Christian act connects with faithful fans on latest album.

Though Tenth Avenue North's latest hit single is titled "Losing," it's obvious the band is winning these days. Its third album, "The Struggle", debuts at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart and No. 9 on the Billboard 200, the group's highest entry on the latter list.

"The main drivers were strong presales at iTunes, LifeWay, Family [Christian Stores] and, a major hit at radio with 'Losing' and a number of fan-focused events leading up to and during street week," Provident Label Group VP of marketing Bryan Ward says of the Aug. 21 release. "The fans have really driven this band. Tenth Avenue North has one of the most unique artist-fan relationships we've ever seen."

The group took that relationship a step further by inviting listeners from all over the United States to sing on the new album. "We have hundreds of our fans on this record," guitarist Jeff Owen says. "During the tour with Third Day we sent out Twitter and Facebook [messages] and said, 'Hey, come sing on our record.'"

"We'd talk and hang out afterward," lead vocalist Mike Donehey says. "It was cool to actually see how the songs translated to people that had never heard them before."

Comprising Donehey, Owen, drummer Jason Jamison, bassist Ruben Juarez and keyboardist Brendon Shirley, Tenth Avenue North started as a worship band in West Palm Beach, Fla., and entered the national spotlight with its 2008 Reunion Records debut, "Over and Underneath". In 2009, it took home the Dove Award for new artist of the year, and the next year sophomore album "The Light Meets the Dark" debuted at No. 1 on Top Christian Albums. Christian radio has promoted such hits as "By Your Side," "Hold My Heart," "Healing Begins" and "You Are More," the lattermost notching No. 1 on Billboard's year-end 2011 Christian Audience chart.

On "The Struggle", Tenth Avenue North again worked with producer Jason Ingram, but took a different approach by spending more time writing and demoing songs on tour.

"On the last two records, Mike would write most songs with Jason or on his own," Owen says. "He would show up and the song would have lyrics and melody and acoustic guitar, and then we'd take that and make it our own. This time we started basically from scratch...We brought out this little portable setup and would kill time on the road. We would write music and record it, which helped us in the studio later."

"It allowed us to spend days on one song as opposed to being in the studio where you are on the clock," Jamison adds.

The extra effort seems to be time well spent. Reaction has been enthusiastic at listening events across the country. "We also hosted a limited-time full album stream just for fans on via SoundCloud on Aug. 10," Ward says. The band will continue to support the new project with a 35-city tour kicking off Sept. 13 in Sewell, N.J.

Donehey feels that the album better reflects the energy of the band's live show while lyrically continuing to share a message of hope that permeated the first two albums.

"[Some people] think we need to pander to people, saying, 'Everything is going to be OK,' but that's not what people need to hear sometimes," he says. "Sometimes they need to hear, 'Everything is going to fall apart, everything sucks, but here's the hope.' You have to enter into that place to be able to really speak hope into someone's heart. Pretending nothing bad is going on is not going to help anyone. If you can be critical and honest about what is happening and still remain hopeful, those people change the world."