THE REASON captures the essence of a cutting edge, no holds barred worship experience that has exploded into a movement known as Eleven22.
Birthed by a mutual desire to reach the “unreachable,” Eleven22, comprising Ben Williams, Jonathan Berlin, Gretchen Martin and Maria Dunlap, originally formed as a worship team at Beach United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. Moving in the same spirit as Jesus Culture and Passion, the powerfully gifted group, while no stranger to success—its song Rooftops made popular by Jesus Culture—was soon hearing the call to a new season of devotion.
“What kept coming to our hearts was that we needed our songs to be a conversation to God—not about Him,” pastor and worship leader Ben Williams recalls. “You see, when we pour our hearts out to Him; all of the good, the bad and the ugly, that’s when He makes His presence known to us in a powerful way. That’s when people are set free.”
Eleven22 was searching for a way to express this in its new album when fifteen-year-old McKenzie Wilson appeared at a worship service one evening and not only gave her life to God but led her parents to the Lord as well. Though McKenzie’s untimely death only one month later would rock their entire community, it was discovering her life and the passion with which she lived it that inspired Eleven22 to write the songs that would become its new album, The Reason.
“Stories about McKenzie’s love and compassion for others just started spreading like wildfire,” Williams recounts. “The more we heard, the more we wanted to know. It wasn’t long after that, her dad gave me her Bible, and I began to read her notes inside. ”
Those notes, musings and conversations with God, would not only inspire the songs on The Reason but, like the heart of Eleven22, become a revolutionary cry to the lost, hurt and broken that they matter to God.
Challenging its listeners with original songs like “Burning Hearts,” “The Reason” as well as “I Belong to You,” Eleven22’s new finger-on-the-pulse worship and powerful live performance are drawing young people in droves, encouraging them to reach for a more meaningful worship experience, one inspired by the heart of a young girl.
Produced by The Myriad’s Jeremy Edwardson, The Reason opens with “I Found a Love,” a triumphant celebration of all those who have made their way through life’s storms to discover God’s true love—a song made particularly poignant after it was found written in McKenzie’s Bible. “Her joy just came alive to us when we uncovered those lyrics,” Williams remembers. “It seemed right for us to begin this album where we all begin; when our eyes are opened, and we are changed forever by the truth.”
“Burning Hearts,” a passionate call to intimate worship, came to Williams one day as he was reading Luke 24:32: “…Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” It’s a message Eleven22 strives to share with young people who show up searching for a real connection with God. “When I read that scripture, I immediately felt the connection,” says Williams. “It really stirred the passion within me to continue to sing songs to the Lord and to pray that hearts will burn, knowing He is near.”
The title track, “The Reason” is a powerful, honest expression of coming to realize that God is our reason for being here—even if we don’t always understand the journey. The song originated from worship leader Jonathan Berlin’s experience watching two parents go through one of the most difficult times of their lives and his desire to let them know it’s “okay to have questions, to even be angry when life doesn’t make sense because God loves you through it all.”
The heart-pounding surrender of “I Belong to You” began from a single line written by McKenzie in her Bible that resounded with Eleven22. “There is something so pure about her writing,” Williams says, “it really affected me. I mean, I have been in church my whole life, but I found that it made me want to be a better pastor and worship leader, a better husband, a better father—to inspire others like she inspired me.” Written by Williams and Berlin, the song takes us on a journey of confessing who we truly belong to, discovering that our purpose is meant to be shared with the world: ‘ I belong to You, I belong to You. All I have, everything I am. All for you.’
“I remember someone telling us that McKenzie asked everyone attending her birthday party to bring money instead of gifts—then she turned around and donated all of the money to an orphanage,” Williams adds. “Her reason for being here was to be a voice for those who have no voice, and that’s our reason too.”
Eleven22 will be donating the proceeds from its new album to The McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation, established by McKenzie’s parents to honor her dream of building orphanages around the world. The first orphanage, “Amaka ga McKenzie” in Uganda, Africa, was built in 2011 thanks to the fundraising efforts of local teens inspired by McKenzie’s passion to “think globally” and includes a girls home, a boys home, and a home for abandoned babies.