EL DORADO, Ark. (BP)–Since the release of their self-titled debut album 15 years ago, Point of Grace has been one of the most successful groups in contemporary Christian music.
Organized during their college years at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., the female vocal group has gone on to earn eight Dove awards as well as a record 24 consecutive No. 1 hits, a feat unmatched by any other recording artist in any genre.
In addition to recording such hits as “The Great Divide,” “Jesus Will Still Be There” and “Circle of Friends,” the group expanded its ministry influence by establishing “Girls of Grace” conferences several years ago. Designed to help educate and encourage middle school and high school girls on such topics as sex, dating, fashion and Christian faith, the effort has attracted more than 100,000 young women in the past five years.
During a return trip to Arkansas as part of their current “All the World Tour,” Ouachita alums Shelley Breen, Denise Jones and Heather Payne took part in a meet and greet reception hosted by Ouachita’s alumni and admissions offices. They were joined by Leigh Cappillino, a graduate of Anderson College and Charleston Southern University who started singing with the group in 2004.
The reception was held prior to a sold-out concert performance in El Dorado’s Municipal Auditorium in early May that also featured Selah and guest performer Michael Passons, a former vocalist with Avalon.
During the pre-concert gathering, the group members reflected on their start at Ouachita and their years of ministry together as well as their current CD project.
Jones, who recalled praying about where to attend college before enrolling at Ouachita, noted, “It was one of the first times I really remember God opening my eyes and saying, ‘This is the path I want for you.’ When I visited Ouachita, just the sense I got immediately on that campus of the love for people and the love for God was really special.”
Recalling that group members have shared during countless concerts about their start at the Baptist university, Jones said, “I can’t tell you how many people all over the country we have correctly taught how to pronounce Ouachita (Wash’-uh-taw).”
Payne, who has since announced her retirement from the group, said she remains in contact with many people she knew during her years at Ouachita, including her former voice teacher, Mary Shambarger.
“I treasure the mentorship she had in my life,” Payne said. “You can’t say anything better about a university than that their staff invests their lives in your life. That really makes all the difference in the world. I know that because I experienced that personally.”
Looking back on their college years, it would have been hard to imagine what was ahead.
“I don’t think we could ever imagine the journey we were beginning at that point,” Breen said. “We really always try to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and we’re grateful that we’re still here and somebody cares. Many people don’t enjoy as long of a career in Christian music — or in any kind of music for that matter — as we have.”
Citing examples of the positive impact of Christian music in individuals’ lives, Breen said, “I am just grateful to be a part of the bigger team that helps us be able to do what we do.”
And the group’s circle of friends is continuing to grow. “How You Live,” the title song of their latest CD, has gained airtime on secular country radio stations, spreading the group’s musical message of faith to a new listening audience.
Cappillino noted that producer Brown Bannister added traditional country instruments such as the banjo, fiddle, mandolin and steel guitar to several of the CD tracks.
“It kind of began to construct itself with this real country kind of feel,” she said. “We’re all about it because we’re as Southern as you come. For us, it really felt as much at home as anything I would think Point of Grace has ever done.”
Cappillino said the songs on the album “How You Live” are very personal for the group.
“I made some really bad choices, and those choices left me with a consequence that really haunted me for a long time,” she said of her college years.
After sharing those struggles with songwriters Nichole Nordeman and Clint Lagerberg, Cappillino said the song they wrote titled “Heal the Wound” became “a beautiful example of how God brings you through miry pits and how He continues to redeem you day after day and year after year.”
With gripping lyrics that declare, “Heal the wound but leave a scar, a reminder of how merciful You are,” Cappillino said, “It’s a little bit of my story.”
“The process on this last record really took a lot longer than maybe most Point of Grace records because we just searched and searched so long for the right songs,” she said.
And the result? “The whole record, we’re really, really proud of.”
Point of Grace is working on an expanded version of the How You Live album to be released in September with new songs.
Trennis Henderson is vice president for communications at Ouachita Baptist University.