Urban D's first column article talking about some of his story and what a church service looks like at Crossover. It also takes some quotes from his new book as well.
Church and Hip-Hop in the same sentence is definitely an unorthodox combination. Growing up as a pastor’s kid in Philadelphia I had a lot of both of those words in my environment as they shaped my identity. When I truly committed my life to Christ as an older teenager God soon revealed his calling for my life and it became clear that my ministry wasn’t going to be “normal”. This was both exciting and scary at the same time as these were uncharted waters. I didn’t set out to have a ministry that was going to include a hip-hop flavor. My heart was to reach unchurched people in the urban community and I was willing to do something out of the box. Even then I knew it was going to be unorthodox. Webster defines that word as “breaking from convention and breaking from tradition”. My Biblical beliefs and doctrine were still very orthodox, but my ministry approach and how I walk that faith out were anything but conventional or traditional.
After I graduated Bible College in 1996 I founded the youth ministry at a young church plant in Tampa, Florida called Crossover. Basketball leagues and hip-hop concerts became two major ways we began to connect with the community around the church. The more we got to know our community the more we quickly noticed the majority of teens and young adults were highly influenced by hip-hop culture. Soon we discovered many of the people accepting Christ in our services were talented rappers, dancers, artists, poets, and DJ’s. We saw the need to plug them in so they could use their gifts and talents for their creator. By 2002 the youth and young adult ministry had grown to hundreds and the church asked me to step up and take over as the pastor as most of the 40 adults coming Sunday were there as a result of the youth ministry. It took some time, but my wife and I soon realized this is what God had for us and our faith community that we cared about so much.
As 2002 progressed we knew God was calling our entire ministry to reach out to this emerging culture. We had a lot of questions and doubts, as there was no model to look to. A few pastors began to mentor me and our church soon transitioned to become Purpose Driven as we implemented the class structure and began focusing on the five purposes of the New Testament Church. It’s definitely been an unorthodox story these past five years. Our campus is bursting at the seams as we now have three Sunday services. True church growth is taking place, as the majority of our congregation previously didn’t go to church. We have become the model for the groundswell of young urban churches across the country that are focusing on hip-hop culture. Crossover holds an annual conference “Fla.vor Fest” that exists to train, network, and resource emerging leaders to effectively impact the hip-hop culture for Christ.”
When people hear we are a church that targets hip-hop culture they usually have some questions and sometimes even some stereotypes. I talk about this in my book Un.orthodox on page 147, “I’ll get all kinds of crazy questions like, ‘Do you rap your sermons?’ or ‘Do you guys read and study the Bible or are your services mostly just entertainment?’ They may be funny, but honestly some of these questions can be somewhat offensive. But I put myself in other people’s shoes, since many are clueless when it comes to the culture. We know God has called us to build bridges and educate others. Crossover’s worship services have many elements that any Christian church might have: singing, prayer, an offering, announcements, a message, and special music. But the way we do these things is definitely different. We’re obviously not traditional, but everything we believe and practice in our services in biblical. Remember, Jesus was not a traditional guy! As a matter of fact, he was constantly in conflict with the religious leaders of his day because he kept challenging them. In Matthew 23 he stresses how they looked good on the outside and put on a great show, but their insides were rotten. One comment we constantly hear about our services is how real they are. Although they are professional, well prepared, and well thought out, they are open and honest. Hip-Hop culture wants realness.
If you were to walk into one of our weekend services, you’d find we welcome everyone and start off in prayer as we lead into worship. Music is a huge element with our crowd, so our worship style reflects our cultural context. We have a DJ spinning a Christian hip-hop or R&B instrumental. Our worship team sings many of the same songs other churches do, but with a remixed flavor. A rapper or two will mix in on some of the faster songs and rap between repetitions of the chorus. The worship team will also sing some slower songs with R&B ballads, sing a capella, or sing with someone beat boxing in the back ground. People authentically engage in worship with God. They clap, raise their hands, cry, sway side to side, or sit quietly. Worship is more than just singing. We see this in scripture, but many churches box it into only singing. At many services, we’ll mix in rap, poetry, scripture reading, and occasionally dance or an artist painting a mural during the slow reflective songs. They’ve produced several CDs complete with instrumentals so they can be used as a resource by other churches.
We generally create a time after worship when people can say what’s up to each other and say hello to new people. Dead air is always awkward, so we always have our DJ on the tables playing a backdrop instrumental during these times and during the announcements to keep the atmosphere upbeat. Hip-hoppers are visual learners, so we keep this in mind as we present the message. Some churches may tie in special music, drama, or a video at the beginning or the end of a message. I encourage you to mix it into your message at several points to illustrate your theme and the scripture you share. The reality is our attention spans have become short, and for the younger generations, it’s even shorter. It may seem like an obstacle, but it doesn’t have to be. Our average message is still thirty five to forty minutes long, but we tie in other elements during that time at different points to keep the crowd engaged. Many times we provide notes in our programs so they can follow along and take additional notes. Our media team produces some innovative graphics on the screens to illustrate certain points and display some of the scriptures we read together.
The layout of our service constantly changes because we want to be predictably unpredictable. We don’t want it to become routine. Sometimes, we may do a slower worship set after the message, or do an offering right in the middle of worship. Our average service is around seventy-five to eighty minutes long. We plan services together as a team, so there are many people and many creative elements involved. We believe that God is pleased when we plan ahead and that his spirit is involved when we are putting the services together.” If you ever get a chance to come visit Florida on vacation we encourage you to come through and see us at Crossover in Tampa and check out an Un.orthodox worship experience with some hip-hop flavor.