To most musicians, playing weekly shows to an audience of nearly 300 would be a dream gig. And for Lake Highlands band One Heart, this is true, but not for the reasons you might expect.

After all, it’s not like there’s a bouncer at the door, collecting cover charges, a percentage of which will later land in the hands of band members. And it’s not as if their continued popularity is likely to land them on grander stages with brighter lights and bigger crowds.

Still, the hour they spend up in front of their regular audience is something they wouldn’t trade for the world. Why?

“It’s really brought a unity within the contemporary congregation – a joy for worship,” says vocalist Patti Smith.

Wait…congregation? Worship? That’s right, One Heart is the band for Lake Highlands United Methodist Church’s contemporary service. Formed in 1995, they were one of the first contemporary church bands in Dallas.

But One Heart shouldn’t be dismissed as just another amateurish church band singing sugary songs of praise. Many of their 11 members are songwriters in their own right, and some are in bands popular outside the pews. They also released a CD, Crossroads, in 1997; put on a community-wide benefit production, Concert on the Hill, every year at Flagpole Hill (the concert is Oct. 3 this year); and are in talks to release a second CD.

Says drummer Glen Williams: “There’s a couple of them (band members) who have the kind of potential that we’re trying to get songs to a couple of people to get airplay. A couple of songs are that good.”

But even given their success, any of One Heart’s band members will tell you their greatest accomplishment is achieved each Sunday morning in front of their congregation.

“A lot of families who come get so much out of being in the service. The music is something they can relate to,” says vocalist Renee Barfoot. “It’s a big congregation, but there’s a very family feeling. Everybody’s real friendly, and everybody knows each other.”

That’s saying something, considering nearly 300 people attend LHUMC’s contemporary services each week. That’s up from about 40 congregants when the service started.

Explains Barfoot: “There are a lot of people in the Lake Highlands neighborhood who were uncomfortable walking into a traditional service setting, who just wanted to come somewhere a little more casual.”

And for many, it was a way to get their children excited about attending Sunday services.

“For our family of four kids, their (the band’s) contemporary style has made them want to go to church again, not just relent,” says neighborhood resident Carol Toler. “I can tell because they come to breakfast on Sunday with clothes on!”

And though it started out as a way to keep the kids coming back, she says she and her husband, Toby, now prefer the service. And they’re not the only ones.

“Lots of people say that, even grandmothers who you’d think would prefer to hear ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ or another old hymn,” Toler says. “There are plenty of gray heads clapping, which has been a surprise.”

A surprise and a blessing say the band members, who are only too happy to continue in their roles.

“When this started, I think it gave people in the band who had a desire to do music an outlet to do it,” Barfoot says.

“And I think we have really evolved over the years into who we are now. We are so much like a family. We’ve been through a lot together. I’ve seen a lot of growth spiritually, within myself and band members, as well as individuals in the congregation.”

Smith agrees, saying of the band’s closeness: “It’s like a family within a family. We have seen one another through personal struggles and held one another up through church-wide struggles.”

One of those struggles inspired the band’s signature annual performance, Concert on the Hill. The show originated six years ago as a benefit concert for the American Cancer Society, in honor of a church member who lost the battle with cancer.

This year, however, the concert’s proceeds will go to Austin Street Shelter, a refuge for the city’s homeless population.

“We’ve got 11 people here who can get our hands dirty and be with people in our city who don’t have a place to live or the luxuries and joy we have as a result of living in Lake Highlands,” Barfoot explains.

And that’s not the only change for this year’s concert. Radio station KLTY has agreed to broadcast the event, and the group is working on obtaining a Jumbotron so that concert attendees can sing along.

“The concert is celebratory. It’s about people coming to sing and celebrate their faith,” Barfoot says.

Adds Smith of the band’s future: “It’s been such a terrific experience. And one that I hope I can continue to have for as long as it’s possible.”

Concert on the Hill is Friday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. on Flagpole Hill. KLTY will start broadcasting an hour before the show. The concert is open to anyone in the community; free admission tickets are available at the Family Christian Store in Northlake Shopping Center. For information on One Heart or the concert, visit www.lhumc.com or www.concertonthehill.org