The 2018 film “I Can Only Imagine” was a victory at the box office and for the band MercyMe. Based on a song by the band, it was one of the highest-grossing Christian films of all time and it won a Dove Award for most inspirational film of the year.
Maybe the follow-up should be a prequel about MercyMe’s formative years in the Oklahoma City area?
“Oh gosh. All it would be would be a whole lot of us going to Leo’s Barbecue to eat,” guitarist Michael John Scheuchzer said.
“I’m not kidding when I say this. We travel the country and we eat a lot of barbecue and it’s probably our favorite barbecue place to go to.”
MercyMe will be close enough to Oklahoma City to perhaps make a side trip to Leo’s. MercyMe will be in Tulsa for a Nov. 8 BOK Center performance.
Scheuchzer, asked during a phone interview if Tulsa has embraced the band, said this: “I would say Oklahoma has embraced us. None of us were originally from Oklahoma, but it has always felt like a home to us with us starting out there and making so many friendships early on or going to Leo’s Barbecue or whatever it is.
“But Tulsa has always been great to us. I remember some of our first shows that were with churches from the Tulsa area. We would do summer camps with them. Those are just such great, great memories for us, dear to our hearts, so any time we are there, we love playing the Mabee Center (where MercyMe performed in 2018) or the BOK or whatever it is. It all kind of feels like home.”
Scheuchzer talked about the band’s Oklahoma roots during a 2018 Tulsa World interview. He said the band was started in Oklahoma City and, for about two years, the group lived in an abandoned day care center that was dubbed the “Romper Room.”
Those “kids” in the Romper Room grew up to become impact figures in the Christian music industry. MercyMe’s signature song, “I Can Only Imagine,” was a crossover smash that of course was transformed into a motion picture.
“All of a sudden the movie comes out and then everything just takes on a whole new life,” Scheuchzer said.
“Like ‘I Can Only Imagine,’ this song is 20 years old and we wrote it for an independent record. Not only does it have a resurgence for people, but it has taken on literally a new life in that we are ... getting emails and hearing stories from people about how they lost a loved one and that song carried them through and now there are guys who are emailing us and reaching out to us and letting us know that their dad was abusive and they have realized that they have got to forgive them to be able to move forward.
“And it’s not just guys forgiving their dads and being able to move on, but there has been real forgiveness and relationships rebuilt with their abusive dads or dads with their sons, dads who realized that they messed up.”
Vocalist Bart Millard wrote the song following his father’s death.
What’s the next chapter for MercyMe?
Scheuchzer said the band has been in the “gratitude chapter” of the MercyMe story for about four years. MercyMe was formed 25 years ago. Here’s the gist of the reason why the band is in the “gratitude chapter” of its existence:
“We’ve got friends who have come and gone in the music industry,” Scheuchzer said. “We have got bands we have looked up to that have decided to call it quits. And we haven’t really felt like it was time yet — and thank God people still care.
“Something we are doing still matters to people and God is still using our songs in peoples’ lives and what we do seems to matter in some way, which is kind of funny to say. It’s just music and it’s just entertainment, but it’s this whole other thing that music becomes for people.”
Scheuchzer said he is almost in tears every show because he looks out at the faces in the crowd and sees that people still engage with the band and sing along.
“And you can see the stories on the faces of people,” he said. “Just as we sing a certain song, you can see how it has connected, whether it is ‘I Can Only Imagine’ or ‘Even If’ or even one of our more silly ridiculous songs like ‘Happy Dance.’ ... To get this far into our career, it’s humbling and we are really grateful we still get to do it.”