In the name of hate, twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof went on a deadly shooting spree in Charleston, South Carolina, and amidst the grief and shock we wonder, “Is there something we can do to reach the Dylann Roofs in our community before it’s too late?” There just might be.
Michael W. Smith had already founded Rocketown, a safe place for teenagers to hangout in Nashville, Tenn., when he was asked to take part in the memorial service after the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. The experience increased his zeal to show young people that they are loved and valued, leading him to expand Rocketown into a
36,000 square-foot building that houses a concert hall, and indoor skate park, a coffee bar, a recording studio, and dance studio.
“I think the most important thing that we offer: healthy and nurturing relationships,” says Youth Engagement Coordinator Stephanie Grant. “Our desire is to create an environment where kids feel safe being themselves, but also feel empowered to try new things and to pursue growth and education.”
Sixteen-year-olds Josh and Spencer are Rocketown regulars. “My friend told me about it, and we both walked up here and started hooping and I actually kind of enjoyed the place,” says Josh. “I was like, ‘it’s pretty cool’ and the more I came, the more I liked it.”
Spencer grew up at Rocketown. “My dad looked up ‘skate parks’ in Nashville when I was three, and he brought me here,” he says. When Spencer, who now works in the facility’s skate shop, invites a friend to Rocketown, he can sum it up in about two words: “Come chill.”
Light on the Hill
Skate boarding, snow boarding, and other extreme sports have provided teen outreach opportunities to churches and Christian organizations across the country, especially when it comes to teen boys.
In an interview with WOTV earlier this year, Ezra Heethuis, a sophomore at Cornerstone University (Grand Rapids, Michigan), talked about how snowboarding consumed his life and as a Christian, he knew he had to make a change in his priorities. “God’s given me this passion for snow boarding, and I’m okay at it, so how can I use that to glorify him?” he explains.
He discovered Snow Boarders for Christ and it changed his whole perspective. “I’m like, maybe that’s it,” Heethuis says. “Now snow boarding is a fun activity that I get to do instead of something I worry about. We concentrate on getting people, growing people in their faith, and holding each other accountable. We’re just about being friendly on the hill.”
The Underground Skatepark started with a group of boys just killing time together in the basement of Celebration Community Church in Dillsbury, Pennsylvania. While their parents went to Bible study, the boys played floor hockey and skateboarded. The basement became “the” place for teens to hang out, and has turned into a major teen ministry for the church.
In a video on the Underground Skate Park’s website, a teen skater explains it’s appeal. “It’s just a good space to come and relax—it just has a good vibe,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how bad you are, or what your style is. Everyone is accepting of one another.”
Check It Out
A surprising number of Christian extreme sport organizations already exist, and many are actively looking for new areas to plant a club or chapter. Search online for “Christian extreme sports” and “Christian action sports,” and you’ll find an abundance of information on these topics that will bring anyone up to speed. And be sure to check out the books listed below for even more ideas and inspiration.
Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. She also works at Brentwood United Methodist Church in the church’s Caring Ministry