For several weeks, billboards around Missoula teased drivers with a stark, black-and-white message: “Skull Church is coming.” For those who hadn’t heard of Skull Church, the message and its accompanying image might have seemed almost menacing.
On Friday and Saturday nights, Skull Church is here, filling the Wilma Theatre with aggressive rock music and, likely, overflow crowds of teenagers and young adults.
But don’t worry, parents. This isn’t about death metal.
In fact, it’s about just the opposite.
"We started to do these Skull Church events to reach out to a lost generation that doesn’t see church as relevant to their lives - people who were maybe forced to go to church as kids, but religion hasn’t seemed relevant to them once they’ve been out on their own," says Levi Lusko, the 29-year-old pastor who will speak at the Wilma events.
"That’s who we have in our minds: the un-churched or de-churched generation, wanting to make a big deal to them about what Christ has done."
Lusko has certainly made a big deal in the Flathead Valley. Five years ago, he and his family moved to Kalispell from California and began hosting small Bible study meetings in a room above the VFW bar. By 2008, the budding congregation, known as the Fresh Life Church, had exploded to the point that it purchased the Strand Theatre, one of the area’s oldest movie theatres. The following year, due to overflowing crowds, the church purchased the adjacent Liberty Theatre.
Along the way, the concept of Skull Church - an occasional series of nighttime concerts accompanied by sermons, geared specifically toward attracting new people - was hatched. These days, the events regularly draw hundreds to the church in Kalispell; a special Easter Sunday service last spring drew an estimated crowd of 5,000 to the Majestic Valley Arena.
The events Friday and Saturday at the Wilma represent the first venture outside of Kalispell for Skull Church. But Lusko said that he expects large crowds here. After all, he has help.
"We looked up every church we could in (Missoula) and we met with them so that they understood that at the end of the day, we hope more people are going to their churches," he said. "We’re never going to go plant a Skull Church campus somewhere. This is about introducing people to the message of Christ and then showing them local places where they can find that message and make it a regular part of their lives."
Of course, some in the audience might simply be there for the music. Friday night’s event will feature Family Force 5, a Georgia-based, hard-rocking band that has achieved both Christian radio and mainstream fame for tunes like “Love Addict” and “Earthquake.” Saturday’s event features Blindside, a Swedish post-hardcore act with a pair of mainstream rock Top 40 hits (“Pitiful” and “Sleepwalking”) and eight albums to its credit.
On both nights, the Skull Church house band will also perform and Lusko will take the stage to give a simple message.
"We call it explicit evangelism: Christ died for you, he rose again and he wants to come into your life, simple as that," he said. "We want to put the teaching of the Gospel in a way that you can understand, like a text message from heaven."