Sk8House: Taking an Extreme God to an Extreme Culture
In a youth culture that values pushing the edge, striving after the unknown, and experiencing a total rush, the Church has been largely unsuccessful in reaching this generation.
Much of society has characterized today’s youth culture as one full of kids bent on going against the mainstream, living on the edge, and valuing independence and individuality of expression.
Twenty years ago, while the world was influencing our teenagers with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, KISS, and the Sex Pistols, the church failed to connect with teens musically and culturally. Only in the last decade has Christian music started to break through our public radio waves.
Now a second wave is hitting our teenagers—the extreme culture. ESPN’s X-Games and Gravity Games are indicative of a movement geared toward pushing the edge and discovering the unknown. The Church has an opportunity to reach this extreme generation by sharing the truths of an extreme God.
Becoming All Things
We must meet them where they are in their culture by creating an environment that allows them to be who they are—while still proclaiming Christ. Our methods of reaching the un-reached must change as culture changes; this was at the core of the early church and Paul’s teachings. Paul shared this type of ministry with the church at Corinth when he said, “To those outside the law I became as one outside the lawso that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:21-22)
Many think of this marginalized group of youth as messed up rebels looking for attention and trouble. Some say skating is a fad while others accuse it of being a rebellious following. Still others are completely unaware of this quickly growing teen subculture. Some question pouring time and energy into this “small group of students.” This is unfortunate.
A Way of Life
It’s critical to understand that this culture is more than a sport, a style of music, clothing, piercing, or hair color. While image and unique self-presentation encourage respect among peers, this culture is a way of thinking and a way of life. They have serious commitment, poise, and confidence. As a whole, they don’t ascribe to absolutes and are attracted to realism, logic, and experiential faith. And while they might not verbalize it, the extreme culture is hungry for God and interested in spiritual experimentation.
All the while, law enforcement kicks them off private business property, schools have “No Skating” signs all around the parking lots, and most churches won’t accept them in their building or on their parking lots. As men and women committed to youth ministry, we must take steps to offer God to this un-reached culture.
Recently I stopped at a local gas station and saw a package of Doritos. I saw next to the regular Nacho Doritos a new kind called “Extreme Doritos.” I stopped for lunch at a McDonald’s and saw window posters advertising their “Extreme” Meals. If you pay attention to Mountain Dew commercials, teen shows, movies, or music, you’ll find the influence of extreme culture all around you. This culture has been so influential in the last few years that it has hit the mainstream. In varying degrees, we all have these students in our communities. Look at some of your students and their friends, and you will find evidence of extreme culture.
Is it possible to reach this extreme culture for Christ? You bet! Sk8House started two years ago with a few boxes, a half-dozen kids from the church who had skate boards, and a couple of dedicated youth leaders. Now it’s a separate youth ministry that welcomes nearly 200 skaters a week. This ministry has had over 400 skaters come in and out of its doors, with more than 70 making first-time commitments to Christ, and nearly 20 coming to k8Church each Sunday night just to hang out. They come because at Sk8House they feel accepted. I believe, with God’s help, this sport can be used as a ministry tool to impact this culture.
Skating is quickly growing in popularity, and will continue doing so. Reaching out requires sanding against the grain and breaking through some traditional barriers to reach a nontraditional culture. I’ve watched skaters blossom under encouragement to be and express themselves as individuals. Surrounded by piercings, tattoos, hair coloring, and much more, we corporately pray, discuss issues, and gather together to share life experiences. The leaders respond with biblical principles and Scripture, teaching how God wants them to live and love. This ministry is booming because this culture is hungry for God’s authentic love.
Case in Point
Jake is a stereotypical skate dude who wears the attire and has the attitude. He started coming to Sk8House about a year ago, and he brought with him all of his problems. He was neglected at home; he smoked, drank, was sarcastic, and lost his temper with little provocation. Despite hating Sk8House’s mandatory devotional, Jack continued to come back. But he continued to complain and bang his board against the floor, keeping himself and others from hearing the truth of Jesus.
Every night we give students two hours of free skating, music, games, and a safe place, asking only that they hear us out for a ten-minute devotional. They don’t have to agree with us, but they must be quiet and be willing to listen. After a couple of reminders and two warnings, we sat Jake down, told him that we cared about him but explained that because he refused to respect devotionals he wouldn’t be allowed to return for six months. He left in awell, let’s just say Jake wasn’t pleased. Six weeks later, guess who came back? Jake said he was sorry, and that he’d start respecting the church and us.
Over the next few weeks, I watched a change take place in Jake. One night as one of the leaders of Sk8House spoke, Jake accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He began a new extreme journey that night, and has developed into a Sk8House leader and continues to grow in Christ. Jake is just one of the many students who never would’ve darkened the doors of a church under normal circumstances and is now living for Christ. Because we created a place for this culture to come and be accepted, lives are being transformed.
What We’ve Learned
I’ve learned five very simple principles that remain the foundation of our ministry to this culture and can be applied to any ministry. Of course, these principles tend to play themselves out differently in an alternative ministry setting.
1. We try to be real and transparent with students. This generation hates hypocrisy. They dislike society telling them how to act and what to do to fit in. They don’t care about authority based on position, so we try to be ourselves and uphold our beliefs. We don’t force our thoughts and beliefs down their throats, but instead live out the love of Jesus.
2. We must be relational. One of the things I love about Jesus Christ is that relationships were the focus of his ministry. What is this generation interested in doing? What music do they like? We try to create an environment in which a relationship can be fostered, and in which we can share Christ out of that relationship.
3. Remaining God-focused is critical. No matter what’s done in ministry, the focus and overall purpose must be to share the truth of God. Jesus Christ should be evident through every method used to reach this culture. God must be the focus in the rules, the training of leaders, the lessons, and the overall environment.
4. Being purposeful about how we reach the extreme culture is another important principle. In the spirit of Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry, at Sk8House, we have events for outreach (Sk8Fests, All-Nite Sk8s, tournaments, and an environment with loud music, games, and food), events for discipleship (mid-week skate nights with a ten-minute lesson, small groups, etc.), events for worship (Sk8Church, small group Bible Study, and some loud, alternative worship music), and events for relationship building (all areas of events should be relational based). Everything we do has a specific purpose which we use to organize the ministry and measure effectiveness.
5. Like Paul, we need to be all things to all students. No longer can we just minister to our kind, staying within our comfort zones. We must, as youth leaders, change the face of ministry and evangelism. Whether we reach the extreme culture through building a skate park, creating a center that attracts these students, developing small groups, or creating a church service that’s appealing to this crowd, we must do something to reach them. We mustn’t let them pass us by without sharing the love of our extreme God.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.