Pastor Brings Jesus into an L.A. Dance Club

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Dancing and singing at the Mayan i

Dancing and singing are typical at the Mayan, but on Sundays it's dancing and singing for God. Amy Walters, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Amy Walters, NPR
Dancing and singing at the Mayan

Dancing and singing are typical at the Mayan, but on Sundays it's dancing and singing for God.

Amy Walters, NPR
Pastor Erwin McManus

Erwin McManus brings stories from his own life to his teachings. He even draws a parallel between his acquired taste for Starbucks dark roast and learning to love God. Amy Walters, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Amy Walters, NPR

A California pastor has found a way to take his sermons to young people in Los Angeles without waiting for them to come to him.

He's set up a church inside an L.A. nightclub.

The venue may be a little unorthodox, but the message seems to be connecting with a Hollywood crowd that knows a lot more about partying than praying.

On a typical Saturday night at the Mayan nightclub, it's hard to get from one side to the other without being bumped or ground. Downstairs in the basement hot, sweaty bodies gyrate in a way that does not inspire godliness.

But everything changes on Sunday, when groups of 20-somethings swoop in to scrub away the debris from the night before and prep for a different kind of gathering.

This particular Sunday, Pastor Erwin McManus, self-described as the church's "cultural architect," starts his sermon not with scripture, but by recalling his daughter Mariah's big crush on actor Daniel Craig — the latest James Bond.

"And she said, 'that's a beautiful man.' ... I don't want to hear that from my 15-year-old daughter," says McManus.

Despite his anxiety, McManus says he knows the feeling — crushy teenage delight. He uses this Hollywood example as a foil for his description of God.

"In spite of what we've heard [and] what others have misrepresented about him ... if you could just see God for who he is, you would have an 'Oh my' moment," McManus says.

McManus is always ready for the obvious question: Why hold church in a nightclub that on every other night is packed with young partiers?

"I'm just trying to engage in the kind of conversations with them I would have loved [if] someone had with me when I was 22 or 23," McManus says.

As a teenager, McManus says, he was a proud atheist, but his life changed when he became a Christian at age 20.

He went to Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and for the past decade he's been in Los Angeles. He's building a ministry that goes to a place that doesn't normally inspire ideas of sanctity.

"That's why we try not to make it about where you come from," McManus says. We say, 'Look, everyone has a story.'

"It's not so much where you come from but where you're going."

In two years, attendance at McManus' church has doubled. Besides the Sunday night services, he also has a weekly podcast, a series of Web sites, a video production company and a record label.

The church is officially non-denominational, but the doctrine is Southern Baptist. Those traditional values may seem a far cry from this trendy club scene, but McManus doesn't see a conflict.

"We focus, in some ways, on how to disengage Jesus and the Bible from everything people know about Christianity as a religion," McManus says. "[We] just strip it down to the human, and raw, kind of conversations."

The church is called Mosaic, to symbolize diversity. And every Sunday, McManus welcomes new guests.

One of the most famous attendees is, a founding member of the hip-hop band the Black Eyed Peas.

He helped the band win a Grammy with "Let's Get it Started," a song that is sometimes played during Mosaic's services. He says that when he thinks of his band's name, Black Eyed Peas, he associates it with the spiritual soul food that he gets from coming to church. He heard about the church from a friend, but he already knew of the nightclub.

"We actually did our first show here. First show — Black Eyed Peas back in the day," the performer says. And he admits, "When I think of the Black Eyed Peas, I don't usually think of church."

Chad Becker has been coming to McManus' services since the beginning. He thinks Christianity needs more of this kind of service.

"There is this dichotomy between Christian and cool. Like [] said, 'soul food,' that's what it's about," Becker says. "It's about living your life in a certain way that that comes across. You shouldn't have to bang people over the head with it."

Not everyone is as quick to jump on board. McManus says some of his fellow Christians think holding church in a nightclub isn't such a good idea.

But, he says, that's not who he's trying to reach.

"People outside of the faith really appreciate Mosaic and really love what we're doing," McManus says. "While we would love to have no criticism, probably if we had no critique, we wouldn't be doing anything meaningful."



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