Christian rock band MercyMe marked the 10th anniversary of their hit single "I Can Only Imagine" earlier this year with the release of their "best of" album, 10.
The heartfelt ballad, penned by MercyMe frontman Bart Millard in memory of his late father, catapulted the group to superstardom and went on to sell nearly 3 million units.
According to the five-man band, it was the year "I Can Only Imagine" was written that "everything changed."
But it was 15 years ago from this past Friday that band was formed following a series of adverse circumstances.
"My dad and my older brother were both football players, so naturally, that's what I wanted to do as well," Millard recalls. "But I broke both my ankles in a high school football game and that ended my career."
And because Millard's team held practices during the school day – in place of Physical Education – and participation was required to receive credit, Millard had to move into another elective class.
At that point in the semester, there was only one class still open – choir.
"I reluctantly joined the choir and as it turned out, I had a great choir teacher and also had a very encouraging music minister at my church, who both prodded me to get more involved, do solos and so forth," Millard recalls.
The next big turning point was the death of Millard's father, who had contracted cancer during Millard's freshman year of high school and died during the first semester of Millard's college career.
Following his father's death, Millard "felt like I needed to get away, start fresh."
"My youth pastor had moved to Lakeland, Florida and asked me if I'd be interested in coming down there and working with his praise band," Millard recalls.
So at the end of his first year of college, Millard moved to Lakeland, where he served with a local youth group that played for Wednesday night services.
"That was the first time I ever did anything with a band," Millard recalls. "But I fell in love with it immediately."
Millard would later be tapped to lead a worship team together with Jim Bryson, who he became friends with through a series of weekend youth conventions. Their praise team, which traveled to Europe in the summer of 1994, was reportedly so well received that the duo began considering the possibility of full-time music ministry.
Later that summer, in August, Millard and Bryson teamed up with Mike Scheuchzer and moved to Oklahoma City, Bryson's hometown, becoming MercyMe.
The rest is history.
Since their official debut in 2001, MercyMe has sold over 5 million units in CD and DVD sales and is one of few Contemporary Christian music groups to have had all of their recordings certified Gold or Platinum. Their latest album, All That Is Within Me, entered the Billboard Top 200 chart at No. 15 and sold an impressive 83,626 units – the most they've ever sold in a project's first week.
Now with seven albums and numerous Dove Awards, MercyMe still find themselves passionate about leading people in worship and hope that their music will continue to direct people to Christ.
On the exact date of the 15th anniversary, Aug. 28, MercyMe performed at the Alive on the Island Festival on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The three-day festival, presented by the Cape Breton Christian Music Festival Society, concludes Sunday.