ATLANTA — Four times a week, Mark Hall ministers to youth at a suburban Atlanta megachurch, working from an office where the walls are lined with vintage Marvel comic books and that also houses a stone-like desk decorated with symbols from "The Avengers."
In Hall's eyes, he's a "dork." But when he steps away from his youth pastor endeavors and comic memorabilia collection, the 42-year-old stars as the lead singer and songwriter of Casting Crowns, a seven-member, Grammy-winning contemporary Christian rock band, one of the most popular in the genre.
In mid-October, the group released their latest album, "Come to the Well." It debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top 200 charts, trailing only behind Adele, who has dominated the charts with her best-selling album "21." The band's album also topped the Christian album chart for three weeks in a row.
The band has become accustomed to leading the Christian chart. Their 2009 album, "Until the Whole World Hears," was No. 1 on the chart for 18 weeks.
However, the success doesn't define the band, according to Hall.
"Fame is such an illusion," said Hall, who has been a youth pastor at Eagles Landing First Baptist Church for about 10 years. "If you look at me, I'm just a dork that I've always been. The way I see it, God connected with them (fans) through our song that he let me write. There's no room for me or us to get a big head."
Since the band's debut album in 2003, Casting Crowns has gone platinum three times and gold twice. They've earned a Grammy award for their 2005 album "Lifesong," won five Group of the Year titles at the Dove Awards — gospel's highest honor — and they just won an award for Contemporary Inspirational Artist at the American Music Awards this month.
Not bad for a band that does music on a part-time basis.
"I'm extremely thankful for being No. 2 on the charts," said Hall of the band's latest achievement. "It's amazing. I think like probably most musicians, it's something that encourages the moment, but then you have to get back to life."
Along with Hall, who has co-authored three books, the band includes married couple Juan DeVevo (lead guitar) and Melodee DeVevo (violin, backup vocals); Hector Cervantes (guitar); Megan Garrett (piano); Christ Huffman (bass guitar); and Brian Scoggin (drums).
Casting Crowns is known for their aggressive guitar grooves, which center on themes of not giving up and leaning on a higher power. The band's power rock ballads are built on Bible scriptures.
Music is an extension to their individual ministries. All seven members of Casting Crowns remain active in student ministry and tour part-time around their church duties. They lead Bible study group gatherings, head church mission trips and counsel teenagers.
Each of the band members make it an effort to separate their youth ministry endeavors from the Casting Crowns brand. They rarely perform any of the band's songs at worship services on Sundays or use church as a platform announce upcoming concerts or boast about their accolades during service.
Garrett said the youth whom the band ministers to have more important problems in life to worry about than keeping pace with Casting Crowns' achievements.
"A lot of these kids' lives are crumbling," Garrett said. "You have kids whose parents are about to get divorced, some are going through a breakup and some others who are being made fun of at school. The last thing they care about is you having a No. 1 song on the radio. When you're ministering to people, I think it takes the focus off of our self."1 comment on this story
And even though it does not seem like Casting Crowns' career is in jeopardy of fading anytime soon, they know that the limelight may not last forever. If that time does come, the band would be able to walk away with contentment.
"When it is over, who are you then?" said Garrett, whose husband is a youth minister at a suburban Atlanta church. "I'm just Megan with all the warts and blemishes that I have. That's the same way for everyone else in the band. We're all just trying to be obedient."
Casting Crowns: http://www.castingcrowns.com
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