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"Covered by a Love Divine/Child of a risen Lord To hear You say, 'this one's Mine'/My heart is spoken for."

It's been quite a year for MercyMe. Their INO Records debut, Almost There, rocketed up the charts within weeks of its August 2001 release, propelled by the success of their mega-hit single, "I Can Only Imagine." The record-breaking disc was certified Gold in less than a year, becoming the best-selling debut project of 2001 in the Christian music industry. MercyMe was also honored by the industry with three Doves Awards (for Song of the Year, Pop Recorded Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year for MercyMe frontman and "Imagine" scribe Bart Millard). Then there was that cover of their hit song included on Amy Grant's recent Legacy project. And even as they prepare for the October 1 release of their much-anticipated follow-up, Spoken For, you can still find Almost There on the Billboard Top 200. Not bad for a bunch of guys who were just hoping the album would allow them to continue their musical ministry while supporting their growing families. It's true. When asked about recent milestones, lead singer Millard doesn't talk about Gold records or singing with Amy Grant or seeing their song played on the video loop at Target and Wal-Mart stores nationwide. Instead, he mentions his new son, Sam, as well as bandmate Nathan Cochran's new baby boy William, the importance of family and the responsibility to remain real. Not that the success of Almost There didn't translate into some college funds for the kids, but the band is much more excited about their expanding ministry. "The shows, the opportunities to play, and the crowds have gotten bigger," Millard admits, but the band just sees that as more of an opportunity to minister and see people come to know Christ. "It's been amazing…It's made us keep our noses in the Word even more because we've been given such a blessing and we don't want to mess it up. We want to have our hearts in the right place to follow through with what God's given us." At present, that follow-through centers around their sophomore project, Spoken For, a fresh blend of rock-infused worship that shows MercyMe's growth spiritually and as songwriters. "Going in we wanted to broaden our definition of worship a bit," explains Millard. "In our indie days, the formula was 'a verse and chorus and it's got to fit on a church overhead.' There are songs on Spoken For that might not be the easiest to sing along to, but we hope it will be a worship experience from beginning to end." "The idea behind the title track is pretty simple, but it sets off the whole album," Millard says. "We take for granted that there is going to be a day when we stand before the judgment seat and are held accountable, and if we know Christ, God himself will step forward and say, 'he's with me' or 'she's with me.' 'Their hearts are spoken for. They're covered.' That should blow our minds, and we wanted this album to reflect how grateful we need to be that God ever looked our way. If somebody listens to the album and walks away a more grateful person then we've accomplished what we've been called to do." That calling is one they've pursued together tirelessly during their eight years as a band and one each member plays an important role in. Guitar player Mike Scheuchzer met Millard when he was in the Florida youth group Millard worked with. After graduation he pulled him on stage and they've been playing together ever since. Then there's Robby Shaffer, drummer and financial wizard. He's in charge of the band's finances and is known as "the responsible one." Bassist and new dad Nathan Cochran is the quiet one of the bunch so when he does have something to say it's usually worth listening to. Then there's Jim Bryson, the keyboard player whose technical expertise has been called on frequently in the past to engineer the band's previous records. He also has a huge heart for kids. It's that genuineness and the band's obvious affection for each other that audiences respond to. And they're responding to the new music as well. The band has been performing "Spoken For" for a year and students are always asking when the song will be available on disc. That kind of response was a real confidence builder as the band headed back into the studio with returning producer Pete Kipley (Audio Adrenaline, Rebecca St. James), feeling a little pressure at the thought of following up their previous success. Not that they needed to worry. While Almost There was a compilation of songs written over a seven year span, Spoken For is a more cohesive disc, allowing the band to deliver a timely message that reflects where they are at right now. One of those songs is "The Change Inside of Me," an upbeat tune Millard calls one of his favorites. "When you write an 'I Can Only Imagine,' you're drooling at the mouth to write something up-tempo, and I think we've kind of outdone ourselves on this one," Millard says of the simple praise song that reminds us that any positive change in us comes only through Jesus. Inspired by current events is "There's A Reason," which was born out of the Sept. 11th aftermath when it seemed like there weren't many reasons to rejoice. While comprehending the devastating effects of that day, the band felt it was important to also remind people that we worship a God that's much bigger than all of this, and He's still on his sovereign throne no matter what comes our way. So while the popularity of "I Can Only Imagine" may have put the pressure on, it's only pushed the band to be their best. And looking back, Millard has only good feelings about the song, written for his father who died of cancer while Bart was in his late teens. "I couldn't pick another song I'd rather have be with me the rest of my life because of what it meant to me," Millard says, adding "Imagine will always be a part of us and we'll play it every night." But MercyMe is also looking with excitement toward the future. "It's a new season and I shake with anticipation at letting people know where we're at and what we have for them now, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has given us much more to say."

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