Skate Church reaches out to BMX, skateboard culture
By Myra Holmes
Skaters and “riders,” with their baggy pants, hairstyles that aren’t especially clean-cut or whole collections of tattoos, aren’t the kind of kids that usually come to church. In fact, they are the kinds of kids some church people would rather avoid.
“If you don’t BMX or skate, you would be likely to assume that it’s a rougher crowd,” says Utah youth pastor Josh Jost.
But Jost, youth pastor at the Daybreak campus of South Mountain Community Church in the Salt Lake City, Utah, area, has always had a passion for the riding culture.
“I’ve been riding BMX my whole life,” he says. Because he has been an insider for a long time, he knows that once you get to know these kids, they are kind and friendly—and open to the gospel.
Which is why Jost has teamed up with a few friends and the Daybreak congregation to begin Skatechurch, a ministry meant to build relationships among this unique culture.
“We saw that this demographic was very lost and in a very tough place, but also very enjoyable people to hang out with,” says Jost, who is also responsible for the DYG Sunday and Wednesday activities for sixth through twelfth graders at the SMCC Daybreak campus.
Jost had dreamed of a ministry to riders for years. When a friend began a ministry to the riding community at his church in Texas, Jost began talking with local friends and with SMCC staff about doing something similar. The feedback he got was encouraging, and Skatechurch began in February 2013. The core team also includes David Askvig, Jared Mcclure and Rob Dean, all Christians who ride and are involved in other area churches.
Skatechurch meets the first Tuesday of each month at a local business, We Are One Skatepark. The indoor facility has a shop where riders can buy parts, clothing and supplies as well as space for riders to practice their passion year-round.
That means ramps. Lots and lots of ramps, some designed for specific tricks or skills so riders can “grind,” “air out” and jump to their hearts’ content.
It also provides a natural hangout for those with a common interest. It’s a good place for ministry because this is where many of these kids go every day—it’s the center of their social life. “You can talk to the kids already there,” Jost says.
Jost says that about 40 percent of the young people who attend Skatechurch either walk in or hear about it from a website. He says when they invite a rider who’s just hanging out to attend Skatechurch, they never “bait and switch,” but always explain exactly what to expect, including that there will be a Christian message. Riders almost always stay, open and interested.
When Skatechurch meets, the first hour is dedicated to riding. Pizza and Gatorade keep riders hydrated and fed. Then the team sets up their stage and sound equipment and spends about half an hour exploring a gospel message. They’ve been using videos from I Am Second, which feature testimonies of Christian athletes and have been well-received. After prayer, the group plays dodge ball for a different way to interact, then spends more time riding.
One way Skatechurch differs from a typical youth group meeting—besides being at a skatepark— is the absence of a worship and singing time. For one thing, Jost points out, many of these teens don’t know who God is, so worship wouldn’t have the same context. Plus, they simply aren’t used to singing.
In lieu of formal small group time, discussion of the evening’s lesson happens informally. That informal discussion time is important, because it’s all about relationships. “If we don’t build relationships with these kids, they not going to care,” Jost says.
He tries to hang out at the skatepark other than during Skatechurch and encourages kids to get together between times. “My dream is that it will change the skatepark culture in the Valley,” he says, hoping that Skatechurch attendees will take their passion for Christ into other skateparks and to other riders.
Skatepark is for anyone sixth grade or older who likes to ride BMX, scooters, skateboards or rollerblades. Most of those who come are in middle and high school, but a few are older—in their mid-20s, like Jost. About half also attend Daybreak, and some come from the Draper campus of South Mountain or from other area churches.
Jost estimates that about 80 percent of the kids have a background in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and have never heard a message of grace. They can have trouble believing that God could love them, especially because those outside their culture view these riders negatively.
“The message that I most want them to hear is that all God wants of them is relationship,” says Jost. “They can just come as they are.”
Feedback from the riders has been positive and encouraging. Some 30 to 40 attend consistently—even one meeting this summer when the temperatures inside the skatepark topped 100 degrees.
Jost believes that transformation is happening within many of those who attend, but outward, visible transformation is slow and tough to spot. Patience is one of the biggest challenges of the ministry so far.
He points to some who are now comfortable enough to attend regular Daybreak youth activities or church services. “They trust us,” he says. One young man, already a Christian, consistently offers words of appreciation for an outreach he can bring his friends to. Another has begun to take ownership of the ministry and helps to bring others. Two have committed to baptism—one this summer and one this fall.
Jost and the lead team modeled Skatechurch after similar ministries he knew of in Oregon and Texas, so it’s not an unheard-of outreach. But it’s also not common, maybe because it takes just the right “missionary” to understand the riding culture. “Not just anyone could go in there and talk to these kids at the skatepark,” Jost says. He continues to ride several times each week, not only because he enjoys it, but also because it gains him respect and credibility: “I’m not just a guy who can’t even do a 180.”
Jost’s hobby has taken on new meaning. “It’s far more than just riding,” says Jost. “It’s hanging out and hopefully one day being able to share the gospel with these kids.”