That was the first time I ever did anything with a band - just a local youth group who played for a Wednesday night service," Millard said. "But I fell in love with it immediately."

After the band officially formed, MercyMe recorded an independent album in 1995 - Pleased to Meet You - before getting a showcase for recording label representatives in Nashville through new manager Scott Brickell (manager of Audio Adrenaline). Instead of recording contracts, though, the band got a new focus.

"We had always thought you do a showcase, you sign a deal, you make records for the CCM market," Millard said. "God made it clear the role MercyMe was to play was to help meet the growing hunger for praise and worship music."

From then on, the group's concerts focuses heavily on worship with a modern rock/pop flair. They recorded several more albums, including two volumes of Traces of Rain in 1997 and 1998, The Need and The Worship Project in 1999 and Look in 2000. The band also grew in numbers, with bassist Nathan Cochran and drummer Robby Shaffer coming on board.

Becoming overwhelmed with the behind-the-scenes tasks of marketing, booking and management, the band signed on in 2000 with INO Records and Brickhouse Entertainment. Their first label album Almost There was released in 2001.

The band is probably best known for its single "I Can Only Imagine," released on The Worship Project. The song has been a chart topper on several Christian radio stations and Amy Grant approached the band for rights to record the song herself.

Despite commercial successes, the band remains focused to what they see as a calling to lead in worship.

"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," Millard said. "We want to lead people to His throne through worship. We hope to be doing this when praise and worship isn't 'popular' anymore - but why shouldn't we be? It's the reason we were created."

Tickets for the concert are $10 and are available at the Wayland University Store, (806) 291-3615. In Lubbock, tickets can be purchased at Lifeway Christian Store, 797-4186 or Family Christian Stores, 745-4995. In Amarillo, tickets are available at Family Christian Stores, 358-7651 or at High Plains Religious Bookstore, 353-5521. Tickets are included in the $20 Big Weekend package for high school juniors and seniors who attend the weekend, including meals and lodging in dormitories.

For more information, contact Wayland admissions at (800) 588-1928.