A Church for Everyone
Churches that combine religion with specific lifestyle interests are springing up throughout 417-land. These churches are adapting to the people they serve whether that means preaching at the stockyards, the skate park or on the open road.
With the radio blaring over the PA system and men working on the ramps below, six teenagers sat in the upstairs balcony at the Springfield Skate Park and gave all of their attention to Mark Vote and Dylan Harreld.
Sure, Vote, 22, and Harreld, 20, are talented skaters, more than capable of captivating their audience with ollies and kickflips, but their boards were nowhere in sight. It wasn’t time to skate, it was time to attend skate church.
Once a week, Vote and Harreld put on a short, laid-back Bible study. It is part of a growing trend in 417-land, nondenominational Christian churches that reach people through their hobbies and vocations.
Harreld and Vote each travel the country using skateboarding to preach the Gospel as members of a national Springfield-based group, which is called the Tentative Skateboard Ministry.
A year and a half ago, Vote and three partners started the skate church. “We saw a need and nobody was doing it,” Vote says. “There’s been several churches that have had skate churches, but it’s more like a youth group with a couple of ramps.”
The skate church started meeting at a coffee shop, then a church and then moved to the upstairs of the skate park in November, which Vote and Herrald say allows them to meet skaters where they are.
During skate church, Vote and Herrald read Bible verses, talk about their personal experiences and then hang out with the five to 15 teenagers and young adults in attendance.
Vote says he and Herrald are able to get their message across because they’re young, they’re skaters and they don’t pressure anyone to come.
Although things are going well at the skate park, Herrald says it is his dream for the group to have their very own warehouse one day.
“Eventually our goal is to have our own facility where we could have a small skate park, a small skate church and be able to keep kids off the streets,” Harreld says.
When pastor Steve Stafford stands in front of the sale ring at the Joplin Regional Stockyards with a Bible resting on the podium in front of him, he realizes it doesn’t look like your typical Sunday service.
The Risen Ranch Cowboy Church has been held at the stockyards for a little more than a year and a half and, believe it or not, it is the most formal location the church has had in its four years.
Stafford says it all began with four men doing a Bible study under a shade tree before work on Tuesday mornings. After it grew, Stafford began preaching in a back room at Arby’s in Carthage. Now, the more than 200 members of the cowboy church call the stockyards home.
Of those members, Stafford says many weren’t going to church at all before because they felt out of place everywhere else.
“I don’t have anything against the churches in town, those are great,” Stafford says. “But that doesn’t fit these people. They feel comfortable coming in here in blue jeans.”
The church also does a lot of things outside of Sunday mornings, such as Rodeo Bible Camp, their spin on vacation Bible school, and big potlucks where members ride horses and play music all afternoon.
“You can only beat someone over the head with a Bible so much before you wear them out, let’s be honest about it,” Stafford says. “So let’s have some fellowship, let’s have some fun and let’s look at how God is working in our lives.”
A biker since he was a teenager, Fred Zumalt (Pastor Z) knows better than most people that it’s hard to tie a motorcycle rider down.
For many bikers, the call of the open road is louder than the one telling them to sit in a pew all morning. That’s why Zumalt often takes his show on the road.
“We go out to where bikers are at because, in reality, they are not usually going to just drop into a church,” Zumalt says. “So we go to where they’re at, the biker hangouts, the biker bars, the biker events.”
Zumalt holds a service every Sunday night at his building, The Biker Church Branson, but he says only about 20 people attend regularly, so most of his ministry is done at different events. “In this area, there are several hundred bikers that call me their pastor, but they’ve never come to our church,” Zumalt says. “But if they have a need they call on me.”
At the biker church, services are open to bikers and non-bikers alike, and people are encouraged to come in their jeans, caps and tats.