Josh Martin swears that his new music venue, theElement, is not just for Christians. The 23-year-old youth pastor, dressed in a gray Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt, fidgets on a couch in the basement of Christ Church, at 1626 S. Tejon St. For the past two months, he has hosted local and Denver-based acts here.
Martin, who is slack-jawed and ebullient at his recent thrust into a wanting Colorado Springs music scene, explains that theElement lands somewhere between a concert hall and a youth group.
"If they want to come to church, good," he says of theElement's dozens of high school and college-age guests. "If they don't, even better. Well, not even better. But great, too."
In spite of his pleading sincerity, it's not easy to believe Martin's promise of a secular, all-ages, alcohol-free venue. After all, the Montana native joined the sales staff at his hometown Abercrombie & Fitch in order to evangelize his fashion-driven teenage customers. (He'd ask them to come to church and show them films on the African poor.)
When Martin was transferred to a Colorado Springs retail shop several months ago, he took an internship with The Furnace, a leadership training program at New Life Church. Today, in addition to youth pastoring at the evangelical Christ Church, he helps out at New Life's youth and college ministries. He counts besmirched megachurch founder Ted Haggard among his 224 MySpace friends.
But the bands that Martin books at theElement, which shares its name with Christ Church's youth group, mostly hold up to his pledge. While a few Christian rock bands have crept into the lineup, the past couple of months have seen a panoply of pop and emo acts. Local group Holiday Run, which regularly performs at The Black Sheep, has graced theElement's tiny basement stage, a wide black step that rests against a light-bulb-shaped backdrop of taped-up Christmas lights. Electronically melodic duo Matt and Isom, which Martin dubs the "best band in Colorado Springs," will play at the end of the month.
Though church leaders say foul-mouthed bands won't visit the basement, Martin claims the venue welcomes most acts.
"It's all about grace," he says after a pause. "We are not perfect. I've been known to swear. [We're open] as long as [the bands] are not being racially discriminating."
While theElement has debuted with small $5 weekend shows, there's a chance that the venue could expand into the main worship hall. Church leaders have shown interest in buying the building, which they lease from and share with Ivywild Presbyterian. Martin envisions a stepped-up main stage, with the pews and giant wooden cross removed.
"Our plan is to be there permanently," he says.
Christ Church has already purchased land for a new campus. Construction will begin next year on the church's 116 acres off Highway 115.
Martin says theElement has fostered connections among its teenage visitors, most of whom don't attend the church. A few high school football players, for instance, have formed a rock band with some students from another school.
Senior Pastor Mark Phillips, who has been to several shows, confirms that theElement staff, which counts several youth group members, won't hand out Christian literature.
"As far as doing a bait and switch, absolutely not," he says. "Our goal is to provide the venue and love on young people."