Youth Explosion Engages Hip-Hop Generation in Church

NEW YORK – A youth ministry in Queens, known for its 700 regular attendees, kicked off its conference Friday night with a "Youth Explosion" concert. The subject of the three-day conference was how to use culture to impact an "unreached generation."

At Christ Tabernacle in Glendale, N.Y., a DJ spinning beats, two couches on the stage, and a line snaking out the door and down the block were typical sights for a Friday night. But this Friday was a special one. It was a concert, and adults were invited.

Close to 200 youth ministers and 800 kids came out for "Youth Explosion," Nov. 25-27. On the first night of the three-day conference, the crowd was treated to an earful of Christian R&B, rap, and hip hop lyrics and grind. The music was accompanied by a message from youth pastor, Adam Durso, who told youth ministers to rely on the Holy Spirit, engage the youths, and use whatever means necessary.

"We need the baptism of the Spirit of the living God on these young people," said Durso, who also produced the conference and concert.

Nine years ago on Thanksgiving weekend, the then-18-year-old Durso and 17 youths began to pray earnestly for God to pour out His spirit on the youth ministry. Through word of mouth and handwritten fliers, 800 youngsters showed up at the first meeting.

Using the culture to save souls is how Durso described his ministry.

"I realized that if this [music] can speak to a culture that cannot be reached, then I want to see a fusion," he said.

Since then, the ministry has evolved into an all-out hip hop scene with God as the center of the worship. Two hours before show time, throngs of young people wearing baggy jeans, insignia T-shirts, and their caps backwards were thumping and bobbing their heads in a church that looked more like a nightclub.

Durso said instead of giving up, youth leaders should translate the gospel so that the younger generations can understand.

"Methods are always changing, but the message stays the same," he said.

Youth ministers need to build bridges to the people using whatever method possible, he said. This is what being relevant means.

"I told God I didn't want a religion,” said 21-year-old Luis Sanchez from Hempstead, N.Y., who was attending for the first time. "I wanted something real."

Durso told the thousand or so people that crammed into long pews and stood in the back that the most important thing for any youth ministry to succeed is to pay attention to the Holy Spirit. Not every youth ministry has to look like hip hop culture.

“You gotta hear what God is saying and explore what's in your area,” he said. “If I just told you what it is, then you might just accept it, but when you stop to ask, ‘Why?’ it might give you some insight.”

Durso added that receiving the Holy Spirit is about saving souls. It's not about getting goosebumps or feeling good, but about preaching the gospel to people who haven’t heard.

"The end result of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ, and see people saved,” he said. "You know how many times Jesus tells them to go out, and the church says, ‘Come in, come in?’ We're more effective when we're out there.”

In an interview after Friday night’s concert, Durso revealed his vision for the younger generations.

"I believe that before Jesus comes back, we will be on the threshold of the greatest revival to ever see this country - this planet," he said. "I believe the leaders of that will be the young people."

Almost all the youth leaders answered the altar call to change the way they think of youth ministry.

Luis Miro, 34, music minister at Brockton Assembly of God in Brockton, Mass., said, "In the Northeast, this wouldn't be so fitting. Yet on the other hand, [the Apostle Paul] said, ‘I become all things to all people.’"

His wife and co-minister, Priscilla, added, "When in Greece, be Greek."

Ralph Castillo, Durso’s partner since he too was 18, admits to the tempting pull of the culture.

"The voices are always there. The force is very compelling," said Castillo, now 29. "I'd be lying to you if I didn't acknowledge the power behind the music, lifestyle, and culture."

But still, "it's the voice of a generation," he said. "If there is a way for us to communicate the gospel, then let's do that."

Sanchez was a typical unreached youth. He had tried everything, he said, including drugs, partying, and sex. Finally, he tried Jesus, and Jesus didn't let him down. He said his peers need to know that believing in Jesus is about a relationship.

Wearing dark sunglasses and a hooded jacket, Sanchez said, "I feel like people are so scared to try Jesus because, oh, they'll find religion.”

“It’s not about religion; it's about a relationship."

At the end of the concert, Durso prayed, "God, let your Holy Spirit come, and let the whole world be flipped upside-down by a generation who will choose You."

Durso has been recognized most recently by Concerts of Prayer Greater New York for a successful model on reaching the youth.

The "Youth Explosion" album, released Friday night, is comprised of a DVD with footage of dance, theater, and musical performances by the near-professional youths, and a CD of songs, written and mixed by the youth group.