Church's 'skate pastor' casts vision for youth on the fringe

by Gabriel Verrone, posted Thursday, May 08, 2003 (16 years ago)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--He doesn't look like the average, clean-cut youth minister because he isn't. His church's youth facility is anything but average as well.

John Mark Seelig, "skate pastor" for Lakepointe Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas, oversees the church's "Pier 419" youth center, a radically different design and atmosphere from the traditional confines of church gyms and softball fields.

Pier 419 is all about evangelism, all about finding a way to reach an often-overlooked segment of society -- young people on the fringe of the urban, middle class.

The idea for Pier 419 began with the account in Matthew 4:19 in which Jesus told some of the disciples He would make them "fishers of men." Eight million dollars and 48,000 square feet later, the Pier 419 youth center emerged.

The building has been modeled after a beach house in keeping with its theme verse, and is complete with a boardwalk-like deck, sand volleyball court and its hottest attraction -- a skate park.

"'If you build it they will come,' for at least a week or two," Seelig said. That just may be all the time he needs to reel them in.

Seelig, a 26-year-old master of divinity student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, became involved with Lakepointe's youth ministry when he was searching for "some possible alternative church opportunities."

His experience as a skater, as well as his willingness to think outside the box, made Seelig a perfect candidate for what Lakepointe's leadership had in mind.

"I came late in the game. They kind of knew their direction, what they were going with. They knew a skate park was something that could really reach a bunch of kids, but they didn't really know how that would happen or really what that would look like at all," Seelig said.

He provided the link to the skater culture the church was looking for, as well as the knowledge to provide partners and sponsors in making Pier 419's skater outreach program a reality.

During the skate church's April 29 grand opening, many of the nearly 1,000 youth in attendance skated for free in 15-minute slots. They also were treated to a demonstration by two professional skaters from the King of Kings skate ministry. The professional skaters challenged the youth not only to try new tricks on the park's quarter pipes and rails, but also with their testimony for Christ.

"With skaters, it's definitely a different marketing mentality. It's all about the image. Everything is image, and so we knew that we had to build an image to reach the kids," Seelig said. "Everything in the skating world is about impressing the other skater, showing off what you can do."

That image is certainly present in Pier 419's multiple basketball courts, expansive game room with over a dozen game systems, 850-seat auditorium, and punk music blaring from its impressive sound system. Seelig bolstered the image of this cutting-edge youth center and "built a buzz" for Pier 419 before its unveiling by producing T-shirts and stickers bearing the 419 logo.

As impressive as the facility is, Seelig understands that it alone will not keep young people coming. Rather, it will be the relationships that are available through the transforming love of Christ.

"Building a building and having over 1,000 kids, that won't last if they don't get something. They're just such a culture that they get bored. They have everything. They could get this anywhere," Seelig said.

For this reason, his ministry has placed a premium on relationship building and solid biblical teaching.

Of the youth nearly 1,000 who attended the opening of the facility, 150 sought out further information about Christianity following a time of invitation. Seelig said 50 made professions of faith.

"It's a perfect testimony that we're reaching kids and that's just huge right now. Kids are just all over it," Seelig said.

Pier 419's skate church is held each Tuesday at 5:30 and 6 p.m. Junior high and high school students attend a seeker-friendly Bible study and then can skate for free if they have a sticker on their board, available only by attending the study.


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HAVE BOARD, WILL MINISTER and WHEELS & WITNESS.

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