New, local church targets college students with ’emerging’ style

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Some students say they do not have time. Others think they will not fit in or their lifestyle would subject them to harsh judgment from peers and spiritual leaders. Whatever the reasons, more and more young people are skipping the traditional Sunday service.

The Barna Group, an evangelical research and advocacy organization, said in a September 2006 report only 20 percent of people in their 20s kept the same levels of spiritual activity as they had in high school. One local church aims to attract that age group to a new alternative Sunday service called The Well.

Feb. 10 marked the first meeting of The Well, organized by members of Real Life Church in Manhattan. Whitney McVey, junior in psychology, is a member of the church and one of The Well’s organizers. She said one of the biggest challenges for students is finding a church that feels comfortable after moving to Manhattan.

“When I came [to Manhattan] I was lucky and found a great church,” she said. “That’s not always the case for students. The Well is new, it’s non-traditional and hopefully it can be what some students are looking for.”

The Well meets at 10 a.m. every other Sunday at the Wareham Opera House, 410 Poyntz Ave. The decision to meet somewhere other than a traditional church building was made to decrease the anxiety some young people have about attending religious services.

“For me, going into a church can be kind of intimidating,” McVey said. “We wanted to meet here for people who may be turned off by the idea of church because of certain negative connotations that come along with it. Anyone and everyone can come down. It’s directed more to 18 to 26 year olds because that’s the population that’s turned off by the word ‘Christian.'”

McVey said the purpose of The Well was not to “take people away from their home churches,” but to create another option for worship in Manhattan. The Well’s organizers focused on creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere.

“My job is greeting people,” McVey said. “I’ll be the first person to run up to you and say ‘Hey, what’s up!'”

David Kinnan, pastor of Real Life Church, spoke with 80 people in attendance on Sunday.

Kinnan’s message was delivered between two segments of live music played with two guitars, a bass and drums.

“I’m the teacher,” Kinnan said. “Traditionally known as the sermon or preaching, the teacher will do about 20 minutes of lesson. This is a new worship gathering that we’re offering that has a different flavor to it.”

Kinnan said the idea for The Well started last May, and he and members of his church have been working to put the service together since then. Kinnan said he wants to attract the segment of the college-aged population that feels disconnected from organized religion.

“If you read the surveys that get done all over the U.S., people typically leave the church when they leave home for college or a job,” Kinnan said. “They think it’s irrelevant and boring and full of hypocrites. If people think that, let’s show them it’s not true.”

The number of people who attend the first services will determine if the venture continues. If enough interest is generated, Kinnan said he hopes The Well will become a weekly gathering.

“We’re leasing the Wareham for four Sundays and we’re trying it out,” he said. “We’ll be doing this every other Sunday: [Today], March 9, and March 30. We’ll decide after March 9 if we’ll continue doing it. Hopefully we can do this every week.”

The Well received its name from the story of Jacob’s Well in the New Testament of the Christian bible.

“Jesus met a woman at the well. She was considered socially ugly because she was sleeping with so many men,” Kinnan said. “However, Jesus didn’t say she was less valuable; he just talked with her about faith. That’s what The Well represents – it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or what you’re doing now, your value remains the same. The Well represents a place where you can engage people as Christ did.”

Lance Stafford is the worship director at Real Life Church and the vocalist and guitar player for the band at The Well. Stafford said he hopes The Well draws people by being “a little bit more to the edge” than contemporary church services.

“There’s a catch phrase going around called ’emerging’ or ’emergent’ to describe the new worship culture of people aged 18 to 35,” Stafford said. “The Well is an emerging gathering. The word ‘contemporary’ comes with baggage. You turn on the radio sometimes and hear contemporary Christian music. Some of it is canned and cheesy sounding. We want [The Well] to be emerging.”

Services at The Well are sensory-based and interactive, Stafford said.

Worshippers at The Well can expect small group discussions and artistic activities such as painting and drawing. Besides using music for the worship, guests are invited to write down their thoughts, prayers and feelings in journals at the back of the theater.

“It’s going to vary every week,” Stafford said. “It will never look the same – there’s not a cookie cutter mold we’re fitting this around. There will always be music and teaching, but the way that’s arranged will probably always be different. We’re bringing in those who aren’t being spiritually fed anywhere. No one should feel intimidated; it’s a welcoming environment, and you may not feel like you’re coming to a church service at all.”

Rachel Van Hoesen, junior at Manhattan Christian College, attended the first worship on Feb. 10 and said it was the easy-going environment that made it enjoyable.

“The music is upbeat and the atmosphere is good,” she said. “I thought it was relaxed, laid back and open. You can come in, bring your coffee and worship together. It was cool. We’re here to worship one God just like everybody else.”

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