St. Paul's Church broadens its target audience with contemporary effort
By Jane Ford-Stewart
Muskego — People who don't think they would be welcome at church are just the people that St. Paul's Church, Muskego, is looking for.
They might be people people with an inordinate number of tattoos or body piercings who think others would not accept them. People with bad religious experiences. Or simply people who are looking for something more in their lives but have found traditional church-going unsatisfying.
Instead of the sanctuary, The Bridge services will be held in the St. Paul's school gym, chosen as a more familiar venue for folks not accustomed to churches. The gym entryway takes them through the coffee shop, which will offer fresh-brewed coffee before, after and even during the service. Jeans and T-shirts are just fine.
Inside, visitors will find upbeat Christian music played by a live band in which the Rev. John Backus will play acoustic and electric guitar and will deliver the sermon later. The sermons themselves will be conversational, in keeping with the informal style of the service.
The idea is to be more of a concert setting that incorporates a message and a prayer, said Sally Wallner, St. Paul's community outreach coordinator.
"We'll be ramping the music up for The Bridge and be rocking and participating," she said.
But the goal is a serious one.
"We want to show people what it means to be loved and safe," Backus said.
At some time or other, everyone has found out what it means to be broken and frustrated, he said, and Christianity can give answers.
"Spiritual matters are also practical matters," Backus said.
"We offer hope and help," Wallner added.
Based on a study the church bought from a research firm, church officials estimate that 8,000 Muskego residents are not involved in their Christian faith.
The goal is to reach them by keeping potentially off-putting religious symbols and practices at a minimum to let the love that is the real message shine through, Wallner said. St. Paul's even has dropped the evangelical Lutheran parts of its full name for general purposes, she added, though it is still formally St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church and School.
St. Paul's already has a contemporary service with contemporary Christian music in addition to a traditional service. But The Bridge will be even farther along the contemporary lines, Wallner said. The sermons, however, will be on the same topics as at the other two services.