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Turning the tide: As traditional churches see interest wane, upstarts draw in young people

Velocity Church Pastor Justin Jenkins, right, and his wife, Marissa, discuss relationships during a Velocity Church service Sunday, March 10, 2013, at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

Velocity Church Pastor Justin Jenkins, right, and his wife, Marissa, discuss relationships during a Velocity Church service Sunday, March 10, 2013, at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

March 18, 2013

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From left, Heather Johnson sings while Jackson Swain and Andrew Shaw, all of Lawrence, play during a Velocity Church service March 10, 2013, at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

From left, Heather Johnson sings while Jackson Swain and Andrew Shaw, all of Lawrence, play during a Velocity Church service March 10, 2013, at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

The Rev. Justin Jenkins, right, pastor of Velocity Church, visits with Derock Swaggert, left, and Brysson Rockwell, both of Tampa, Fla., following a Velocity Church service March 10 at Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

The Rev. Justin Jenkins, right, pastor of Velocity Church, visits with Derock Swaggert, left, and Brysson Rockwell, both of Tampa, Fla., following a Velocity Church service March 10 at Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

Bars aren’t the only venue downtown where patrons can find dim lights, loud music and 20-somethings swaying rhythmically.

Visit Velocity Church, Greenhouse Culture or Vintage Church on any given Sunday morning and you likely will see a similar scene. These churches offer the Gospel of Christ in what some might call a hipster-friendly setting.

Justin Jenkins, 30, is pastor of Velocity Church, which meets at Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

Jenkins launched the church with $25,000 from the Association of Related Churches in 2011. He said he hopes to lead people closer to God.

The association provides funds to ministers who want to plant a church in the form of an interest-free loan, association spokesman Guy Walker said. When the new church pays back the loan, the association invests that money into planting another church.

At Velocity, Jenkins is the only paid staff member. He said this keeps costs down and enables the church to give more back to the community.

Last year, on the Sunday before Christmas, Jenkins didn’t collect an offering. Instead, he passed out envelopes filled with $50 bills and told the congregation to take the money and use it to help someone in need.

Jenkins said the church gave away $3,500 that Sunday, about 40 percent of its monthly offering intake at the time.

“The whole point was we want generosity for people. We don’t want generosity from people,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins would not disclose how much the church brings in each month, but he said giving has jumped dramatically in 2013.

‘A church that cares’

Jenkins trained for his ministry career at Rhema Bible Training College, a nonaccredited school in Broken Arrow, Okla.

The Association of Related Churches doesn’t require the pastors it supports to be ordained by a denomination or trained in an accredited seminary.

“There are actually studies today that show that the most successful churches are run by guys who have business degrees instead of seminary degrees,” Walker said.

Like Jenkins, pastors Jared Scholz, 33, and Deacon Godsey, 38, do not have seminary degrees.

Scholz started Greenhouse Culture, which meets in the former Masonic Temple at 10th and Massachusetts Streets, last March.

Godsey became pastor at Vintage Church in 2011. Vintage Church launched eight years ago and meets at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School at 15th and Massachusetts streets.

These three churches located within a mile of each other share a similar style of worship.

Congregants don’t have to wear their Sunday best for services. Jeans, T-shirts and hoodies are welcome. Hymnals and choirs have been replaced by overhead projector screens and praise bands.

Kansas University senior Hunter Finch, 22, said he likes that Vintage has so many people his age at various stages in their faith.

“That’s what attracted me the most to Vintage,” Finch said.

Finch plans to stay in Lawrence after graduation to work with the college ministry at Vintage.

“I’m very fortunate to have found a church that cares so much about me and cares so much about other people,” he said.

Young people in the church

While downtown’s new nondenominational churches have shown growth over the last few years, churches with ties to traditional denominations don’t show as much growth among young adults. 

According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 31 percent of people in the United States who do not affiliate with any religion are age 18 to 29. The study said 40 percent of those who do not affiliate with any religion are age 30 to 49.

“We are all in a decline mode,” said Jay Henderson, pastor at Central United Methodist Church, 1501 Massachusetts St.

The pastors at Velocity, Vintage and Greenhouse Culture said they want to present the Gospel in a way that is relevant to young adults to help curb those trends.

“We are not stereotypical,” Jenkins said.

These pastors said their style of worship sets them apart, while their message of preaching the biblical teachings of Jesus falls in line with many traditional evangelical Protestant churches.

This come-as-you-are approach attracts 20-somethings who otherwise may not attend church services.

Recent KU graduate Carlynn Castle, 22, attended a service at Velocity a few weeks ago. Castle said that she has never been a regular church attender but that she liked the upbeat feel at Velocity.

“I would always dread going to other churches,” Castle said.

Henderson said he wants to learn about the style these churches are using to attract young adults, but he said he believes a more progressive theology is necessary to keep young adults in the church for the long haul.

“Young adults are going to say, ‘I have gay friends and gay family. It doesn’t seem relevant to me, or possible for me, to be a part of a group that says they are going to hell,’” Henderson said. “Ultimately, they are not really being relevant to where young people are today.”

But pastors at Velocity, Vintage and Greenhouse Culture don’t focus on hot-button issues such as homosexuality. 

“At our church, we want to be known for what we are for, not what we are against,” Jenkins said.

Relevant message

Jenkins demonstrated his unorthodox style on March 3 when he challenged the married couples of his congregation to have sex with their spouse once a day for seven consecutive days. He called it the “sexperiment challenge.”

Jenkins preached the sermon with his wife, Marissa. As the overhead projector lifted after praise and worship, a bed surrounded by an entrance gate came out onto the stage.

Jenkins and his wife talked about the areas of a couple’s lives that could keep them from intimacy. As they addressed each “sexcuse,” they pulled back a section from the gate. When all the sections were removed, the couple sat on the bed together and delivered the rest of the sermon.

Father of five Chad Bowen, 47, said he appreciated the message behind the “sexperiment challenge.” “(Sex is) addressed in the media and advertisements,” Bowen said.

Bowen said he likes that Jenkins addresses issues that are relevant to the congregation, such as sex.

“We should not be ashamed to talk about something that God was not ashamed to create,” Jenkins said.

Comments

cheeseburger 1 year ago

Just as the LJW has tried to eliminate republican and democrat bashing and generalizations, perhaps they would also consider eliminating the bashing of people based on religious beliefs.

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Liberal 1 year ago

As if to underscore that point, a hilarious contradiction: "I have not personally attacked you or anyone else...[a few sentences later]...I could really care less about you sitting in your mom's basement looking at porn."

The first thing to go is the sense of humor...

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fiddleback 1 year, 1 month ago

"Your arguments have been nothing but generalizations."

So quote me one. I'll grant you that my first comment was a bit broad and scathing, but the rest have aimed to discuss specific theology adopted by these churches.

Liberal: "That is why when you actually look at Charitable donations it is not the Democrats giving back...If it is tearing someone else down, trying to make them feel stupid or incompetent then you can bet it is a radical liberal who is doing it."

You're right, that sounds totally emotionless and in no way like a generalization...I'm sorry that the information you referenced isn't nearly the partisan cudgel you clearly wish it was; again, from the very Kristof article you linked to:

"It’s true that religion is the essential reason conservatives give more, and religious liberals are as generous as religious conservatives. Among the stingiest of the stingy are secular conservatives. According to Google’s figures, if donations to all religious organizations are excluded, liberals give slightly more to charity than conservatives do."

"Most world religions discuss the exact same thing"

Indeed, many religions do have an afterlife abyss and paths of salvation, but the concept of eternal damnation for non-belief is more unique to the Abrahamic faiths.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soteriology http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_...

Sorry, but you're reading far more emotion and hatred in my language than is actually there, accusing me of bitterness when the problem seems to be your unwillingness to accept that while individual spirituality is indeed "an inside game," theology is definitely not. If you recognized theology as a worthy subject of debate rather than something criticized only by the bitter and hateful, you might then grasp that I've kept atop this thread for the opportunity to have uninhibited dialogues with both critics and adherents. This argumentation is a pastime for me, whereas it clearly unnerves you and causes you write (and repeat) far more presumptuous and ugly things than anything I've written.

As if to underscore that point, a hilarious contradiction: "I have not personally attacked you or anyone else...[a few sentences later]...I could really care less about you sitting in your mom's basement looking at porn."

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Liberal 1 year, 1 month ago

The bottom line is spirituality is an inside game. What is inside the heart of a person in any church is theirs and theirs alone. You can not make generalizations about a Christian any more then you can a Muslim or anyone else. I have known atheist who live a live of love as I have known Christians who live a life of hate.

The words you write really speak to where you come from and it is hilarious to read all of the haters comments.

The bitterness in your heart shines through and I feel compassion for your pain. Hopefully someday you will wake up. May the day come soon.

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Sherry Warren 1 year, 1 month ago

I attend a wide variety of faith communities, and worry about the ones where the leadership has little formal training in theology or philosophy. From my visits: Too much patriarchy... no thanks. Too much in-crowd behavior such that new people are not welcome... I pass. Too much clapping.... ruins the mood that somebody worked hard to create. Bigotry or homophobia wrapped up in scripture... oh H-E-double toothpicks NO! Certainly can't stomach being told that I deserve to consume more/have more/be blessed more because of anything I have done.

For those who think that people only go to services for one reason - be it salvation, redemption, a message of hope, the chance to be quiet once a week - many people go because they want to be in a community. "We are all on a spiritual journey; some of us think we do it better together" from one of my favorite ministers.

I go for community, music, quiet, hopefully a message that challenges me to think about my existence, not one that tells me to blindly follow dead guys or ministers or words taken out of context..

Atheists go to services! Anyone can be a bad person regardless of their faith or upbringing. Faith communities do good work, and so do individuals and civic groups. The sweeping generalizations and vitriol spewed on this board are indicative of a much larger problem on this planet.

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oldbaldguy 1 year, 1 month ago

i have finally decided there are many paths to god. i happen to go to a baptist church, probably because my family has been going to one since they hit amercian shores in the 1700s. if you are an atheist, i do not care and i do not expect you to believe the way i do. if there is an afterlife i suspect we will all be there. nothing wrong with what is going on at these youthful churches.

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Steven Gaudreau 1 year, 1 month ago

Fiddle, must be drawing your conslusions from personal experience from your upbringing. From my experience, I find the Catholic church mirrors most of your beliefs which is why I am no longer a Catholic but a Christian. I was angry and did not believe in God for two decades due to my Catholic upbringing. I was angry and depressed and believed everone else was ignorant to believe in God. Out of desperation, I started to attend Grace Church. I found a whole new way to experience God but the politics of Grace did not work for me. I Now attend Vintage and find the church wonderful. Niether Vintage or Grace state anyone will burn in help, that's not man's job or decision. All these types of churches do is explain their view of interpreting the Bible and encourage free thinking. If you want to educate yourself, why not spend an hour next sunday at Vintage and see for yourself if any harm is being done. You seem like a professor type person, think of it as a lecture.

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Gotland 1 year, 1 month ago

Most traditional churches are full of crotchety bitter old people afraid you will steal their seat in heaven. Filled mostly with baby boomers so self-absorbed they think the world will end when they die. Who wants to be around these people?

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Steven Gaudreau 1 year, 1 month ago

I love how all the "free thinkers" keep making uneducated statements about these churches they know absolutly nothing about. False acusations, conjecture and hatred makes one seem very closed minded. I can speak from experience that Vintage church had four homeless individuals in the front row last Sunday, which is common, and I have two gay friends who belong to Vintage and no one has ever asked them to change their lifestyle. Gay individuals having sex is no different then two single hetros having sex. The church does not condemn those having unmarried sex either. Teaching the Word of God is educating, not condemnation.

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weiser 1 year, 1 month ago

Atheists do so much more preaching and attempting to recruit people to their religion than Chritians.. Amazing.....why do they care? Lack of attention by their mothers?

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smileydog 1 year, 1 month ago

Traditional conservative churches keep thriving, traditional liberal churches see interest wane.

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overplayedhistory 1 year, 1 month ago

What's the difference between a therapist, Hip pastor spiritual guide and a con man? Its not money! Thats the commonality. All 3 cases money is extracted with no tangible received goods. One uses school, one uses God, and the last uses their wits and does not even try to convince themselves that they are providing something in exchange. Yet the consumer does get something valuable from the con man, an expensive lesson.
Which is the most honest?

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Irenaku 1 year, 1 month ago

wallace222: If hipster pastor Justin will be quoted in an LJWorld article stating clearly that his church is open and affirming, i.e., that individual sexual orientation and gender expression do not inhibit one from joining and serving, and are nobody's business except that individual, then perhaps I would be inclined to visit. Until then, thanks but no thanks. One of the best things I learned in college was how to think critically, and I find it insulting that these kinds of pastors and church members would insult my intelligence so fiercely as to assume that I can be persuaded by Christian rock music, guys with long hair and crappy Brass Buckle styles. It will take more than coffee, donuts and loud PA's to bring me in the door: how about authenticity? I would rather see Fred Phelps standing on the corner spouting his hate and insanity than listen to any of these "hipster" churches...at least Fred is honest.

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phoggyjay 1 year, 1 month ago

"Jenkins would not disclose how much the church brings in each month, but he said giving has jumped dramatically in 2013."

GOD = MONEY = GOD = MONEY = GOD = MONEY

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bearded_gnome 1 year, 1 month ago

for an alternative, "hipsters" ... ahem ...

www.wretched.tv

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verity 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm puzzled. Why would I go to church to listen to a person with a business degree?

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Liberal 1 year, 1 month ago

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/opinion/21kristof.html

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Liberal 1 year, 1 month ago

That is why when you actually look at Charitable donations it is not the Democrats giving back. It is Church going people who by and large happen to be Republican....

If it is tearing someone else down, trying to make them feel stupid or incompetent then you can bet it is a radical liberal who is doing it. Someone who likes to demean and add nothing positive to the world. The numbers do not lie. Look at the post here who is polite and who goes on spittle inducing uncontrolled rants....

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midwest_muser 1 year, 1 month ago

One of the best things that that could happen to America would be for all the folks that hate churches to channel that energy into doing 1/2 the good the churches do and just let people believe what they wish without the endless anger.

2

weiser 1 year, 1 month ago

Wow! The things that scare you people....

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Irenaku 1 year, 1 month ago

These "hey-we're-hip-it's-all-good" churches are no different from the in-your-face xenophobic churches, EXCEPT that these churches attempt to veil their exclusiveness and bigotry under the guise of a pastor with an intentional five o'clock shadow, an earring, a faded American Eagle jeans and an Ed Hardy hoodie in an attempt to attract followers. Makes me sick. Bottom line: if you are LGBT or Q and you walk into one of these churches with your significant other, they may be nice to you, they may give you "Christian" hugs and invite you to sing and have coffee and donuts, but eventually, if you express an interest in joining said church in any capacity, you will be told that you have to change. They prey on the core need of most people, particularly those who have been marginalized: the need to belong. It always comes down to that, it is always the same. I would rather have hate be obvious and detectable, rather than veiled under ostensible kindness.

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nocrybabies 1 year, 1 month ago

A micro brew/church would be a winning combo. A few stout beers might loosen me up enough to swallow the religion.

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fiddleback 1 year, 1 month ago

"These pastors said their style of worship sets them apart, while their message of preaching the biblical teachings of Jesus falls in line with many traditional evangelical Protestant churches."

No, it doesn't set them apart, as many evangelical churches and especially mega-churches use this exact same strategy-- make a harshly dichotomized and inhumane theology more palatable with the trappings of a rock concert.

As "mothergoat" illustrated above, the underlying tenet of their faith is a "members-only" condemnation of the majority of the world's population to hell. That the word "evangelical" isn't more synonymous with hateful spiritual arrogance is a testament to the success of their "be known for what we are for" Pollyannish spin. Disgusting that so many of what I would call "Tacit Damnation Stations" could gain such momentum in Lawrence.

4

weiser 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm in my 50s and switched to the Greenhouse last year. If I personally experienced a health miracle, and you want to call it Hocus Pocus, go ahead. I call it the loving hand of my Savior, Jesus Christ. In fact that is what I will tell the next doctor who tell me they can't believe what they have seen.

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pea 1 year, 1 month ago

Went to a "service" at some rock and roll church a few months ago (not in Lawrence, but nearby). No sense of ceremony or occasion. People on their phones, walking in and out to get coffee and donuts, rock band members on stage in t-shirts. No sense of gravity at all. Booming bass through the PA. Fashionable, handsome young man in a flannel delivering the main talk. The people that took me probably assumed I would really just love it since I'm young, musical, possibly "edgy", but gah, I was just really grossed out. I grew up Catholic and abandoned it as soon as I could but would still much prefer going to Catholic mass where there is at least, a sense of awe and earnestness.

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Lathrup 1 year, 1 month ago

I am not one of the 20 somethings referred to earlier. First time I went to Velocity I was in a 3pc suit as is usual for my more formal church. Boy was I overdressed. Now I go in jeans and a shirt. So does everyone else and the message is the same one I get from the Main Line churches. Justin does good work there and I support him.

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mcontrary 1 year, 1 month ago

As an atheist and a humanist, I'd like to see all donations going to charities. 60% is a steep adminstrative charge. It's indeed scary that an MBA is the best preparation for beginning a ministry, but it's indicative of the personal objectives of many ministers and most religions.

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voevoda 1 year, 1 month ago

If these churches teach their members to emulate Christ-- to welcome outcasts without judging them, to share their worldly goods unstintingly with the poor, to be forgiving to those who wrong them, to eschew all forms of violence--then they are good for our community. I hope that is the case, but it's not entirely clear from the article.

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Bob Forer 1 year, 1 month ago

There are actually studies today that show that the most successful churches are run by guys who have business degrees instead of seminary degrees,” Walker said.

Well, of course. Selling God has become big business.

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Armstrong 1 year, 1 month ago

I see the liberal posters are hard at it practicing the tolerance and acceptance montra -not

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Ken Miller 1 year, 1 month ago

You can help people and be nice to people because it's the right thing to do. You don't need a church to tell you that in order to facilitate the action.

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mothergoat 1 year, 1 month ago

Justin, Deacon and Jared are three quality guys with great hearts for this city. No matter your church style, you should be grateful to have these guys playing on your team, clearing the way for the current generation to learn about Jesus without having to feel like they have to lose their mind or sense of humor just to show up!

Thanks for the article Arley!

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Gareth 1 year, 1 month ago

Depressing that LJW gives this much coverage to these unsupervised, unregulated, non-denomenational cults.

At least with traditional churches there's a national or world-wide hierarchy, training in ministry, and some degree of accountability.

When these "upstarts" start passing out the Kool-aid, I won't be a bit surprised.

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Romans832 1 year, 1 month ago

"Jenkins demonstrated his unorthodox style on March 3 when he challenged the married couples of his congregation to have sex with their spouse once a day for seven consecutive days. He called it the 'sexperiment challenge.'"

Is he willing to challenge the unmarried couples to refrain from sexual activity (secondary virginity) until marriage?

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eugunieum 1 year, 1 month ago

Sir or Ms, You are entitled to your belief, why can't I have mine, without a put down?

Thanks & have a good day.

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KansasLiberal 1 year, 1 month ago

It's too bad that people who are smart enough to turn away from traditional churches still aren't smart enough to realize that religion is nothing but a silly superstition.

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