Congratulations to Atlanta’s own Casting Crowns!
You may know them as Casting Crowns, the chart busting Christian band from Atlanta, but to hundreds of kids on Sunday mornings, they are weekly youth leaders at Eagles Landing Baptist Church.
“Most of our youth have never heard of the Dove Awards or know where we are on the radio charts,” says Mark Hall of Casting Crowns. “These are everyday teenagers living in the real world. Their parents are fighting, or their girlfriend or boyfriend just broke up with them, and they’re failing math.”
Success has come quickly for Casting Crowns. Since 2003, they have several hit records; “Lifesong” debuted at No. 9 on Billboard’s Top 200 Chart, “If We Are the Body” topped at #1 for 5 weeks at CHR, “Voice of Truth” had the longest number of weeks (13) at #1 in the history of AC, and “Who Am I” was the only song to hit #1 on every format at the same time in history. In addition, Casting Crowns is the fastest selling artist in recent music history and were the most played artist on all Christian radio formats combined in 2004. They also were nominated for Favorite Artist in Contemporary Inspirational Category and lead singer Mark Hall was BMI songwriter of the year in 2005.
Discussing the bands rise to success with leader Mark Hall left me certain that God was truly their anchor. This is a band obviously blessed by God to minister to the multitudes, yet they seem still humble in the newness of success and dependant upon God to lead their careers according to His plan for Casting Crowns.
Mark received Christ when he was 9 years old after a week of Vacation Bible School in his home town of Montgomery AL. Visitors from the church came to his home, and he and his dad both prayed to receive Christ that week.
As a child, he had dreamed of becoming an artist and had hopes of someday attending an art school. “I guess you could say I draw pictures with words,” says Mark laughing as he remembered his childhood dream.
Later he went to school in Florida, which ultimately lead to his becoming involved in youth ministry. Mark eventually moved to Atlanta where he got a job at Eagles Landing Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga, just outside of Atlanta.
“Being around kids freaked me out in the beginning, but at some point I knew this was it. His distinctive voice earned him the leading spot of the youth group band, which is where he ministers each week to the youth at Eagles Landing Baptist Church.
One of the ways the youth ministry would reach out to other teens in the area was to share copies of CD’s from their worship services, and they would give them out as an invitation to visit. When one particular student went to basketball camp, he took the CD with him. That youth met Mark Miller, lead singer of the popular country band Sawyer Brown. Once he realized Miller was a Christian, he said, “you have got to hear my youth leader”, and gave him a CD. Casting Crowns driving pop/rock style and Hall’s vocal delivery of his hard-hitting songs struck Miller. As a result, Miller signed Casting Crowns to Beach Street Records. He also took the group into the studio with co-producer Steven Curtis Chapman, himself a popular artist. The resulting album was released in 2003, which began their rise to immediate success as a Christian band that has a list of accomplishments that seems almost impossible for a three-year tenure in the music industry.
With the rise to popularity, there is just reason to ask how the band has handled the fame that accompanies their astounding accomplishments. “Being tied to the same church every week keeps us grounded. We come home to the real world each week, nothing brings your feet to the ground like being snuffed by a middle schooler,” laughs Mark as he knows first hand how dealing with kids each week requires patience and strength only God can give.
“You can’t come home to youth and sing the same songs, they’ve heard them all before. You have to have something fresh to say. That is the great thing about being in our local church, people know you and hold you accountable. What they need is you to be vulnerable,” says Hall with certainty. “ We share our fears and failures, we talk about tough issues from our perspective. We will say how we are struggling and talk about real life.”
Attending the sold out concert in Atlanta in November 19 showed evidence of their popularity, especially with the fans in their hometown. Enthusiastic people were lined up to get tickets from will call, buy t-shirts and music, and the scurry of activity was full of laughter and anticipation for this challenging music and time of uplifting worship. Before the concert there was a back stage meet and greet where local fans were getting autographs and meeting their favorite band member. Flash photography was constant as people got to know the real people behind this music of Casting Crowns. Every day people were having fun talking to the band and getting to know them beyond their music, most seeming to find them friendly and approachable.
The atmosphere before the concert was warm and inviting, almost certainly due to the bands special way to prepare for each show. “We prayer walk the entire arena and pray for the people who are coming. We split up and walk the building. We sit in chairs and pray for who will sit there later. So we know when we start that the whole room has been covered in prayer. Then we have devotion time together, and that is really how we prepare for each show,” says Mark.
During the concert, the atmosphere was no less that electric. Clapping, people singing out loud, worshipping hands raised all across the building, many with eyes closed to internalize the moment. Music written to challenge its audience, as if each word sang was a personal invitation to join them in ministry. It was a concert with heart felt worship, offering an alter call hoping to win new souls for Christ. During this particular concert series of 20 concerts, over 7500 people have made a new professions of faith. This house was rocking while heaven was rejoicing.
With the schedule of a successful band and leading youth in a large church, Mark is also a devoted husband and father. Fitting it all in is as easy as a travel van for his family. “They travel with me each week. My wife is our road manager, our 2 kids come on the road and are home schooled, and we have our own van for our family. It helps that we are only on the road Tuesday through Saturday and two Sundays a month. So we come home at the end of each week to be in each of our student ministries.”
Mark seems to know how easily life could become too busy to stay focused. “The thing about ministry is every opportunity is a good opportunity, you have to be discerning over what you do. We have to say no to a lot of things. Eagles Landing is our priority, God opened the door for Casting Crowns but he did not close the door on our church.”
One hit song of theirs is “Lifesong”, which is a challenge to live a “Lifesong” that pleases God, that is your daily walk with God. Mark Hall would be one who would seem to be living his life purpose for certain, however, he is quick to say that leading youth or singing hit songs is not his purpose.
“The purpose of my life is to bring glory to God and become more like his son every day. The way to achieve that goal is to get to know Him and His word,” Mark said. “ The way I see it, there are no giant decisions you have to make. There is only walking with God and knowing Him more. On my journey I became a youth pastor and a singer, but that is not my purpose. The more I get to know Him and walk with Him, he is not going to lead me off of some cliff,” he said with a simple approach to living your purpose. “If I get bogged down in what I’m supposed to be doing a year from now, then I will get tripped up on what I’m supposed to do today. It’s not about what you do; it’s about whose you are and trusting in Him everyday. Simply put, your purpose and mine is to bring Him glory every day.”
With their powerful ministry to fans who know their music, it’s easy to realize the potential impact of a band such as Casting Crowns. Even with the success, their focus is still on empowering the local church to evangelize the world. “As big as Casting Crowns may get, a concert can never become anything that can match the work of the local church. What we do and what magazines and music does simply compliments the church. If we can show up each week and be transparent about our struggles and fears, share our weakness and not try to become something we are not, that is what creates an atmosphere of freedom that is needed for a church to thrive. Too often, people try to act like they’ve got it all together, I don’t think it bothers the world that we sin, I think it bothers them that we act like we don’t. If we can just be ourselves and show how awesome God is and how awesome we are not, then I think that is the type of transparency and genuineness that would attract people to church.”