miles northeast of Dallas
Number of town members who were raised
here, moved away and returned to make it their home:
Well, we know of at least one.
"It's a great place to live because there are so many
people in the community who invested their lives into
mine at an early age," explains Greenville resident Bart
Millard, whose chief occupation is to write lyrics and
perform lead vocals for the six-man ensemble known as
MercyMe. "They're enjoying the ride the way we are and
feel as if they have a part ownership in the band."
Ah, yes, and what a ride it continues to be. By now,
you know the MercyMe songs. Perhaps even on a good
"Worship Karaoke" night you could probably belt them out
by heart: "Word Of God Speak," "Spoken For."
But even if you can't find Greenville—a community
small enough for OnStar to consult its Rand McNally
atlas—you'll generally have no problems locating the
tune that put the band on the map and all over Christian
and mainstream radio—"I Can Only Imagine."
A tragedy brings song of hope
By now, the saga of the song has been well
documented. Millard wrote "I Can Only Imagine" in memory
of his father, who died of cancer 10 years before the
song's national release on the 2001 project, Almost
There. It took little more than the twinkling of an
eye for "I Can Only Imagine" to become an instant staple
of Christian radio and praise and worship services. But
just as the song could only attempt to grasp the
magnitude of Heaven, the band had no idea what God had
in store for the ministry of MercyMe.
"We've heard stories of people who've never darkened
the door of a church hearing the song on their car radio
and calling a church the next day and getting saved,"
says MercyMe lead guitarist Michael Scheuchzer. "We've
all lost somebody, we all miss them, we wonder where
they've gone ... and this song is all about hope, even
for someone who doesn't necessarily believe in Jesus."
For Millard, the question of why the song connects is
rooted in simple honesty. "All I know is that a good
songwriter writes about what consumes their heart," he
says. "Mine just so happens to be consumed with Christ.
It's the only thing that has truly changed my life."
Life shapes the musician
The aforementioned Greenville, Texas, which sits at
approximately 33 degrees north (latitude) and 96 degrees
west (longitude), also had a lot to do with shaping
Millard's life. It was the backdrop of the singer's
formative years, musically and spiritually.
"I've always loved music. I sang 'I Am a Promise' in
church when I was 5 years old," he says. "And then I
went through the whole adolescent stage where I wouldn't
sing at all because my voice didn't change like all the
other guys. It wasn't cool to be in the girls' section
of the choir."
Eventually, the teenage musical prodigal returned to
his first love and found a much-needed respite in the
form of a local church youth group. It was there that
Millard, whose early sonic influences included ELO, Dire
Straits and U2, discovered the genre that would one day
give him a voice of influence beyond his wildest dreams:
contemporary Christian music.
"The first Christian cassette I ever bought was
More Power to Ya by Petra," Millard says. "My dad
didn't know what it was, so he tore it up. I went out
and bought it again the next day. I listened to that
record over and over and over."
A shelter in the storm
A steady diet of Steven Curtis Chapman, Russ Taff and
Michael W. Smith soon followed. Those artists' lyrical
influences, along with his youth group, provided a safe
harbor in the midst of a very dysfunctional childhood.
"I have some pretty hard memories of growing up and
being abused as a child," Millard says. "But when my
father got sick with cancer and his heart changed for
Christ, I went from living in fear that I'd become like
him to wanting to be like him when I grew up. From my
freshman year in high school to my freshman year in
college, my relationship with my dad became something
that I'll cherish forever."
MercyMe is born
After his father passed away, Millard broke with his
past to begin a new future, moving to Florida and
eventually becoming involved with Scheuchzer in a praise
band. While assisting Tulsa-based All-Star Ministries in
youth camps, Millard met Jim Bryson (keyboards), with
the conversation leading toward forming a band. Millard
and Scheuchzer moved to Tulsa and joined Bryson to form
the core of what would eventually become the band name
unwittingly supplied by an elderly next-of-kin.
"Bart was an intern for our youth group and there's
really not a lot to do in that job," Scheuchzer
explains. "He was home a great deal and his grandmother
would ask him, 'Why are you always home?'" To which he
would sarcastically respond with, "I've slated this year
off to come up with a band name." Her reply was, "Well
mercy me, Bart, why don't you go get a real job?"
Stepping out on the road
Good news. Millard found a job.
Plus, he still carves out a lot of time at home to
spend with wife Shannon and 2-year-old son Samuel.
Still, when the tour de jour is ready to roll out of the
parking lot, Millard is committed to having the house of
MercyMe in order.
"We've built two buses that each have three bedrooms
so that each of the band members can have time away with
their families," Millard says. "We're trying to do our
best to make the right things a priority, like our
families and our relationships with God, so that we can
Along for the ride on the 2004 "Imagine" tour is Amy
Grant, who, along with Bebo Norman, will open the show
for MercyMe. It's likely been fourscore and seven years
since Grant was an opening act, but spending time with
Millard, Scheuchzer, Bryson, Nathan Cochran (bass),
Robby Shaffer (drums) and newcomer Barry Graul
(guitarist) on last year's tour with Michael W. Smith
solidified her decision.
"I was so impressed with their musicianship and their
songwriting," Grant says. "But what stuck out to me
about them is their lack of presumption ... they are
very honest and direct. Bart doesn't take himself too
seriously, but he has a lot of wisdom and deep faith."
New project rooted in faith
A deep faith is reflected in the new MercyMe project,
Undone, to be released in April. According to
Millard, the project is a logical musical stretch and
spiritual stepping stone for the fans of the band.
"The original idea for the title was basically how
God stepped in and everything that we had planned became
undone," he explains. "But there are multiple meanings
that are reflected in the various songs. I'm a work in
progress. I'm free. I'm in shambles because God stepped
The final piece that completes Undone is
called "Homesick," certain to rekindle thoughts of
"Imagine." The song was written during a recent period
of time when eight significant people in Millard's life,
including his 20-year-old brother-in-law, unexpectedly
passed away at a young age.
"After I first wrote the chorus, I couldn't write
anymore, because it had been so long since I'd felt that
kind of pain from when my father passed away ... I never
wanted to risk faking that feeling," Millard says.
"I wrote it, and then left it alone, but eventually
it became the last song added to the record ... God just
wouldn't release me from this season."
And the season of ministry continues for Millard and
MercyMe. Band members are reaping an abundant harvest
and are committed to putting that harvest back into the
lives of the seekers and those who have found a new life
"It has just been such a great joy to bless people
and to watch smaller ministries grow. That's what it's
all about," Millard says. "That's where our heart has
been, and God has really allowed us to do it. It's been
so much fun and such a huge blessing. Man, what a
journey it has been so far."