FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Say that you're a pastor in busy Los Angeles, you want to get the word to more young people, so instead of renting a storefront, you set up church inside an L.A. nightclub. That's exactly what one minister is doing, and his message connects with a crowd that knows more about partying than praying.

NPR's Amy Walters reports.

(Soundbite of music)

AMY WALTERS: 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. Groups of 20-somethings swoop in to scrub away the debris from the night before and prep for a different kind of gathering.

(Soundbite of music)

WALTERS: Guys in greasy mohawks and slightly cocked baseball caps throw their hands in the air as ladies sing and sway to songs they know by heart. It may sound like another night at the club, but this is church as created by Erwin McManus, the lead pastor and self-described cultural architect.

Pastor ERWIN McMANUS (Lead Pastor, Mosaic Church): What in the world does beauty have to do with resurrection?

WALTERS: Bible in hand, McManus starts his sermon, not with scripture, but by recalling his daughter Mariah's big crush on actor Daniel Craig - the latest James Bond.

Pastor McMANUS: And she said, that's a beautiful man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pastor McMANUS: I don't want to hear that from my 15-year-old daughter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALTERS: 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.

Pastor McMANUS: In spite of what we've heard, what others have misrepresented about him, if you could just see God for who he is, you would have an oh-my moment.

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

Pastor McMANUS: I'm just trying to engage in a kind of conversation with them that I would have loved for someone to have with me when I was 22 or 23.

WALTERS: As a teenager, McManus says he was a proud atheist. But his life changed at 20 when he became a Christian. He went to Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. And for the past decade, he's been in Los Angeles building a ministry that effectively goes where the sinners are.

Pastor McMANUS: We really try not to make it about where you've come from, which, look, everybody has a story. It's not so much where you come from but where you're going.

WALTERS: In two years, attendance at McManus' church has doubled. Besides his Sunday night services, he also has a weekly podcast, a series of Web sites, a 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.

Pastor McMANUS: We focus on how to really, in some ways, just engage Jesus and the Bible from everything people know about Christianity as a religion, and just strip it down to the most human and raw kind of conversations.

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

APL.DE.AP (Member, Black Eyes Peas): My name is Apl.de.Ap from the Black Eyes Peas.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Get It Started")

BLACK EYED PEAS (Band): (Singing) Let's get it started, ha. Let's get it started in here. Let's get…

WALTERS: Apl.de.Ap is a founding member of the Black Eyed Peas. He helped the hip-hop band win the Grammy's with this song, "Let's Get It Started." He heard about the church from a friend, but he knew all about the nightclub.

APL.DE.AP: We actually did our first show here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

APL.DE.AP: Our first show - Black Eyed Peas back in the days.

WALTERS: When I think of the Black Eyed Peas, I don't usually think of church.

APL.DE.AP: Well, you know, it's soul food.

(Soundbite of laughter)

APL.DE.AP: You got something to do with yourself.

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

WALTERS: Chad Becker has been coming to McManus' services at the Mayan since the beginning. He says this is the kind of thing that Christianity needs more of.

Mr. CHAD BECKER: Because there is this dichotomy of being Christian and cool. And so even like what he's saying, like soul food, you know, like, that's what it's about. It's about living your life in a certain way that it comes across. You shouldn't have to bang people over the head with it.

WALTERS: Not everyone is as quick to jump on board though. Some of McManus' fellow Christians think holding church in a nightclub isn't such a good idea. But he says those people are not the ones he's trying to reach.

Pastor McMANUS: People outside of the faith really appreciate Mosaic and really love what we're doing. And while we would love to have no criticisms, probably if we had no critique, we wouldn't be doing anything meaningful.

WALTERS: Along the way, McManus has done something many might consider miraculous. He's created a church that some young Angelinos consider truly hip.

Amy Walters, NPR News.

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