Hughie Lawrence, Beresford Dawkins and Andrej Iwanowski take a look at the way in which Christians are stepping into club culture.


Every week over a million people in the UK go clubbing. Considering this statistic, it's taken a long time for the Church to find a way of adequately responding to a scene where finding a sex partner, getting drunk or taking drugs seemingly go hand in hand with enjoying music. But now, as the Church approaches the millennium, there has emerged a growing number of Christian pioneers who, rather than stepping into the pulpit to denounce club culture as ungodly and immoral, are stepping into the club scene to take it for Christ.

The Christian nightclub has arrived. Today, dotted around Britain, individuals and churches are putting on regular, club-style events which are a genuine radical alternative to the banal excess of the world. It is too formative to be called a movement, yet there are signs that these events are beginning to network together to share ideas and even resources. In this survey, we look at the birth of what we've called Clu Network 2000.

Multi-media presentations to communicate Christian truth have in a sense been around for decades ever since churches sussed that if you put a rock band, a drama group and a mini-preach into a fast moving programme you had more chance of connecting with people than an hour long lecture on the Levitical offerings. But Christian multi-media events targeted more at club culture didn't really begin to develop until the mid 1980s as dance culture itself took off with the development of rave, house and garage musics.

A pioneer in seeing club culture as something which could be turned to God's use were the NOS (Nine O'clock Service) who held twice-a-month services at St Thomas Church, Crookes, a suburb of Sheffield. But NOS were primarily concerned with bringing lights, video walls and booming dance beats into a church building as they explored new contemporary ways of worshipping God. They quickly became pioneers in what was tagged 'alternative worship'. But as the Nine O'clock Service collapsed in a welter of sensationalist tabloid news stories, other alternative worship initiatives such as the Nine O'clock Service in Glasgow and the Hap Club in Birmingham took up the challenge to recast worship in new forms relevant for today's youth.
As the '90s moved on, alternative worship began to lose its usefulness as a descriptive phrase. Firstly, as was demonstrated by the theological excesses of the Nine O'clock Services, there were those within liberal church-manship for whom the experimentation of new music forms and the reclamation of symbol accompanied doctrine and practice far from the tenets of biblical Christianity. Secondly, there were clearly more than one cultural stream flowing from the alternative worship axis.

Stream one took the rhythms of mainstream dance music as a starting point to develop worship celebrations "where God could be worshipped on the dance floor." By the mid '90s well-established events like Planet Life in Manchester run by the World Wide Message Tribe and The Gathering in Bristol organised by NGM were demonstrating that Christian youth could worship God with dance as well as congregational singing.

Another stream were the new wave of young worship bands and worship leaders who were adding a harder pop rock edge to the older worship chorus writers and leaders. Such worship ministries as the Cutting Edge Band (later, of course, renamed Delirious?), Matt Redman and Paul Oakley, by cranking up the rhythm and the volume, took worship out of the stylised plod it had descended into as the original worship icons of the 70s reached middle age.

A third stream were the black majority churches who began to realise that they, after decades of being in the forefront in Spirit-led spontaneity in worship, were beginning to lag behind as their worship stylised into a tradition. A youth movement sprang up where the rhythms of urban R&B, hip-hop and even reggae and ragga began to merge into "traditional" gospel.

But if music in the churches was changing, it was attitudes to culture outside the churches which was the pivotal factor in developing the concept of a 'Christian nightclub'. It was in 1994 that Steve Baker and some fellow enthusiasts started the Abundant nightclub in the Victoria area of London. It immediately caught on and by 1995 they were forced to move to larger premises at The Railway Arch, Southwark Street, London. The objectives of the club were not evangelistic but to be a safe haven where Christians could bring their friends and enjoy some good sounds and where non-Christians could visit without any uncomfortable encounters with Bible bashers. Within a couple of years other clubs/events were springing up in different parts of the country which were a hybrid of the two extremes, neither as avowedly Christian culture as the alternative worship events nor as self-consciously secular as Abundant. Today, there are possibly hundreds of events, clubs and regular meetings which could come under the umbrella of Christian multimedia. We've picked out a few though for a more comprehensive list, please look in the 1999 Cross Rhythms Christian Music Directory.

The year 2000 onwards we are sure will see a positive turning point in the youth club culture. The idea of going to a club to throw caution to the wind and go with what feels good will be replaced by an attitude of fun, food and fellowship in a drug-free, safe and wholesome environment and where Jesus' name is lifted up in a creative and relevant way. So let's encourage you to go with the flow and dare to be in God's will.

What Is Alternative Worship?

Andrzej Iwanowski:
"Alternative worship is an expression of worship using the contemporary mediums of the day, ie, media, arts, music and reuse of ancient Christian expressions. It is an attempt to relate to God and the Church in a language and style which is not alien from the society/culture we live in today."

Steve Baker of Abundant:
"An alternative worship event aims to enable, or ead, the worshipper to express devotion to God using unconventional or different "tools", methods, styles and mediums than the Christian Church on the whole currently uses."

The Temple:
"An alternative worship event is an event that is put on for Christians so that they can express to God in new ways how they feel about him. The purpose of an alternative worship event is to gather Christians together who are fed up with the normal ways people worship God in church and they come to worship him in alternative and new ways, such as new songs, different styles of music, drama, etc. It's to encourage the Church to break out of the norm and to break into something new in expressing themselves to God. I don't think this should be termed as alternative but to encourage the Church to worship God the way that they should. To me it's just a worship event."

What is a Christian multimedia event?