Churches using mixed-martial arts to bring Gospel to young men

The New York Times continues its recent string of Memphis-datelined features (see here and here) with a story in Monday's editions about evangelical Christian churches using mixed-martial arts to minister to young men.

The setting for the story was a Cage Assault MMA show on Beale Street. One of the teams participating in the card was Xtreme Ministries, "a small church near Nashville that doubles as a mixed martial arts academy." Xtreme is one of a growing number of churches -- the story stresses that nearly all of them are white -- that are using cage fighting "to explain how Christ fought for what he believed in."

The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries -- and into the image of Jesus -- in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. "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."

The background to this effort is to increase church attendance among young men. Some pastors interviewed for the story say they fear that churches have become too focused on women and children.

Men ages 18 to 34 are absent from churches, some pastors said, because churches have become more amenable to women and children. "We grew up in a church that had pastel pews," said Tom Skiles, 37, the pastor of Spirit of St. Louis Church in Arnold, Mo. "The men fell asleep."

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