By: Katie Sobiech
Brandon Kightlinger, 24, and Michael Casto, 35, are two guys with one big vision – to see Akron unite and come to know Christ in a real, authentic way. They hope to launch this revival through Generation Akron (GA).
GA will not be your average church… Its leaders want to present the Gospel to Akron in a way it hasn’t been done before, to reach the un–churched, or those who wouldn’t dare step foot into a church.
Though they are not changing the Gospel message, they are changing the way it is presented.
Recent statistics reveal that young people are leaving the church in droves (www.christianpost.net). What has been found is that many do not feel welcome, some attended in order to please mom and/or dad, and others believe the church is too critical, full of hypocrites and un-necessary for spiritual development.
“Recent statistics show that eighty-nine percent of the youth who grew up in the church turn away from God when they go off to college, and many do not return,” Kightlinger said.
In the Heart of the City
The gathering which will be located in a 17,000 square foot warehouse in downtown Akron is not your average church building. Pews will be replaced with bleachers, and stained glass windows with an array of decorative props from the Carousel Dinner Theater.
Don’t be fooled right now by the dark, messy warehouse full of scrap and dust…Kightlinger and his crew have been working on it day and night so that its doors can open as soon as possible. Spring 2010 is the tentative date.
Though they target 18-30 year olds, all welcome. However, they will check ID’s on certain nights when discussing adult topics.
“It won’t be G Rated,” Casto said “It’s going to be straightforward. We’re not watering down anything.”
A Vision is Born
The vision for this began after Kightlinger had a conversation with an old friend from High School. This young woman grew up in church but chose to pursue a life of partying and violence instead.
“She told me about her life and what God did through really tragic things with her,” Kightlinger said, “and then she began to tell me about one of her friends…”
This friend had many abortions throughout High School which, Kightlinger said, “Pushed her into a deep depression and torment.”
“I left that conversation,” he continued, “and God laid this passion so strongly on my heart. He spoke to me and said ‘Brandon who is reaching out to that girl?’ This girl that would never step foot in the door of a church. She grew up in the church but wanted nothing to do with God.”
As Kightlinger left that conversation he said God gave him a vision for the warehouse saying “If people won’t go to a church we will do whatever is possible to create a place where they can come and question and doubt and deal with issues of faith and humanity and a God who interacts with their imperfect humanity.”
“God was stirring other people’s hearts throughout the city as well,” Kightlinger said.
These individuals who shared a similar vision started small group meetings at Casto’s house.
“People who used to be involved in the adult entertainment industry and who just got out of jail come,” Kightlinger said.
“And they come because it’s not threatening,” Casto added, “We don’t water down the word, we give it straightforward and I think that’s what they want. They don’t want something fake – they want something real so we don’t try to sugarcoat anything.”
“That’s kind of the goal of Generation Akron, to speak the word of God in its boldest form,” Kightlinger said, “In creative ways though. We want to allow God to display Himself and show ‘Hey I’m not contained by a church, by a worship style or denomination. I can bring healing, restoration, wholeness and a revelation of myself in the middle of a rundown warehouse in the middle of Akron to people who might not have even been seeking me’”.
Kightlinger purposely chose a location near bars, clubs and Akron University.
“We want to be in that environment and meet people where they are at,” he said. “We want this to be a place where we can create a new culture. College is so much defined by wildness and selfishness, just go crazy and do whatever you want for four years, but we want to create a new culture where people are defined by purpose. We welcome those who are willing to wrestle with their history and all of the pains, hurts, joys and dreams.”
Kightlinger says that one of the defining characteristics of the GA community is that every single person is welcome regardless of their religion. Muslim, Hindu, atheist, Christian…it doesn’t matter.
“There is no earned love here, it’s unconditional,” he said.
Reaching the Heart
Kightlinger attributes some of the falling away of young adults from the church to “Being told answers and fed a PG version of the Gospel.”
Though, he admits, it has to be that way in churches because of families and children. At the same time, this causes many young adults to label the church as irrelevant.
“There’s kind of a disconnect with youth growing up in the church and the life they experience when they go off on their own,” he said, “so we want this to be a place where people have to wrestle with things.”
They will talk about different faiths, beliefs and tough subjects through forums.
A Community of Beautiful Imperfection
“When Jesus came he didn’t just attack people’s opinions and beliefs. He went to the heart of people’s stories,” Kightlinger explained, “He told the woman at the well ‘Actually you’ve been with all of these other men’. He went to the heart; he went to her pain, which she was longing for. We want people to have freedom to express their hearts and the reflection of their story.”
Artistic expression is welcome and GA will encourage people to use their gifts whether that includes rapping, painting, singing, dancing…whatever it is. This will be an outlet for them to show the world, or at least some of Akron.
Those involved will also be encouraged to share their beliefs, questions, doubts and where they come from.
“Once we see their background and where their opinions are coming from we will let them know about our God,” Casto said.
“God is not shaken by these things. The idea of God being a perfect God who interacts only with perfect people isn’t true,” Kightlinger said. “All through the Bible it was a messy humanity and God chose to interact with them anyway.”
“We are calling Generation Akron a community of beautiful imperfection because that’s what it’s all about; imperfect people and the beauty that comes out once God comes into their life. God can use all of their imperfections and restore every single one of those lives,” Casto said.
“We believe God is calling the church of Akron to be unified,” Kightlinger said, “There hasn’t been a whole lot of effort to unify denominational segregation.”
This is a topic close to Kightlinger, whose father, a pastor, turned away from God and left his family about seven years ago. This led Kightlinger to attend different churches and study different Christian traditions.
“Our generation unifies around causes and things and they are not going to unify around a God who is divided so greatly in a small city. When people claim to be speakers for God are so much at each others throats we cannot say and be honest with people that God is a unifying God of love if we’re not demonstrating it. So we’re really calling the churches and leaders of Akron to genuinely unite.”
His prayer is that they can ultimately unite in their theology as well, and plans to do what he can to spur this on. Plans to make this happen include pairing up pastors from different backgrounds to lead small groups together. This will be one part of the three part vision for GA which includes forums, small groups and teaching pools for pastors.
“A lot of times we get so caught up in our own churches and ministries that we miss what God is doing in the city. One thing that’s interesting is if you look in the scripture God speaks to the church of a city.”
He continued, “We often look at our churches and say we’re doing outreach and all of these great things, but if the city is in turmoil, if the city is lacking in anything then the individual churches are not ok. God has called us to be unified as a church to take possession, to take this Gospel of healing to a city. So it’s exciting to see what God is doing here in Akron.”
For more information on Generation Akron and/or how you can help them please contact Brandon or Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Ninety-percent of young adults believe that they can have a good relationship with God without going to church.
* Sixty-three percent agreed that if a church presented truth to them in an understandable way that relates to their lives now they would attend.
* Eighty-nine percent of un-churched young adults said they would be willing to listen if someone wanted to tell them about Christianity. http://www.threadsmedia.com