HENDERSON, Nev. – The lights go down. Latecomers stumble across knees and walk gingerly down the aisles, trying to find a seat in the packed auditorium. Booming bass and rising guitars begin to play as the lights go up on the stage, hosting a full rock band, complete with lead singers entering in a cloud of smoke.
The first words sung? “Ohhhh, God.”
Yes, it’s not a sold-out rock concert. It’s church. In Las Vegas.
“We’re trying to introduce irreligious people to a religious framework … to people caught up in the Las Vegas lifestyle,” Jud Wilhite, pastor of Central Christian Church said of his church’s glamorous approach. “We’re not trying to water it down, we’re just trying to remove some of the barriers and present the Good News in a way people can understand and relate to. We’re trying to reach the people that live here, work here, in Sin City.”
Congregants at Central Christian Church, in Henderson, Nev., outside of Las Vegas, are a wildly diverse group of all ages and demographics. Many are bikers, others are recovering alcoholics or drug addicts, perhaps even sitting next to a smartly-dressed couple in their 60s.
Wilhite has penned a new book, Torn: Trusting God When Life Leaves You In Pieces, which members are studying as a church from Oct. 1 to 26. The book speaks to believers questioning God through trials, and to non-Christians, who may wonder if there even is a God in the midst of all their hurts. After hearing the message on Saturdays and Sundays, small groups meet throughout the week to study more in depth through the book and the Scripture.
“Torn came from my own life and our journey as well as our recent experiences in the church, with foreclosures and the economy … it’s my best effort to encourage people who are frustrated and hurting and asking, ‘Why?’” Wilhite said.
On Day 15, after a rousing worship period and a brief introduction, three full movie screens showed a short video on Sherman, a Central Christian member, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after a severe accident. The video ended with a joyful Sherman, in his wheelchair, praising God through his trials.
“That’s what I learned. It’s Central’s Message. ‘It’s OK to not be OK.’ It’s just not OK to stay there,” Sherman said.
Wilhite then came on stage and preached a message from Col. 3:1-3, titled “Trusting God’s Joy,” a section from his new book. He closed by inviting non-Christians, who felt “torn, with nothing to turn to, nothing good to focus on,” to give their lives to Jesus. Several audience members raised their hands to acknowledge their newfound faith. They were then encouraged to be baptized, immediately after the service – Central even provides a change of clothes for those who want to be baptized.
A total of 403 people came to Christ during the Oct. 15 and 16 services. Wilhite said nearly 2,000 have been baptized this year alone.
“We’re a rescuing church – we’re all about rescuing people in Las Vegas. Whether through addiction recovery, counseling, food pantry… we’re helping people, in a city that has lost hope, discover the hope of Christ,” Wilhite said.
Central Christian Church is 19,000-member church with four campuses in the Las Vegas area.
For more information on Central Christian Church or to attend online services, visit www.centralchristian.com