During the pandemic Casting Crowns frontman Mark Hall had more on his mind than just writing songs for the Grammy-winning band’s next album. As a youth pastor for more than two decades, Hall’s priority was shepherding the young people at his Georgia church during these tumultuous times. But as has always happened throughout Casting Crowns’ multi-platinum career, music and ministry intersected to fuel the band’s new album, Healer, out today (Jan. 14) via Sony’s Provident Music Group.
“What kept me going is ministry,” Hall tells Billboard of his response to the pandemic. “I feel you are growing the most when you spiritually matter to someone else… You never own your faith as much as when you are giving it away to other people. As a youth pastor, I’m a source for those students to get through hard times. I’m reminding them of the truth, and the cool thing about that is when you are reminding people of the truth, you are reminding yourself of what you need to know too.”
Focusing on the needs of others kept Hall moving forward. “Being shut in our houses, if we’re not careful, it gets you thinking about yourself and what you need,” he says, “but when people need you… you wake up thinking, ‘How are they doing today’ instead of ‘How am I doing today?’ I was realizing I’ve got teenagers all over the city right now who cannot leave the house and they cannot get to their friend groups. Students may not have as much as adults do to worry about, but have just as much heart and are just as much invested in something.”
Hall kept his youth group connected through “Instagram, devotions, Zoom calls and group hangouts. We did things like Bob Ross painting night with 50 kids, painting at the same time on a Zoom,” he says. “When you’re pouring into people that means your life is moving… Anytime I felt myself going sour it was because I was just sitting. But when you start focusing on loving people especially when you are loving them with Jesus, there is a flow to your life that keeps you moving.”
That flow led to the songs on Healer including singles “The Power of the Cross” and “Scars in Heaven.” The latter broke the global first-day streaming record for a Christian song debut on Amazon Music. That feat was just the latest impressive accomplishment for the band since their self-titled 2003 Beach Street/Reunion Records debut. They’ve populated Christian radio with such hits as “Voice of Truth,” “If We Are the Body,” “Who Am I,” “Praise You in This Storm,” “Thrive,” “East to West,” “Only Jesus” and “Nobody.” The seven-piece won a Grammy for their 2005 album Lifesong and has earned 18 Dove Awards and multi-platinum albums.
Hall co-wrote “Scars in Heaven” with fellow Christian hitmaker Matthew West. “I was walking with my mom through losing her parents and dealing with grief and then we lost [original drummer] Andy Williams to a motorcycle accident and seeing the loss that was going on in the church during Covid,” Hall says. “I remember Mom saying she knew her parents were passing, and she was preparing herself for it — but nothing prepares you for the silence of not hearing their voices. She said, ‘I know where mom and dad are. I just miss them and the things that I wished I would have done differently, things that I wish I could do.’ That’s when this song took a new shape.
“I remember showing her a verse where Jesus had appeared to the disciples after he rose from the grave and they just didn’t believe it was him,” he continues. “He showed them his scars and I said, ‘Mom, Jesus still has his scars. That gives us rest in knowing that the reason that there are no scars in heaven is because he took those… That’s why the hallelujah moment is at the bridge — because when we move closer to Jesus in our grief, we can rest in knowing that our loved ones are with him, and they have no regrets at all.”
Hall also collaborated with West on the title track, “Desert Road,” “2nd Opinions,” and the playful “Crazy People” (co-written with Seth Mosley), which came from a conversation about The Ark, a life-size Noah’s Ark that has become a popular tourist attraction in Williamstown, Ky. “Seth said, ‘Can you imagine coming home from work and your neighbor was building that in his yard? What would you think of somebody like that?’ I said, ‘I’d think they were crazy,’’ Hall says. “Most of the people that we call heroes of faith, if they would have been a friend of ours and told us they were about to do some of the things they did in the Bible we’d go, ‘Man, you’re crazy! You’ve got to stop,’ and I said, ‘So what that tells me is this world needs more crazy people.’ When I said that Matthew goes, ‘Man, that’s a song!’ And then we started right there and that song came out so fast.”
Hall says crowds have responded enthusiastically when they’ve performed the song live, and he’s happy the message is resonating: “Everybody is so mad right now and we could use some people to start just loving like crazy, serving like crazy, forgiving like crazy, just going out of our way to show how big God’s love is. That will look absolutely insane in the times that we are living in, but it’s what we need.”
Though Mosley was involved in the production of a few songs, the bulk of the album was again produced by Mark Miller, singer/songwriter/producer and longtime frontman of country group Sawyer Brown. “He believed in us. He breathed life into our music and he got us out there to the world,” says Hall of Miller signing them to Beach Street. “I’m not just with him because of loyalty, I’m with him because he’s the best guy for us. He knows what Crowns is about, and he’s not going to let a record get away from what we’re all about.”
Healer features seven tracks, and Hall says the band is nearing completion of the second part of the album, which will be released this spring. His intent was to give people more time to digest these songs before releasing the remainder of the record. “People seem to have a new record come out and a month later [fans] are like, ‘Hey when do you have something new coming?’ People go through music so fast,” he says. “These songs need some time to live…I’m talking about real-life stuff, and the fact without Jesus we’re in trouble. When you’re giving hope to people that you know need hope, you want to make sure that they are hearing everything you are saying so I thought we needed to space this out.”
Casting Crowns embarks on the Healer tour Feb. 17th with opening acts We Are Messengers and Jonathan Traylor. Presented by Compassion International, the outing kicks off in Baltimore, Md.