Verve boldly states its mission as the “church for people who don’t like church.”
The nondenominational Christian church at 7850 Dean Martin Drive, Suite 503, takes place in what some members call the “warehouse,” a darkened space that resembles a nightclub. It comes complete with a “Velcro Bar” — the trappings of a bar area, where people can submit prayer requests and ask questions. The crowd is young. Average age: 39, according to Jake Keck, whose title is creative arts pastor.
“We try our best to not take ourselves too seriously,” says Keck, who also holds a full-time job as a Realtor.
A recent service kicks off with the church rock band’s rendition of “Take the Money and Run,” and a video about Keck’s supposed penchant for hoarding. The video pans to the hand of one of his kids, reaching out from beneath a pile of debris for food.
“We’re not coming at them with a hard sell of, ‘Accept this, join us or die,’ ” Keck adds. “It’s, ‘We’d love to give you something to think about. Something you can practically apply to your life that would truly make a difference.’ “
Lead Pastor Vince Antonucci says the church doesn’t aim to take people away from other churches. Instead, it appeals to people who probably wouldn’t be going to church otherwise.
“A lot of churches are very good at presenting truth but aren’t always the best at loving people,” he says. “We love people, we accept them where they’re at. And then walk with them to where we all need to be.”
That means blasting open stereotypes with humor, video, Top 10 lists and a relevant music selection. For the benefit of approximately 300 service attendees every weekend, Antonucci also applies a healthy dose of sociological research.
Take the Bible’s claim that it’s better to give than to receive.
“Can we somehow test this against reality, and empirically verify what the Bible says?” asks Antonucci. “It turns out, you can.”
He grew up in Florida and New Jersey, and once aspired to be “the dude who brought down Christianity.” His mother was Jewish. His father, a professional poker player who frequented Las Vegas and eventually ended up on TV’s “America’s Most Wanted,” he says.
“One day, when I was 11, he went out to Las Vegas and didn’t come back,” Antonucci remembers.
Visiting church and its milieu of organ-playing and polyester Sunday best didn’t sit well with him. He set out to disprove the Bible. Instead, he says, he ran into “volumes of evidence” that turned him to Christianity. Eventually, he left law school for seminary.
His goal: to start a church for people like him, who couldn’t relate to traditional church. He started Verve more than five years ago.
One stereotype he shuns involves incessant church talk about money. Out of 280 weekends thus far, he calculates there have been eight discussing the subject of money. New visitors are encouraged to not give, and to accept the service as a gift.
“The offering is for people who have committed, who’ve made us their church home,” Antonucci explains.
Verve has also drummed up financial support from Central Christian Church, The Crossing and Canyon Ridge Christian Church, according to Antonucci.
Some longtime members say they were led to the church in mysterious ways.
Ted Champaign, who serves as church sound engineer and band member, says he got cancer and fell into depression. He decided to check out a church service one evening as an excuse to ride his motorcycle at night.
“They were playing ‘Renegade’ by the band Styx, and the message that day was about Jesus being a renegade, and how we could all be renegades,” he recalls.
Then there’s Gary Robinson, who’s attended Verve for about 2 1/2 years. While driving home from work late at night, he heard a radio ad for the church and changed the station. The ad seemed to follow him to two other stations — the last time after Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” He took it as a sign.
The first sermon he attended addressed the subject of hypocrisy, one of his own “aversions,” he says, when it comes to traditional churchgoing.
Jessica Galland, who’s been attending for about five years, says she was drawn in by a door hanger. It was right around the time her then 6-year-old daughter was asking questions about God that she couldn’t answer.
Her daughter now tags along on Galland’s church volunteer shifts, helping with tasks such as caring for babies in the nursery and setting up Communion. She’s also learning to do video in the tech booth.
“Here, this is good,” motions Galland, doing a sweep of her own attire. “I could walk in here in flip-flops and cut-off shorts and a T-shirt, and this is where I belong.”
For Antonucci, there’s an element of redemption in his work with Las Vegans, amidt plenty of painful childhood Las Vegas associations with his father and the dissolution of his family.
“The idea of going to a place that had caused me so much pain, trying to help people in that city who were hurting, and trying to offer them love and healing and a path toward wholeness, really appealed to me,” he says.