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Ramps bring skateboarders to Russellville churchcomment (0)

September 15, 2005

By Jonathan Willis

When Gary Montgomery began to look for new ways to minister to the youth of northwest Alabama, he was drawn to an approach much different than those the church had previously used.
With the ever-increasing popularity of skateboarding and extreme sports, the Tharptown Baptist Church, Russellville, member saw a possibility to minister. “Skateboarding and extreme sports are on the rise, and sometimes it’s really not tapped into,” Montgomery said.
After talking with Tharptown Baptist pastor Chip Martin and Matt Cooper, Tharptown’s youth minister, the trio decided to reach this fringe population.
So Montgomery and the men’s missions group at the Franklin Baptist Association church set to work building skateboard ramps. “God just placed this on my heart,” Montgomery said. “I want to reach those who might not otherwise be reached.”
Tharptown is one of a handful of churches across the country that uses the skateboarding ministry as a tool for outreach.
“We had the skateboard ministry for about two years,” said Lee Dymond, minister to students at Taylor Road Baptist Church, Montgomery, led by Pastor Andy Hepburn. Although the program is currently on hold, plans are in the works to get it going again soon, he said.
The skateboarding ministry is different from other outreaches because it is a nontraditional approach, Dymond said. “It takes awhile to build relationships because it’s just a different sub-culture of a culture,” he said.
Building relationships with skateboarders is the goal at Tharptown, according to Martin. “Traditionally churches just assume the unchurched will come into the church naturally. We live in a day where that’s not the case,” he said. “Someone could look at it on the surface and say, ‘It’s a recreation ministry; there’s nothing to it,’ but it’s so much more than that.”
It’s all about providing a bridge for people who otherwise might not set foot inside a church building, Martin explained.
Each Monday at 5:30 p.m., skateboarders meet at the church to hit the pavement with their skateboards before having prayer and a devotional, led by Chris Martin, 20, a student at the University of North Alabama.
“A lot of kids get kicked out of places for skateboarding, so we have this safe place for them to get together,” he said. “We have had a couple of kids who have come to the Lord through this, and a few more have come to our church some.”
Although the number of skateboarders has tapered down from the original 40 or so who used to come, Chris Martin said he believes the ministry will continue to work in young people’s lives.
“We are just keeping the door open for them,” he said.

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