When teens from Florida megachurch Bethel Baptist Institutional talk to their secular peers about God these days, instead of pulling out a familiar tract, they profess their faith through videos of the church's youth group rapping about Jesus or their exuberant interpretation of the popular Harlem Shake.
It's a novel idea that Anthony O'Neal, the youth pastor of Bethel's One Way Youth Ministries, was initially hesitant about. Once he realized the idea was resonating with his young charges, however, the entire church, including Senior Pastor Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick, Jr. gave them their blessings.
When O'Neal joined Bethel's team as youth pastor last summer, one of the first things he did was ask them, "What can we do to make the church more attractive?"
"This generation is ruled by sight and sound – what they can see and what they can hear," said O'Neal. "So one of my kids was like, 'Hey, I have my IPod in my ear all the time. I'm always listening to music. I'm always watching BET, I'm always watching MTV; how about we do a music video."
So they did.
The teens came together and wrote a rap themed song, One Way, One God. It's now the theme song for the youth ministry.
"One thing we believe in here at the church is that the youth ministry is the youth. So anything specific from them that becomes real big will be the youth," said O'Neal in an interview with The Christian Post on Friday.
The first song became such a hit with the peers of the Christian teens that they were inspired to write several more and the project took on a life of its own. In April, the group plans on releasing a mixtape of their work which they will be sharing with the public free of cost. The senior pastor who started a music label, Won't He Do It, last year, has also signed them on as his first clients.
"Everything that we do, even with our mixtape, we always want to promote Jesus Christ. So that [video] was not used to go to show the inside of the church but for evangelism," said O'Neal.
"When we evangelize, (normally) they use tracts; well our kids, we're gonna do something different. That's why they did this video because that's our form of a tract. When we go out and tell our friends about Christ, we say hey man check out this video," said O'Neal of their new approach.
"One of my kids just texted me this morning and she said, 'Hey Pastor O'Neal. I invited two of my friends to church and I said really? For this Sunday? And she said 'Yeah.' So I asked her how did she do it and she said, 'I showed them the video.'"
"We want this generation of youth, the 6th to 12th graders to see that Jesus is real. And he speaks in different languages and there is lot that you can do as a teen," he commented.
The youth group of the Jacksonville megachurch, which has more than 15,000 members, is also affecting young members of the church's neighborhood in a positive way.
"The response that we are getting from just that one song we recorded … kids are coming up saying, 'Hey, I can rap. I would love to rap, I was looking for an outlet where I don't have to curse or talk about sex. So can I get on the mixtape?' And so the church is already getting new members, getting kids to come off the street just because they want to use their gifts more effectively," said O'Neal.