When you think of Kanye West it’s probably about his career as a Grammy-winning rapper and record producer. Or it may be about his hyper-publicized marriage to Kim Kardashian. But West doesn’t conjure an image of church.
Pastor Quinn Rodgers wants to change that.
The church he started in May, GeneratiONE (pronounced “Generation One”), is one where you’re likely to hear something from the Kanye West songbook. This is not a traditional place of worship. The Baptist church, a member of the United Missionary Baptist Association, is a hip-hop church.
Like many religious leaders before him, “Pastor Quinn,” as he’s known to his flock, doesn’t take credit for forming a new congregation. “God and I had a long conversation about it,” he says. “He revealed to me the blueprint.”
Why now? “It was time,” Rodgers says.
If you’re thinking hip-hop is geared to one narrow – and young – demographic, think again. Rodgers believes it has wide appeal.
“Hip-hop has been around for 40 years. The founding fathers of hip-hop culture are approaching senior citizen status now. Some of them have grandkids.”
One of GeneratiONE’s first supporters, in fact, is an octogenarian. Dr. Willis Hickerson is a retired minister with a background in music. So he was a logical early supporter of Rodgers’ vision.
That vision relies heavily on music director Emma Foster. She selects the music for worship services held Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in Huntersville and directs the 15-member Room at the Cross Community Choir.
“Our choir may be oriented to hip-hop culture, but that doesn’t mean we’re limited to it,” she says.
On a recent Saturday, the choir, consisting of Foster on keyboards, a drummer, bassist and six singers.
They performed a jubilant Michael Jackson mash-up including “Off the Wall,” “Remember the Time” and a bass-heavy “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough.”
Music without limitations
The congregation clapped and swayed in time. A few folks even stood and sang along.
In addition to Kanye and Michael Jackson, Foster has woven music by Jay Z, The Gap Band, The Police, Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman into worship services.
The service begins with 30 minutes of Rodgers, doubling as DJ, spinning songs (a remix of Kirk Franklin’s “Lovely Day” that fades into Tonex’s “Personal Jesus,” for example) from a stage during what he terms “happy hour.” Ultimately, Rodgers hopes to have a core team of guest DJs rotate in and out each week. There may be spoken word, interpretive dance, graffiti art and theatrical elements during the service, too.
There’s also a sermon where you can expect scripture as well as references to hip-hop stars like Biggie and Tupac. (The pastor is a hip-hop fan himself. His favorite artists include Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange.)
‘Not in it for the numbers’
Spreading the word about a new church – especially one that meets on Saturday evenings – isn’t easy, but Rodgers says social media has been a blessing. GeneratiONE is actively marketing itself with merchandise, too. There’s an online store with T-shirts featuring their snazzy logo of the Charlotte skyline.
Rodgers is doing double pastoral duty; he serves as lead pastor at a well-established church, Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church, which has been in existence for 127 years. With about 125 members, it’s still a small church.
But it’s still larger than the fledgling GeneratiONE. On a recent Saturday, about 45 congregants from toddlers to seniors, most of them casually attired, came together in a building just behind Lake Forest Church. (The two churches have a loose affiliation.
Lake Forest’s founder and lead pastor, Dr. Mike Moses, is mentoring Rodgers on developing a new church. Moses knows something about growing a congregation. He began his own church in 1998 with 42 worshippers; he now has close to 2,000.)
Rodgers says GeneratiONE has been averaging about 100 people each week. “But we’re not in it for the numbers,” he says. “We’re in it for the souls to be saved.”
If a young, T-shirt-clad pastor of a startup church calls to mind another preacher who’s been in the news recently (Steven Furtick of Elevation Church), that’s purely coincidental. Rodgers says he’s not modeling GeneratiONE on any church. “I’m looking to Jesus for the model,” he says. “We’re focused on sharing the gospel. God will take care of the rest.”