DURHAM — A Durham congregation will launch a hip-hop church Sunday to reflect the clothing, music and thinking of a counter-culture movement that has become a powerful and profitable influence over the past two decades.
Pastor Carl Kenney, who leads Compassion Ministries, and Christopher “Play” Martin, formerly of Kid ‘N Play, have joined forces to develop a ministry they are calling “The Remix.”
The alliance was destined, Kenney said, since both men have envisioned this type of outreach for several years.
“I got the idea back in 1989, when it became clear that we were missing a mark in the way we structure our institution called the church,” he said. “The people who live in our communities run away from our churches because they do not look like we look. They cannot drive our cars, they cannot dress the way we do, the cannot live in the houses we live in.”
The Remix will hold its first service at 3 p.m. Sunday. Martin will lead the service, and there will be a screening of the movie “Hip Hop’s New Direction.”
Platinum Souls from Atlanta will be special musical guests for the worship service. Kenney described the group as a Christ-centered duo, “destined to deconstruct and reassemble the face of music, with an unprecedented fusion of hip-hop, poetry and soul.”
In addition, the youth group at Compassion Ministries will play an important part in helping bring together a congregation for the new hip-hop church.
“We have a large band of young people, and we gave them a challenge to go out and find the lost sheep, and to bring friends to church,” Kenney said.
The message the new church will project is that hip-hoppers don’t have to ditch their music or their signature dress of baggy jeans, oversized shirts, tennis shoes and baseball caps in order to be followers of Christ.
“Being in Christ doesn’t mean you have to throw away who you are and become something different,” he said. “God can be found where they stand, where they live, in any culture and in things like the way they hear music.”
Kenney said youths who embrace hip-hop culture, particular black youths, are seeking an identity that belongs specially to them.
“Sometimes this comes across as an angry voice and a culture that demonizes and degrades women,” Kenney said, “but gospel hip-hop music, even though it might sound the same as regular hip-hop, will have a different message.”
Kenney sees the new ministry as a chance for Compassion Ministries to position itself as part of the counterculture, but in a way that reflects the person of Christ.
He chides the established church, which he sees as having failed to address the real issues in the community, such things as “drugs, poverty, the achievement gap, lack of regard for people who look different, classism and sexism.”
“[The established church] forces people into a way of faith that limits what God wants them to be,” he said. “It denies them their true identity.”
Kenney himself has come under fire in the past for his avant-garde approach to ministry.
“The way I wear my hair, my earring, the way I present the Gospel,” he said. “I see myself as a model of Christ. When I am rejected, I see myself aligning myself with Christ, standing against the status quo.”
Martin, who has had four successful albums, has many fans. He also has starred in films (“House Party” 1,2,3, and “Class Act”), a Saturday morning cartoon series on NBC, a Kid ‘N Play Marvel Comic Book Series and has made numerous personal appearances.
“[Young people are] looking for heroes. When they think it’s in me, it’s my opportunity to point up,” Martin said in a news release.
Kenney thinks the hip-hop church will appeal to a relatively youthful crowd, those between ages 12 and 35. Some observers of culture have defined the hip-hop generation as people born between 1965 and 1984.
“We have to be creative, radical, anything to resurrect these dry bones,” Kenney said. “Chris and I began talking about this about a year ago.”
The church, which will hold a service once a month, will meet at 2410 Presidential Drive, Suite 102, in Research Triangle Park. Compassion Ministries also meets at that location for its regular 10 a.m. Sunday service.
Kenney said the new focus is his church’s response to Mayor Bill Bell’s call for churches to get more involved in reaching gang members and youths at high risk of joining gangs.
“It’s about providing an opportunity for those who normally would not be reached,” Kenney said.