‘Where Feet, Fists, and Faith Collide’

Behold, the latest pitch to attract more men to church

In the back room of a theater on Beale Street, John Renken, 42, a pastor, recently led a group of young men in prayer.

“Father, we thank you for tonight,” he said. “We pray that we will be a representation of you.”

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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An hour later, a member of his flock who had bowed his head was now unleashing a torrent of blows on an opponent, and Mr. Renken was offering guidance that was not exactly prayerful.

“Hard punches!” he shouted from the sidelines of a martial arts event called Cage Assault. “Finish the fight! To the head! To the head!” 

Renken is the founder of Xtreme Ministries, a church-slash-mixed-martial-arts academy outside of Nashville. The New York Times article calls it one of a “small but growing number” of evangelical churches to combine MMA with church services in an attempt to reach out to young men.

“Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”

This isn’t a new concept, of course: Churches have tried all sorts of things to get young people in the doors, and we’ve had long conversations here about the need today for more manly expressions of faith. So is this idea on the right track, or is it overcorrecting for all that “compassion and love stuff”? I expect our MMA fans out there might have a thing or two to say about this, too…


  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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