Teens 'rocking for the Lord and being moved by the spirit'

By Laura Knapp

Special to the Transcript

The Almighty rocks.

At least at the Westmoore Community Church on Wednesday nights. There, you'll find several hundred Moore-area teenagers "rocking for the Lord and being moved by the spirit."

They call it The MIX. An acronym for: Music, inspiration and connection.

The concept began about a year and a half ago as a five-week experiment. Officials say about 100 teens showed up that first Wednesday. After a hiatus, the program was brought back by popular demand, and only increased in appeal. The alternating structure has endured and attracts crowds averaging around 700 teens per gathering.

Yes, youth group prayer meetings have officially become cool.

Arguably one of the largest and best produced teen church programs in the Metro area, the MIX can only be described as rock festival meets Gospel music.

And, with something for almost everyone, the music appeals to literally hundreds of middle and high students who come together to worship and have fun in a safe -- and exciting -- environment.

"The atmosphere is relaxed and dress is casual," said Paul Cunningham, pastor of Westmoore Community Church. "We don't have a dress down code. We won't send you home to change out of your suit if that's what you feel comfortable wearing."

For Cunningham, the path to spirituality winds through Gospel rock.

Cunningham, a graduate of Tulsa's Oral Roberts University seminary school, said he spent a decade doing the Lord's work in "traditional churches," but never quite felt connected even as a pastor "to how they did church."

With his passion for faith and music, Cunningham -- a drummer -- formed Messiah Messenger, a Christian rock band. The band spread its message to kids and through music, videos and drama; much like what the WCC does today.

From there, it was a short step to the 'Flock that Rocks'.

With it's blend of concert-like atmosphere, (and freshly baked cookies) the MIX is as much as show as a message. The lighting, effects, stage and equipment are high end and rival any concert hall.

The music is loud.

The band is professional.

Everything is geared toward the teen audience; including the message. On this particular evening the theme is about handling stress.

Following the concert and the speaker, teens were invited to come to the stage and pray together. And pray they did; dozens of kids, lining the foot of the stage, swept up in the message and emotion of the evening's events.

With 12 years behind him, Cunningham has seen his vision of a new church became a reality.

In just a little more than a decade, the church has evolved, but the message has stayed the same: It's all right to be different. His tiny congregation of 25 people has grown nearly a thousand fold. Three Sunday morning services bring approximately 2000 people through the door each week

"That vision to bring those who had turned away from conventional religion back to church, appears to have caught on," he says.

Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, the approachable and easygoing pastor is a blend of cultures. In his office, hanging on the wall behind him, is a framed drawing of Jesus smiling along with a photo of himself with the classic Christian metal band Striper.

Yet, even with his unique approach to faith, Cunningham is quick to say he has no issue with the more traditional approach to religion.

"I affirm all Christian churches, we're all on the same team. It's just not for everyone, but then again, neither is WCC. That's why we're here."

Cunningham says he based his teachings on the Bible. "The message is same," he said. "It's just the method is different."

Quoting an old Christian rock song to sum up his passion for the youth ministry, Cunningham says he doesn't want to live "within the sound of capel bells."

"I want to run a mission three yards from the gates of Hell," he said.

"I want to be next to the high school to impact those who need it the most. It's all about the kids."

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