Known to have the best runs in the Pacific Northwest, Paul, Ben and forty staff members run SKATECHURCH each night. Kids come in to skate the bowl, quarter pipes, banks, euro-gaps, handrails and two indoor street courses. And in the middle of every skate session, everyone lays down their board for a 30-minute message. For those without a baseball hat or headband to stop the sweat, the back of their hand will suffice as they slide their lean frames into worn-out folding chairs, ears alert to a straight-forward presentation of the Gospel.
Paul and Clint were inseparable friends in junior high and high school. Growing up in the San Luis Obispo, Calif., skate culture of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, they were both chosen for the Central Coast Surfboards skate team and emerged as top freestyle competitors. But essentially, they were still just a pair of defiant skate rats—stealing wood to build ramps, trespassing to find a good run, drinking, getting high—it was a way of life.
But their junior year, things took a turn. Clint was invited to a church ski retreat and decided to go. Why? to hook up with a girl, of course. But that weekend, God made it clear to Clint that he was separated from God, a pretty frightening thought. He was gripped by his need for Christ and was amazed by the Gospel.
Months earlier, while Paul was partying at the beach, he heard a young Christian guy preaching at him through a bullhorn from the top of the embankment. That wasn’t the first time he’d been faced with a challenge to rethink his lifestyle. He knew Jesus had him by the collar and wasn’t about to let go. By seventeen, both Clint and Paul had given their hearts to Jesus and underwent a radical lifestyle change. Continuing to skate as sponsored amateurs, they both moved to Portland, Ore., in 1987 and started school at Multnomah Bible College.
A few months later at the campus library, Paul was hitting the books, trying to prepare for an upcoming class. Spotting his skateboard, some local kids who were ditching the youth service at the nearby church mad a beeline straight for him. Though he knew he should witness to them, he was annoyed instead since they were distracting him from his studies. So he told them they could take his board outside.
No idiot, he quickly realized that they were going to steal it. With that thought in mind, he pushed back from the table and went outside to talk to them.
The rest is skateboard history. From that day, Paul Anderson made it his mission to hang out with skaters and in his own way, become a “fisher of men.” He felt for the kids because he knew they didn’t fit in with local conservative youth groups. So when he wasn’t in school, Paul spent his time with high school and junior highers, skateboarding ramps and half-pipes in people’s backyards. Soon enough, his good friend Clint joined him. And not long after, Mark Deymaz (then the youth pastor for Central Bible Church in Portland) shelled out some money to build ramps in the church parking lot. He encouraged Paul and Clint to “let the kids skate, with a plan to ‘preach Jesus’ and then see what happens.”
Today, Paul continues to do just that, along with his current ministry partner, Ben Thomas. But now they actually hold church inside a skate part that’s more than eleven thousand square feet in its entirety. Known to have the best runs in the Pacific Northwest, Paul, Ben and forty staff members run SKATECHURCH each night. Kids come in to skate the bowl, quarter pipes, banks, euro-gaps, handrails and two indoor street courses. And in the middle of every skate session, everyone lays down their board for a 30-minute message. For those without a baseball hat or headband to stop the sweat, the back of their hand will suffice as they slide their lean frames into worn-out folding chairs, ears alert to a straight-forward presentation of the Gospel.
Tragically, Clint passed away in 1993, more than 10 years after contracting HIV through a contaminated blood transfusion he’d received following a near fatal motorcycle accident. Ben commented, “Most of the kids know the history of SKATECHURCH, and we keep Clint’s VW bus, photograph, and his board in the skate park as a memorial to his service to Christ and the skaters of Portland.”
Paul Anderson, now in his 40s, is known as somewhat of a legend—in contemporary ministry as well as in skateboarding history. “It really is incredible to think about how God was able to do all this over the past few decades. More than ten thousand young people have heard the Gospel through SKATECHURCH. More than one thousand of them made decisions to turn their lives over to Jesus. I think that is not only a testament to the power of the Gospel, but also to what can happen when you bring church to the people instead of trying to drag people into church.”
Having first encouraged the new followers of Christ to attend Sunday morning services at Central Bible, Paul began to realize that an alternative service would better meet the unique heart language these kids spoke. Since three out of four of the young people attending SKATECHURCH come from a broken home, and they really have their own dress code and lingo, it was difficult for them to fit into a traditional service.
Already there were a growing number of skateboarders who’d begun to share their testimonies, lead Bible studies and meet with younger skaters just for the purpose of encouragement and friendship. Combined with the fact that some of them were talented musicians, they decided to start a worship and teaching Bible study, which quickly grew into an alternative-style Sunday evening church service for SKATECHURCH staff, skaters, and their friends and families at Central Bible.
House lights dim as band members open up the evening with songs that invite attendees to set aside some of their innate inhibitions for an extended time of joyful, exuberant worship. The welcoming, safe, and casual ambiance is met with appreciation. Without breaking a beat, the rhythm slows, and with hands held high and eyes shut, a more melodious tune ushers worshipers to the feet of Jesus for a time of communion. Remembering together what was accomplished for them at the cross, believers spend a moment in silent prayer. Gripped by the undeserved love and favor Jesus has poured out on them, they take the bread and the juice, which speak to them of the forgiveness offered through His body give and blood shed.
Combined with a rare form of boldness, compelling authority, and genuine compassion, Paul and the skate staff give them a cause other than skateboarding to live for—Jesus Christ.