Casting Crowns members more concerned with the bigger picture than sales success
By Steve Wildsmith (email@example.com)
Before “Come to the Well,” the fifth studio album by Christian contemporary band Casting Crowns, was released last month, the industry rumor mill generated speculation that it could debut as high as No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Doing so would make the album the first-ever Christian contemporary record to top the chart of best-selling albums of all genres. And with 99,000 copies sold during its first week, “Come to the Well” came close. It reached No. 2, and while the pre-release buzz may have caused some folks in the industry disappointment that it didn’t reach the top slot, Casting Crowns vocalist and songwriter Mark Hall was not one of them.
“When I heard the talk in the week or two before the record came out that there was a possibility it might be No. 1, I was just amazed we were even talking about it,” Hall told The Daily Times during a recent phone interview. “It was like, ‘Why is this even a conversation?’ God’s been good to us, and we love Christian music enough just to be a part of it, so for us to even be on the radar in the world’s view of music sales is just amazing.
“We don’t have any songs that have crossed over to mainstream. We don’t have any songs that have taken off. Those sales are just believers out buying music, and I think it’s a major statement that Christians are buying music.”
Since forming in 2003 in McDonough, Ga., just south of Atlanta — an area that’s birthed such like-minded contemporary Christian bands as Third Day, NewSong, Sixpence None The Richer and Smalltown Poets — Casting Crowns has earned 14 Dove Awards, three Grammy Awards and an American Music Award. Three of their albums — the band’s self-titled debut, “Lifesong” and “Altar and the Door” — have sold more than 1 million copies each, giving the band more than 8 million album sales total and making Casting Crowns Billboard magazine’s top-selling Christian act for the past four years.
While that success might be eclipsed on a secular level, it’s groundbreaking given that Hall and his bandmates aren’t completely dedicated to the band. Yes, they tour constantly, perform with passion and conviction and are both humbled and awed by the impact their project has on the lives of its fans. But their priorities are guided by faith, not business, according to Hall.
“The songs that we write come directly from our ministry in our churches,” he said. “I’m a full-time youth pastor, and the songs I write come from everyday families, people and situations. We’re talking about what Jesus looks like in our lives every day, and sometimes in doing that you have to talk about hard issues. But I believe if you approach the truth with love, you can talk about hard things ... and we do.
“We’ve always been the band that goes there, and I believe that’s because we’re not angry artists living in a bus; we’re in a local church every day. I’m in my office right now, and I’m meeting with teenagers today, walking through The Word with them. And because we do those things, I believe that gives us a voice. What we do is not an agenda or a ‘save-the-whales-for-Jesus cause.’”
What is an agenda, Hall added, is the band’s ministry. Whether it’s individually, in the respective churches of the group’s members, or on stage around the world (the band’s 2009-2011 “Until the Whole World Hears” tour took them to 175 cities around the globe, performing for almost 1 million fans), Casting Crowns is on a mission to support the church and spread the gospel of Jesus.
By church, the band means Christendom. By gospel, the members mean the words directly from the Savior’s mouth, without interpretation or the bending to fit the narrative of a particular denomination or personality.
“I was in an interview once and a lady asked me, ‘Doesn’t your music preach to the choir?’” Hall said. “I told her, ‘Yes — and the Bible calls that discipleship.’ Just as much as we need to reach the world with music and the gifts of God, we need to edify the body of Christ, to pour into believers our music and talent and gifts.
“If you’re a believer, and you’re sucking air through your nose right now, then you’re called to know Him and make Him known. That is your calling, your purpose for being there. The moment secular radio picks up one of our songs and plays it on secular radio, that will be a great day, but that’s not why we do what we do.”