Thursday Night Live at Bowling Green

by LeAnn Corn

Jeans and sweatshirts. _Tunes by the Goo-Goo Dolls. _Piercings and tattoos. _Real discussions about sex.

Whoa! Can this really be church?

Bowling Green State University students are worshipping God the Gen-X way or, as they say, "teh Gen-(why)Y way be getting real". And their reality is definitely not their parents? church.

Thursday Night Live, known on this Northwest Ohio campus as tnl, is an alternative church billed as the church for the new millennium.

Attendance has climbed to nearly 175 students each week, which organizers attribute to God?s working through a laid-back atmosphere.

At about 8 p.m. each Thursday, students pile into the lounge of the campus ice arena for a healthy dose of tnl. That includes listening to a few alternative tunes by popular secular groups performed live by tnl?s own band. The atmosphere is night-club like, with dimmed lighting, a stage and colored spotlights.

Peers talk candidly about personal struggles, successes and how they found answers in the Bible. They pray by just talking to God as if He were standing beside them.

Most college students are away from home for the first time and opt not to attend church. They may not want to "waste" a Sunday morning to attend a "boring, irrelevant" service, according to Jim Poorman, campus director who works closely with the BG Christian Students organization to operate tnl.

Poorman, who grew up in North Olmsted, is a 1990 BGSU graduate. "I can relate to the students because, although I was raised in a Christian home, I just came here to party," Poorman said.

He had doubts about the reality of the resurrection of Christ, whether or not the Bible was factual or what relevance it had to his daily life.

Several guys in his dorm repeatedly invited him to attend a small Bible study sponsored by BG Christian Students.

"When I finally decided to go so they would stop hassling me, for the first time in my life I heard that Jesus had died for me and for everything I?ve ever done and that He can save me from hell," Poorman said. "I got saved and I got excited. Now my goal is to turn atheists into missionaries."

To do that, Poorman joined Great Commission Ministries based in Worthington, Ohio, which has planted similar ministries on 30 campuses throughout the United States and 10 overseas, including in Ukraine and Germany.

Ten staff missionaries at BGSU raise support from churches and individuals and work full-time to reach students for Christ. They are joined in the effort by 40 volunteer student leaders.

Thursday Night Live fliers distributed on campus state: "Regardless of whether you?re a Christian or an atheist, or you?ve just got some questions about ?this Christian thing,? you?re welcome!"

"Our goal for tnl is to make this not feel like church," Poorman said. "So many of these students grew up with negative attitudes about church, and trying to force an outdated style of worship on them will turn them away from God for good. We want to show them God is absolutely relevant to their lives, even if they choose to worship Him differently."

It?s OK to dance along to extremely loud music in the name of Christ, and it?s OK to have fun when you?re a Christian, Poorman said.

"This is full-blown worship," he said. "These kids see people really experiencing God each week. But we don?t ever want to cross the line.

"We play secular cover tunes to get their attention, but we?re very careful to not choose music that?s offensive or contrary to what we believe. Most secular music is just meant to get kids? attention and is really about nothing. But if we need to, we change a few words to keep it clean."

Although tnl is reaching the alternative crowd, students who prefer to worship in a more traditional, yet still contemporary way may attend a Sunday morning service. Nearly 120 students opt for this service and also participate throughout the week in small group Bible studies.

"Pain, anger, abuse, sex ? whatever it is, God says something about it," Poorman said. "And along with that, God?s Word tells us why we should or shouldn?t do something and how it will affect our lives."

Christian students are not embarrassed to invite their non-Christian friends to tnl because it?s not a high-pressure, altar-call atmosphere where they?ll be put on the spot to make a decision. Most of the time these students will return week after week and later seek out a Christian friend or leader individually to discuss making a decision to follow Christ.

"The biggest impact we?re having is that we?re shattering the misconceptions this conservative campus has about religion," Poorman said. "We?re shattering the myth that worship has to be subdued and boring or that as believers we?re all a bunch of nerdy Jesus freaks.

"We?re telling them this Jesus thing is reasonable and deserves a strong, hard consideration on their part, and we?re showing them why through our own personal experiences."

This is definitely not your mama?s church!C