• Not your typical church service: Finding faith in a Boston nightclub

    By: Elizabeth Hopkins , Bob Dumas

    Updated:

    BOSTON - In downtown Boston, there's a concert of sorts going on at the Royale Nightclub.

    Bathed in blue, people here have gathered for a communal experience, but it isn't Saturday night. It's actually Sunday morning.

    "Having it in a club is a little unusual. It's a little different. But I think it really welcomes a whole variety of people that maybe never thought church could be for them. And they never knew this faith that we have is open to them," member Leandra Rivera said. 

    Hillsong Boston is more than a little different. Boston is the latest U.S. outpost of a decades-old Australian-born evangelical church.

    "We want people to realize that God isn't mad, he isn't angry," Pastor Josh Kimes explained. "He's a God of love and a God of grace and we want people to grow in that journey."

    That message is resonating. Throughout New England, most churches are a white steeple above a green town common. But the role of faith has plunged in the past two decades. Just 50% of Americans say they're now part of a church.

    The largest drops are among Catholics and Protestants. 

    Yet, at Hillsong, it would seem a revival is underway -- one that's celebrity-endorsed. You may have seen Kyrie Irving and Vanessa Hudgens pictured at their services, or Justin Bieber hanging out with Hillsong New York's lead pastor. 

    That’s not entirely a bad thing, according to Christopher Klofft, a theology professor at Assumption College. 

    "The very idea that celebrities are involved in these churches makes them more attractive to us," Klofft said. "People are starving in the modern world for meaningful relationships."

    Klofft says churches like Hillsong deliver.

    "They emphasize belonging, they emphasize the relationship and the community. They emphasize what's going to draw young people in, that's a good tactic," Klofft explained. "To present themselves in such a way that young people can feel invited."

    But Klofft raises concerns that theatrics may not ultimately feed the masses. He describes the heightened intensity of the services as "baby food."

    "When it comes to worship, however, and the human spirit before God, I'm not sure that actually brings us closer to God," Klofft said. "I think that might actually be a distraction. I think that it warms us up, gets us excited, but then what happens next?"  

    Pastor Kimes recognizes this may not be your grandmother's Sunday service. But, ultimately, he says in this come-as-you-are setting, people are finding acceptance, belonging and hope.

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