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Christians Hit the Half-Pipe in Newest Wave of U.S. Evangelization

The church is already blessed with a bayfront view and a property dotted with palm trees. A shaded deck plays host to jazz concerts, the preschool has no shortage of students.
( [email protected] ) Oct 15, 2006 08:24 PM EDT

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. - The church is already blessed with a bayfront view and a property dotted with palm trees. A shaded deck plays host to jazz concerts, the preschool has no shortage of students. The faithful who gather here hail from countries across the globe, contributing to an energetic, eclectic congregation.

Just one thing is missing from Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church: A skateboard ramp.

If plans in the works come to be, that void will soon be filled and the church will join hundreds of others bringing the Bible to boarders in what some describe as one of Christianity's newest, hippest and largest means of evangelization.

"We're reaching people who've never heard about religion or God before," said Mike Pechonis, president of Christian Skaters International Ministry, which is based in Pompano Beach, Fla. "So we're telling them about how cool Jesus is."

Paul Anderson founded one of the United States' first such programs, Skatechurch, in Portland, Ore., in 1987. Numerous others have followed, particularly in the last five years, in which skate ministries have expanded at a feverish pace. Actor Stephen Baldwin, who tours the country with Livin It, a Christian skater outreach, has counted 200 new skate ministries in the last three years alone.

"I think it's quite possible that God created the skateboard to be used at some point to do ministry with," 40-year-old Baldwin said.

Baldwin said Livin It has distributed more than 160,000 Christian-themed skater DVDs, attracted more than 50,000 spectators to events and motivated 10,000 people to become Christian. There is even a skater book series and a clothing line with an eye toward God. Next year, Baldwin will bring "The Uprising" — which he describes as Tony Hawk skate tour meets Pink Floyd concert meets Cirque de Soleil — to arenas seating tens of thousands of young people.

"The individuality and the poeticism and the artform, really, that is skateboarding I think is something that kids can connect to," Baldwin said. "And connecting it up with a message about God, I think, is incredibly powerful."

Followers seem to agree. At a recent event at Ramp 48, an indoor skate park run by Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., hundreds gathered in a cavernous warehouse with a seemingly endless series of ramps and air thick with sweat.

Skate tricks could be seen nearly anywhere in Ramp 48, but signs of spirituality were more subtle. Bible passages were featured on some wall-mounted signs, crosses dangled from some necks and one shirtless skater had the word 'faith' tattooed in black on his triceps.

"I'm not known as a skateboard preacher," said 28-year-old Richard Mulder, a pro skater from Santa Ana, California, who stopped at Ramp 48 with "The Reveal Tour." "I just let my lifestyle be a witness."

Many of the skater outreach efforts are rather informal, with congregations erecting a ramp or two and hoping the proximity to church and the example of other young Christian boarders will motivate individuals to lead a God-centered life.

"We would sincerely hope that our love for God would show," said Pastor David Moran of Key Biscayne Presbyterian, which is planning a skater ministry.

Such efforts are led by people who recognize how tremendously the skater subculture is influencing popular fashion and music. They see it as a great opportunity to interest young people in issues of faith.

At Skatechurch, skating sessions are divided into two parts, with a Gospel message in the middle. Anderson said it's easy for participants to swallow because it's coming from the mouth of someone who understands their lifestyle.

"We're not targeting skaters in the sense that we don't study them, we don't try to figure out what they're like. We don't do any market studies, we don't read about it, we don't go to any seminars," 42-year-old Anderson said. "What we are actual skateboarders."

All of this may seem surprising for a culture stereotyped by a disdain for authority and a penchant for drugs and vandalism. But the skaters say it makes perfect sense.

"Skaters naturally connect with Jesus being a revolutionary and being an outsider," said Mike Doyle, a 32-year-old skater from San Diego who directed "The Reveal Tour." "Following Jesus is the most incredibly insane life you could imagine."

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