(Photo: Courtesy of The Sanctuary Church)
Each week, The Sanctuary Church in Westminster, Calif., sets up a skate park in the church parking lot and invites local teenagers to come, skate and learn about Jesus. The ministry might seem out of the ordinary to some, until they realize two of the church's pastors are former professional skateboarders.
"I grew up skateboarding in swimming pools and on half pipes. Nowadays they're on these ledges and grinding curves and handrails, so we create that environment right there on the church campus,” said Roger Matzke, the youth and young adult pastor of The Sanctuary's youth program, Gravity.
Matzke, though not a professional, is a skateboarder, and he spoke with The Christian Post on Thursday about the impact his church is making through the ministry.
"We've seen it as a very positive way to connect with teenagers ... and it opens that door for teenagers ultimately to experience that time of worship and God's Word being preached where ... if we just invited them to come to youth group, they won't come. It's become a pathway for students to come," Matzke said.
The Sanctuary's senior pastor, Jay Haizlip, and administrative pastor, Shawn Mandoli, are both former professional skateboarders. Matzke says he believes churches and individuals should identify their passions and use them to reach others with the Gospel.
"It's like God's giving us these tools and these desires ... to use them and apply them to minister,” Matzke said. “So whether it's being a musician, being a skateboarder, being businessperson, whatever it may be, the church needs to connect with those giftings ... and create an environment to allow ministry and the Gospel to be preached through it.”
CBN.com previously reported Haizlip's story, and how God brought him away from using drugs and thoughts of suicide to a life of ministry. During the interview, Haizlip described some of the issues teenagers often have to deal with, and his heart for making an impact in their lives.
"They have pain from abandonment. They have pain from abuse, neglect or bad things that have happened to them. When they drink alcohol or get involved in drugs, it medicates that hurt. I try to prevent them from going down the same road that I went down because, unfortunately, most people that go down the road that I went down, they don't make it back. I want to see people saved. I want to see people change. I want to see kids that have been delivered from drugs and pursuing God with their whole heart,” he said.
According to Matzke, that change often begins “on the street.” Teenagers who do not regularly attend church services might not feel comfortable participating in a normal, structured youth service, but they feel at home in The Sanctuary's skate park environment.
"Jesus shared and preached in the synagogue, but it talks about more of what they did on the street than what they did inside the synagogue ... We need to meet them where they're at,” he said.
Gravity youth services take place immediately after the skate park closes down on Thursday evenings, giving skaters that are curious about learning more about Jesus the opportunity to join the rest of the youth inside the church building.
It's a three-step process for the skate ministry, from finding the skaters to getting them to join worship services. First, those involved in it go to local skate parks and invite the youth to join them in the church parking lot on Thursdays. Once there, they are free to skate but are a step closer to the church, and get to hear a short message from the skate ministry's immediate leader, Aaron Morgan. Then, if they choose to do so, skaters can attend the Gravity gathering where worship and learning become the main focus.
Between 18 and 30 young people come to skate on a weekly basis, with numbers varying depending on the time of year, and the church is already bearing fruit from it.
Three skaters recently made the transition from the skate park to the Gravity service and gave their lives to Jesus Christ, Matzke said. Of the three, one of them has begun participating in Gravity's discipleship program.
Another person, an 18-year-old who came in contact with the church through the skate ministry, has grown to the point where he now occasionally leads the skaters in a short devotional in place of Morgan. Matzke says one of Gravity's goals is preparing the youth to lead.
"We've been very successful at raising up young people to be confident and letting them know they actually have a voice as well," he said. "You don't have to be a youth pastor, you don't have to be a pro skater.”