Early in its career, the band Third Day was opening a few dates for 1970s and '80s Christian rock icons Petra. Even more impressive than the gig was that the headliners were celebrating 20 years together.
"When we were starting out together, we couldn't fathom doing this for 20 years," guitarist Mark Lee says. "At the time, we were just part of this scene of bands from around Atlanta like Smalltown Poets and The Waiting. If we had just put out a few albums and had a few good years touring, we would have said, 'Hang out the banner, that's a great career.'"
But next year will be 20 for Third Day, which inarguably has maintained its status as one of the top bands in Christian rock and worship music.
Despite the success, the Georgia quartet is not above playing a little weekend church festival — albeit one that attracts thousands of people with a day of fair attractions and concerts by chart-topping Christian recording artists.
Third Day will headline the sixth annual Questapalooza on Saturday at Quest Community Church in Lexington. Seemingly befitting the band's stature, it will become the first band to headline the event twice; it was at the Quest fest in 2009.
"We play a lot of festivals and big events," Lee says. "But as an event put on by one church, Questapalooza might be standing alone."
When it played the fourth Questapalooza, Lee says, the band came away impressed with the church and the event.
The band members got to know Pastor Pete Hise, and "with the vision he has for putting on an event like that, we were blown away. The pastor has this vision for the community, and they're not just out there trying to get Christians to drop their church and come to their church. They're getting to know people and want to reach people that don't even come to church.
"When you read in the New Testament, that's what Jesus did. He had a diverse group of people who were attracted to his message."
That's also more or less what Third Day has done for 19 years.
The band has gone through numerous profiles during the past two decades, coming in the midst of the early-1990s grunge movement and lightly echoing Pearl Jam. A few albums in, the group embraced a Southern rock and soulful sound. Then came a series of worship albums about the turn of the 21st century that established Third Day as a leader in contemporary Christian music's most significant movement, the praise-and-worship trend that made Christian pop music mainstream in many churches, including Quest.
The past two albums, Revelation and Move, have found the band defining a rootsy, Southern sound.
Third Day has grown in popularity and musicianship, Lee says, but those elements have never come into conflict with the group's raison d'etre: ministry.
"When we very first started out, Mac and I wanted to show our faith," Lee says of himself and lead singer Mac Powell. "So our mission was simple, and ideas about artistry and commerce never came into conflict. They all worked well together.
"Through all the changes, we still want to make great music, because if you don't, you should just become a preacher. But we are still excited about out faith, and that's the most important part of what we want to do."