After being eliminated from Idol, Dixon said he wanted to make a "faith-based album" without alienating a wider audience for his debut. Dixon signed to Sparrow Records in September and released his first single later that month. Dixon said his biggest was "trying to choose 11, 12 songs for the record out of the 50 or so that I wrote, but it came together so well."
Dixon contributed to all of the songs except for "Let Them See You," saying "I heard this song from a friend of mine and I just had to have it on my record. It finished the record perfectly!"
The majority of "A Messenger" was produced and mixed by Red Decibel (Adam Watts, Andy Dodd and Gannin Arnold).
Two singles were released before the album's release. The first single was "Never Gone," released as a promotional single on September 25, 2012. Dixon says that the song "sums up my American Idol experience. There were times when I felt like I was by myself, or just felt unplugged from reality. There were even times when I asked God if He was still there...He always answered 'I was never gone.'" The song has sold 28,000 copies since its release.
A Messenger has received positive reviews from music critics. At CCM Magazine, Andy Argyrakis felt that Dixon "not only excels vocally, but turns in a vibrantly produced pop/rock statement on finding purpose and being a light in the darkness", and noted that the album has "an appropriate title that showcases his lifelong faith." Laura Chambers of Christian Music Review told that "the message Colton Dixon carries comes through loud and clear." Christian Music Zine's Jared Conaster wrote that "this CD is his breaking out, his introduction into the world of Christian music that will last a long, long time", and that "Colton came out of the gate hitting a grand slam." Michelle Amabile Angermiller of The Hollywood Reporter gave the album a positive review, saying "Dixon's release displays plenty of the Christian rocker's emotional vocals and energetic piano punctuated by positive lyrics, and most importantly, his message of hope. It's a comforting debut bringing light into an increasingly dark world." Royal.T of New H2O told that the release "has delivered a very solid effort that exceeded many expectations that he set on the show."
Jonathan Andre of Indie Vision Music felt that "with poetic melodies and songwriting skills beyond his years, Colton’s Sparrow Records debut is bound to receive both praise and backlash in both musical industries", however he said that "well done Colton for such an enjoyable and encouraging album!" At Jesus Freak Hideout, Cortney Warner questioned with writing that "Will it be put down in the books as the best and brightest debut for a new artist? Probably not, but this record should appease his fans from Idol as well as enthusiasts of mainstream CCM music", but "A Messenger remains a solid effort." Asok Abhijith of Music Perk wrote that the release was "awesome", and that it is the "best possible career launcher by Dixon". At New Release Tuesday, Kevin Davis felt that "these songs will certainly connect with radio listeners and showcase the multi-talented singer/songwriter's trademark balance with vocal tenderness and intensity, his energetic piano playing and, above all, a sense of hope and inspiration", and he alluded to how "this album encourages listeners to be a messenger."
In its first week of sales, A Messenger sold 22,000 copies and debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard 200. It also debuted at No. 1 on the US Christian Charts and US Gospel Charts. As of May 2013, the album has sold 100,000 copies in the US.