Church builds faith through power of art

In an effort to find new ways of attracting followers, The Crossing Christian Church in southwest Las Vegas spent much of the summer exploring forms of artistic expression.

Dubbed Art Effect: Inspire (Our relationship with God), Reflect (The character of God), Express (Our worship toward God), the program offered seven expressions of art incorporated into the church’s worship services.

The series kicked off in mid-June with spoken word artist Hosanna Poetry and wrapped up with hip-hop dancers at the end of July.

“Every single weekend we are putting together worship experiences,” explained Michelle Shepherd, who traveled the country for 17 years performing rock ‘n’ roll music with her husband of 20 years, Vance Shepherd. “It’s definitely a challenge trying to provide something new and different every single week. This is a new way to present Jesus Christ to people. There are so many ways to express faith, and what better way to do that than through the arts?”

Following brainstorming sessions, the team of Michelle Shepherd, music director; the Revs. Lee Coate, executive pastor, David Cowan, arts and media pastor, and Josiah Phillip, production pastor; Emily Quigg, former creative arts administrative assistant; Matthew Biel, music and production assistant; Benji Zimmerman, missions director; and April Holladay, a volunteer and writer who has extensive experience with film and production, developed the art series.

“When we come up with an idea like this, we don’t know if we’ll connect with people, or not,” Coate said. “You have to trust your judgment and we don’t have the luxury to know in advance. Ultimately, you just hope the entire 60-minute experience is integrated.

“We want members of our church to feel as though every service at The Crossing has a theme that they can identify with.”

Additionally, Coate pointed out that Las Vegas is a city with many artists willing to contribute.

Among them even young artists, who gathered in front of 13 easels on Father’s Day to create pictures of themselves with their dads.

Weekend No. 3 started with contemporary worship music and delivery of the message with a blank canvas placed on the left side of the stage. Standing about 6 feet tall, the canvas remained blank until artist and Las Vegas native Jennifer Main walked onto the stage and slowly started to paint.

As The Crossing worship team continued the service, Main worked on what would become a painting of a young girl. The word “hope” was added to the top of the easel in what was both impressive and powerful.

The fourth week featured lyrical dancer Gina Pero, while the fifth week highlighted a video of Monument Valley near the Arizona-Utah border. The sixth week was dedicated to Yun Peng playing the guzheng, a harplike Asian instrument, and lastly, hip-hop dancers closed out the series July 26.

Art Effect did exactly what it was supposed to do in that it attracted people to the church and sent them home thinking about what they had seen and heard through the message and the art.

“We believe the messages we deliver create the space for people to speak with God,” Coate said. “Whether it’s through a song, the spoken word, a musical instrument or dance, we feel like we are now a culture that wants the church to be relevant.

“The art keeps us connected where people can grasp what’s going on.”

Opened in 2000, The Crossing, at 7950 W. Windmill Lane, attracts about 5,000 followers each week.

Main, a 1999 graduate of Las Vegas Academy, was approached to be a part of the series and eagerly accepted the chance to return home.

“I knew that I was going to be coming out to Las Vegas,” said Main, who moved to Los Angeles to open a studio. “Pastor Lee sent me a text message telling me about it and said that it would be about hope.”

As Main was painting, Coate spoke to the church, saying, “Waiting is the hardest work of hope.”

The two worked perfectly together, especially at the end when Main added the word “hope” over the top of her painting.

“I just kept working on the idea until I was happy with it,” Main said. “It struck chords in so many ways, that’s what was so great about it. A lot of people had different stories how the painting touched their heart, and many of them had tears in their eyes.

“There are so many rough situations now and this sort of thing opens people up to where they are speaking about it and sharing it with others. It’s just very cool.”

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