The band members of MercyMe took some time out of their busy schedule recently to speak with us about worship, the new movie coming out about the story behind their song, I Can Only Imagine, and what it’s like to hang in there for 20+ years as team members.
The surprising success of the song “I Can Only Imagine” belies the humble nature of the band and its members. Their song didn’t catapult into the national eye until a shock jock played their song on the radio as a dare in 2003. But once the broader public heard the song, they couldn’t get enough.
The song outgrew its original recording on the band’s 1999 “The Worship Project”, prompting another recording on 2001’s “Almost There”. After the 2003 mainstream radio debut, the song soared onto the adult contemporary Top 40 list. To this date, it is the best-selling Christian single in history with 2.5 million copies sold.
The band didn’t stop there, though, producing another 10 albums in the following years. While they’ve had a couple original members come and go, the band has toughed it out for over 20 years now. They might have felt the niche they had in the Christian music market was going to be a comfortable place to fly until retirement, another surprise came their way about eight years ago when a screenwriter decided the inspiring story behind the song would make an excellent movie. No one was as surprised as the band members themselves.
Even with the renewed spotlight, though, as we spoke to bassist Nathan Cochran and guitarist Michael John Scheuchzer, their down-to-earth natures shine through. It’s clear the band functions more like a family than a fame- or money-hungry group of musicians. Their heart to lead others to Christ through their music is the primary reason they’ve stayed together all this time.
ChurchLeaders: What’s it like being MercyMe these days?
MercyMe: Weird, Like really weird. We are excited to get to do what God has called us to do; we’re like family.
ChurchLeaders: I Can Only Imagine the movie is coming out in theaters soon. What was it like to see your story portrayed by actors?
MercyMe: The main theme of this interview is going to be the word weird, in a good way. Making a movie is a long process. It took eight years from start to finish on the movie, so you have to be patient. Everyone who was a part of the movie did a great job, there are some movies that they tend to not be accurate. Not this movie, it’s accurate to what we lived and what we saw Bart live and walk through with his dad. We expect to see the movie minister to people.
ChurchLeaders: What was it like seeing Dennis Quaid in the movie?
Mercy Me: Weird and surreal, he is a great guy. We have gotten to know him and he even came and watched us at a concert of ours.
ChurchLeaders: You just released “I Can Only Imagine”, a greatest hits album. What was that process like as you went down memory lane and re-lived these songs?
Mercy Me: Grateful, we have been at this for 20 years, in fact, we have been doing this more than we have not been doing it. When we started we were dumb and young, yes we were doing it for God but we were immature in the beginning and weren’t sure what God would have us do. We are very grateful for the 20 years that God has allowed us to see and do, especially in what God has allowed us to see him do through people’s lives.
ChurchLeaders: What have you learned about living in community after all these years together?
Mercy Me: We have learned to not only put up with each other but to see each other as family. We’re family, our kids act like cousins to one another. In the 20 years, we have learned a lot about each other, the good and the bad, and we’re thankful and grateful to still be together.
ChurchLeaders: Surely there have been bumps in the road and tough times after this long. How did you decide to stay together during the tough times?
Mercy Me: We decided to trust the God that is inside each of us, even when we don’t agree or get along with one another we decided to trust that God is at work in the other person’s life. We have come to learn that no one wins until someone asks for forgiveness.
ChurchLeaders: Take me inside the writing and studio room, what is the process like when deciding what songs will be on an album?
Mercy Me: It really has changed in the 20 years that we have been together, in the past we would sit in a room together and stumble maybe into what we thought should be on an album. Now, we’re a little more proactive in what we feel God calling us to place on an album. We’re there to serve the song and not ourselves. It also depends on where we’re at in life.
ChurchLeaders: I Can Only Imagine is a powerful song but do you ever get tired of signing it?
Mercy Me: No, we are grateful for what the song has done in people’s lives.
ChurchLeaders: Do you have any advice for worship pastors who are leading people in song week in and week out?
Mercy Me: Early in our career, we got asked that question a lot. Worship leaders should remember that God has them there for a purpose, not for something bigger or better but to lead people to Him.
ChurchLeaders: Do you see 20 more years being together?
Mercy Me: Not traveling like we are now, however, we will still be together. Breaking up would be like divorce almost, we’re like family. We are not going anywhere.