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The First Rule of Fight Church Is...

The NYTimes reported today on the latest version of "muscular Christianity," which apparently pictures Jesus as an Ultimate Fighting Champion:

MEMPHIS In the back room of a theater on Beale Street, John Renken, 42, a pastor, recently led a group of young men in prayer. Father, we thank you for tonight, he said. We pray that we will be a representation of you. An hour later, a member of his flock who had bowed his head was now unleashing a torrent of blows on an opponent, and Mr. Renken was offering guidance that was not exactly prayerful. Hard punches! he shouted from the sidelines of a martial arts event called Cage Assault. Finish the fight! To the head! To the head! The young man was a member of a fight team at Xtreme Ministries, a small church near Nashville that doubles as a mixed martial arts academy. Mr. Renken, who founded the church and academy, doubles as the teams coach. The schools motto is Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide.

The article suggests that this literal blending of faith and fighting is a trend catching on in evangelical circles with about 700 such ministries in existence, and "the sport is seen as a legitimate outreach tool by the youth ministry affiliate of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 churches." Anything to get 'em in the door...right?

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We pray that we will be a representation of you. Does Jesus get to weep at these beatings?

This is reminiscent of the old parody (whether it was a parody is debatable) of the muscular anti-communism of the 1950s: Kill a Commie for Christ.Brrrrrrrrrrr.If this is what it takes for Christianity to attract the young, better Christianity should disappear.

Gladiators for Christ?

...there is no Fight Church.

This is a great example why we should always be suspicious when we read about growth in churches. Manipulation of numbers is so widespread. Colleen Carroll made a name for herself among conservative Catholics by writing "The New Faithful" which was basically fiction reported as truth. She now is a favorite of orthodxy, EWTN and The Ethics and Public Policy Center. She made a career for herself alla Glen Beck, tho she is not as manipulative as he.John Allen cites a book in which a French sociologist charts the growth of Catholic evangelica growth and why it is bad. Caveat emptor. Or better; deliver us from evil.http://ncronline.org/blogs/future-church/pondering-roman-collars-latin-m...

So how would people get young men into church? You hardly ever see them unless they're with a wife/girlfriend.

Irene,I appreciate the earnestness of your question, but I think there are two issues to consider. 1. I'm not sure about the numbers, but I suspect the whole idea that it's single young men in particular who aren't showing up at church is a bit overblown. My sense is that single young adults in general are not all that involved in church life. Even for those who were involved in campus churches, it can be very hard after college to go to church at a parish made up of families on your own. I don't think its a gender thing. Of course, the some want to make it a gender thing, but I think that's because they're invested in rehabilitating/perpetuating certain understandings of masculinity and femininity within their own patriarchal traditions. So, it's convenient to say, "Hey look, single young men are not going to church. It must be because we aren't manly enough for them!"2. There's a larger issue that I think is interesting here, which has to do with the fine line between evangelization and marketing. Of course, I think we are called to preach the Gospel to all (using words when necessary), but how do we make sure it is the Gospel we are preaching. I think this is a particular problem for protestants (particularly non-denomenational protestants) given the more fractured and independent nature of their ecclessiology. This creates two issues: a. because the flow of money from parishoners to the church is more refracted in the Catholic Church, I think that priests feel less inclined to play the numbers game. This is to say that it seems priests are less worried about being fired if numbers go down because they aren't "independent spiritual contractors" employed directly by their congregants. They also don't have families to support, which also translates to less financial pressure to put butts in the seats. b. I think the Catholic Church just has more "brand recognition" and more centralized "brand management." What you see is what you get, and everybody pretty much knows what they're signing up for (like Coca-Cola Classic, where all you need is to show a white polar bear drinking the stuff). You don't need a lot of gimmicks just to get people to pay attention (like Gene Simmons pitching "amazingly smooth" Dr. Pepper with Cherry). That may be changing, but if its a problem in the Catholic Church, it's certainly a bigger problem for protestants.

So, the question is: How does one preach the gospel in a way that makes it accessible and inviting without compromising the message?

One gives an example by understanding that the church, people, must always reform themselves. We stop saying how everyone else "subsists" in the church while we have the whole magilla, when indeed we ignore the words of Jesus: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;"We lampoon the downtrodden while we support the empire the church has become.

Thank you for responding to my question about attracting young men (or young people) to church. While I think the 'fight club' approach is over the top, I don't know if more aggressive outreach and creative programs to get young people to church would be a bad thing. I don't know anything about evangelization, but I did do some community organizing for a while, where a lot of the work is about connecting to people where they are, not relying on them to come to you. I took a cross-country camping trip with my family last Summer and I was really struck by how often I ran into Christian outreach groups in all kinds of venues. A college mission group ran children's activities programs at a campground in the Outer Banks; they did arts and crafts and mixed it up with a couple of Christian-themed morality plays. At a campground in Pennsylvania, a local church held a non-denominational service with a really nice hot lunch afterwards; I was at a 4th of July street fair in Jefferson City, MO, where a church group had clowns and face-painting for kids, and intertwined it with Bible stories. My favorite were the Bikers for Jesus (or a name something like that) that I camped next to in the Black Hills; they would do bike runs to raise money for charity. These folks were all over the place; I thought I would be put off by them, but I found them all to be really nice and kind people. In contrast, while I've seen wonderful Catholic outreach through social service programs, here and overseas, to the underserved, to poor and homeless people, and new immigrants and women in need, I haven't seen the kinds of outreach programs I described above to connect with more mainstream folks. I don't know if these programs are effective in recruiting, but I thought they were interesting and I liked their energy.

Patricia, you beat me (so to speak) to it. There is a long history in Chicago of Catholic institutions supporting boxing. The Golden Gloves tournament in Chicago is still, I believe, held at St. Andrew's school gym on the North Side. Probably its involvement in boxing is for some of the same reasons that this Evangelical pastor supports kick-boxing (or whatever this is) - it brings young toughs into the church who otherwise would be brawling in the street.

I'm always struck by how much marketing there is in our world. On NPR today I was listening to a history of how depression drugs were marketed to Drs. by the insistance that it was a disease--this was in the 60's. We do not need to do the marketing if we have faith. Lately, I have been touched by the gentleness of the show "Touched by an Angel" on some pretty hardened fictional characters. Some young people are waiting to be challenged, not met where they are, but lifted out of it.