Christian Band's Success Points to Secular Audience's Hunger for Biblical Message

Discussion in '2003 Archive' started by dianetavegia, Aug 24, 2003.

  1. dianetavegia

    dianetavegia
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    Christian Band's Success Points to Secular Audience's Hunger for Biblical Message

    (AgapePress) - Many Christians who regularly tune in to secular radio have been delightfully surprised over recent months to hear a familiar but unexpected name -- "Jesus." Thanks to a runaway hit by an independent grassroots Christian band called MercyMe, listeners across America and beyond are hearing an unabashed message of faith -- sometimes several times a day -- on stations that normally do not play gospel music.

    Mary, a Michigan Sunday School teacher, was riding in a car with a fellow church member when she first heard "I Can Only Imagine" on a pop and alternative rock station. Suddenly she stopped following her friend's conversation to listen more closely to what was on the radio. "Did I just hear them say what I think they said?" she asked.

    Her friend assured her that yes, those were Christian lyrics being played in the midst of a secular-format broadcast, and that she was hearing "that song" all the time lately. The line that caught Mary's attention spoke wistfully of a divine encounter: "Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel?/ Will I dance before you Jesus, or in awe of you stand still ...."

    Shelly, a Colorado mom and church secretary first heard MercyMe's popular tune sandwiched between an Eminem song and a Dr. Pepper ad. Angela, a Christian student in British Columbia, says she first heard the song being played loudly on a behind-the-bar stereo for clientele in a Vancouver pub. Meanwhile Warren, a Christian from Ohio, says the anthem has become one of his favorite light rock station's most requested songs.

    MercyMe's heartfelt "I Can Only Imagine" has received phenomenal attention since the band originally released it on the 1999 independent album The Worship Project, and then re-re-released it on Almost There in 2001. Not only have contemporary Christian music (CCM) fans responded to the single with enthusiasm, but over time there has been a groundswell of favor among secular audiences, whose members have been requesting the song, talking about it, and buying recordings of it in unprecedented numbers.

    Songwriter Bart Millard penned "I Can Only Imagine" in memory of his father, who died of cancer in 1991. He says that record industry professionals have been just as amazed by the public's response to the song as the band's five members were. "It's not us trying to change our message or fit in. We're completely being who we are. We didn't sign up to go mainstream. This is who we are and it's taking off," he says.

    Nowadays, it's likely that few pop music fans remain who have yet to hear Millard's moving tribute between extensive radio airplay (four weeks at #1), three Dove Awards, and several "covers" recorded by CCM artists Amy Grant, Rita Springer, and country music artist Jeff Carson. Two years after its release, new fans are discovering the song daily and keeping it alive on secular charts. Even now "I Can Only Imagine" is hanging steadily in the top 20 after 14 weeks on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Chart.

    Millard says the song grew out of his response to his father's death and his own musings about what heaven must be like. "I think it connects with people because everybody's lost a loved one. I think everybody wonders what's next and hopes for the best for whoever they've lost," he says.

    And if sales are any indication, the public is indeed connecting. One Christianity Today article notes that the public's response to "I Can Only Imagine" single-handedly helped make MercyMe the best- and fastest-selling new Christian artist of 2001, certifying the album's Gold status in less than a year, and making it a shoe-in for Platinum status within a few years. Of course this isn't the first time a gospel or CCM recording artist has crossed over to the secular pop charts with a resonant song. Michael W. Smith's "Friends," and Bob Carlisle's "Butterfly Kisses" immediately come to mind. But many are beginning to recognize that MercyMe's hit is something special in the air.

    All this has sent a wakeup call to secular radio station owners and recording industry professionals. Commercial radio stations play what their listeners want to hear, because that's what keeps people tuning in, which in turn keeps corporate sponsors advertising.

    Some trade experts cite 1995 as the point when the secular music industry began to recognize how commercial CCM could be. That was the year Sound-Scan, the point-of-sale tracking system used by the recording industry, started to survey Christian bookstores. According to Variety, "When contemporary Christian singer Michael W. Smith that year released 'I'll Lead You Home,' it landed in the pop charts [and sales] provided an epiphany for the music industry: churchgoers are also record buyers."

    But many churchgoing fans are saying they cannot remember the last time a song with such a blatantly Christian message has been so warmly received and widely promoted by the secular media. Program directors in markets like Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Monterey, Atlanta, Orlando, Columbus, and others have called “I Can Only Imagine” the biggest reaction song they’ve ever had. Some relate the American audience's greater receptivity of late to biblical messages of faith and hope to an emotional response to current events since September 11, 2001, and the ongoing terrorist threat. They note that songs expressing patriotic fervor and national pride have also become popular, particularly with country music audiences.

    MercyMe's own response to the whole question has been simply to thank God that He is touching so many lives through the song. In an online letter the group states, "It has always been our prayer that this song would be a source of comfort and inspiration to those who need to hear it."

    The band offers no explanation for the phenomenon, only praise to God. But some cultural observers are saying that with the success of "I Can Only Imagine," the secular music industry is finally starting to realize that there is deep spiritual hunger among its audience -- and that Christian music offers a message that audience is more than ready to hear.

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    Has anyone heard this? I don't like to buy CD's without knowing anything about the rest of the songs but this sounds interesting.

    Diane
     
  2. JonathanDT

    JonathanDT
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    I can only imagine
    What it will be like
    When I walk
    By Your side
    I can only imagine
    What my eyes will see
    When Your face
    Is before me
    I can only imagine

    {Chorus}:
    Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
    Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of You be still
    Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall
    Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
    I can only imagine

    I can only imagine
    When that day comes
    And I find myself
    Standing in the Son
    I can only imagine
    When all I will do
    Is forever
    Forever worship You
    I can only imagine
     
  3. Joshua Rhodes

    Joshua Rhodes
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    Diane,

    I love this CD. And just ask Sherrie about it! As a former Christian bookstore employee, I remember when this CD came out, and people of all kinds came into the store to get it. I even remember several people (SEVERAL people) buying multiple copies to give to friends and family. Repeatedly, I was told that the CD was worth it even to have just "I Can Only Imagine". But I feel the other 10 songs are also wonderful, and have enjoyed this one immensely. I highly recommend it. Hope this helps.

    In His Grip,
    joshua
     
  4. yod

    yod
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    And how did they get on secular radio?

    Their label (formerly Word Records) was bought by Warner, a huge secular distribution company.

    AOL Time Warner doesn't care about promoting the gospel but they do care about selling records so they use their muscle to get this on secular radio because it has sold so well for them in the christian market.

    and this is yet another example of how secular companies have power that smaller christian labels don't....yet God will use all of them for His purposes... [​IMG]
     
  5. Ben W

    Ben W
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    Praise God. [​IMG]
     
  6. Joshua Rhodes

    Joshua Rhodes
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    I'll Amen that Praise God, Ben!
     

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