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Clubbing for God provides optional way to praise

On a recent Sunday evening, a couple dozen people, most of them in their 20s, trickled into the Thirsty Parrot as a band blasted rock music from the nightclub’s main stage.

They took their seats at bar tables in near darkness while blinking lights bathed the musicians in bright hues.

It looked like a typical night at a downtown bar, except …

No one was drinking alcohol.

The songs were about Jesus Christ.

And instead of dancing, some audience members had their eyes closed and arms raised in praise.

This is Amplify Church, a parish of young evangelicals in Colorado Springs, Colo., who just happen to worship in a bar where Miller Lite and Budweiser posters, not crosses, hang on the walls.

The pastor _ forgoing suit and tie in favor of worn jeans, sandals and T-shirt _ is as casual as the setting.

“All I want is a church full of people who are real,” the Rev. Dan MacFadyen, 26, told his 23 congregants at the Parrot that night.

“I’d rather have 30 people in the church who are real than have a congregation of 300.”

Being “real” is the mantra at Amplify Church.

Its entire existence is a rebuke to the Christian right, a subset within evangelicalism that has been accused of politicizing and polarizing Christianity.

“There is a big movement away from evangelicalism, not in a doctrinal sense, but in a political sense,” MacFadyen said.

“My generation is very frustrated with how divisive evangelicalism has become and how it’s in bed with the Republicans.”

MacFadyen’s church avoids politics, and while he opposes abortion and sees homosexuality as a sin, he doesn’t preach against them or emphasize the topics unless the issue comes up for discussion at a service.

The church also ignores traditional Christian rites and rituals in favor of an ultracasual atmosphere. It’s just young adults with Bibles, hanging out to rap about their faith.

“Churches have become corporations,” MacFadyen said. “We are trying to take away the corporate baggage and be real.”

MacFadyen was raised in a Baptist church and decided to become a minister at age 18.

Four years ago he graduated from Pensacola Christian College in Florida and received his ordination at Rochester Hills Baptist Church in Michigan.

A nontraditionalist, MacFadyen didn’t want to pastor within a denomination and perform centuries-old rituals. So in November 2007, he and his wife, Sarah, moved from Michigan to Colorado Springs to found a nondenominational church that catered to disaffected young evangelicals.

Finding cheap rental space was a challenge until someone broached holding services at the Thirsty Parrot, a night spot for some of the church’s congregants.

Three months ago, the congregation started meeting at the club on Sunday evenings when it’s closed and no alcohol is served. The church rents the space at the Parrot _ where it meets first and third Sundays _ for $700 for each meeting.

It meets at Pikes Perk on Tejon Street all other Sundays.

Dale Myers, co-owner of the Thirsty Parrot, is glad to have the group.

“A lot of young people have been turned off by the church, and this group is trying to bring them back,” Myers said.

Because the Parrot and other downtown nightclubs cater to young adults, the Parrot-Amplify relationship is a good fit, MacFadyen said.

“The same crowd that comes to Thirsty Parrot and other bars downtown are the ones being attracted to our church,” said MacFadyen, whose church attracts 20 to 30 congregants with a median age of 28.

Ron Carter has been attending Amplify since its foundingand isn’t put off by meeting in a place with two full bars.

“Jesus turned water into wine,” Carter, 23, said.

Carter, who was raised in a Pentecostal church in Arkansas, is also OK with the church’s informality. “Services at some churches are so stuffy that they imprison you rather than set you free,” Carter said.

Congregant Josh Poland, 27, said the nightclub atmosphere adds to the church experience. “There is a level of comfort in meeting here,” said Poland, a regular at the Parrot.

Besides having a casual ambience, Amplify Church is set apart from other evangelical worship centers by having no membership roll and no paid staff, including the pastor.

“I don’t have to see people as dollars and numbers,” said MacFadyen, whose day job is as a Web designer. “We would like to keep the church strictly volunteer.”

For 22-year-old Abby Poland, the church’s conservative theology and casual environment strikes a nice balance.

“This church offers the best of both worlds,” she said.

Distributed by MCT

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