The song “I Can Only Imagine,” performed by the contemporary Christian group MercyMe and written by lead singer Bart Millard, is about Millard’s imaginations of meeting Jesus Christ for the first time. Inspiration for the song came from the death of Millard’s father in 1991. Millard found himself repeatedly writing the phrase “I can only imagine” for several years following his father’s death from cancer. This phrase gave him peace as he imagined what his dad was finally experiencing.
In 1999, during an independent song-writing project, Millard wrote “I Can Only Imagine” on a tour bus at 2 a.m., while returning home from a show. Millard said that he wrote the song in just 10 minutes and felt he was a spectator who observed the song-writing process. Millard said that, in life, his father expressed his preference to be in heaven rather than on Earth with his son, and a young Millard used the song to ask God questions about heaven's greatness.
The song “I Can Only Imagine” first appears on the band’s 1999 album “The Worship Project.” A re-recorded version also appears on the band's major debut album “Almost There” and is the album's lead single. The song reached No. 1 on the Christian music charts and received airtime on both secular and Christian radio.