Generation X Goes To Church -- Looking For A Modern, Yet Bible- Based Outlook, Many Generation Xers Have Found Mars Hill Fellowship

Inside a darkened church in Laurelhurst, the pews are crowded with young men and women with baseball caps, dyed hair and various body piercings. A pastor chooses words like "awesome" and "cool" to describe passages in the Bible. Churchgoers tap their Dr. Martens and sway to a live band jamming spiritual music on guitars, a bass and drums.

It's a scene repeated every Sunday evening at the Mars Hill Fellowship.. And for many of the nearly 350 Generation X Christians at this service, it feels nothing short of heavenly.

"Nobody looks at you like you're weird," says 24-year-old Fawn Hall, exhibiting a small, silver stud through her tongue, "We're not here to be judged. We're all here to worship the Lord."

Since 1996, young people from all across the area have joined Mars Hill, a nondenominational Christian mission geared at making churches more aware of youth culture.

Founded by 27-year-old Mark Driscoll of Seattle, Mars Hill prides itself on opening its doors to all kinds of people, while maintaining its conservative Christian views.

That dichotomy makes Mars Hill unique, Driscoll says. Church members open their arms to everybody. But homosexuality is still wrong. Premarital sex should be avoided. And abortion is not an option.

Mars Hill's approach follows a growing movement of postmodern churches popping up across the country. In the past four years, an estimated 150 to 200 churches targeting young adults have been

created, according to Doug Pagitt of the Leadership Network, a church-resource group based in Dallas.

There are people at Mars Hill with blue hair. A number of the young men and women in attendance are not Christian. Those who are gay or who have had abortions are also welcome to attend.

"We are trying to be as faithful as we can both to the Bible, and to the time and place God has put us," Driscoll says.

The idea for the mission came when Driscoll, a communications graduate from Washington State University, began noticing the lack of church involvement from people in his own age group.

Driscoll, a former college pastor at Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, and his wife, Grace, began holding weekly Bible studies for 10 to 12 people in their Wallingford living room.

The casual approach to Christianity caught on quickly. Within six months, they had almost 250 members meeting for the same type of gathering at a rented church space near the Woodland Park Zoo.

Today, during the busiest time of year, as many as 600 people - average age, 23 - attend the two services each week at Mars Hill's Laurelhurst location. The church has grown solely by word of mouth -

leaders have never mailed out a single flyer or paid for any advertisements, Driscoll says.

At 6 p.m. - or 6:10, or 6:15; punctuality is not important here - the young people file into the one-aisle church and make themselves comfortable. One young man grabs a canister of potato chips from a back table and takes it to his seat.

At the altar, the band begins playing. Church members follow along with words projected on a large silver screen. This week, after the music, Pastor Mike Gunn speaks about verses on reconciliation and diversity.

"You cannot grow within your own subculture," Gunn says. " The best way to reflect God's image is to have a body that reflects diversity."

A clean-shaven member wearing a T-shirt tucked into khaki shorts nods agreeably. So does the goateed young man with a cross-shaped tattoo sitting a few seats away.

Observing from the back of the church, 23-year-old Melanie McDonald says this is exactly why she began attending Mars Hill services a few weeks ago.

"They're very conservative, but it doesn't cramp your style," she says.

After the last song is sung, the young churchgoers bow their heads instinctively. The band's vocalist begins the reflection. Together, the members pray for patience, the ability to see beauty in other cultures and to adore the fact that people have completely different ways of doing things.

Church members stroll out of the building and begin making plans with each other. One group of teenagers resolves to watch movies at a nearby house. Another group, slightly older and a bit punkier, chooses to go dancing.

"This is what heaven is going to look like. The church is supposed to reflect that," Gunn says. ------------------------------- The Generation X place The Mars Hill Fellowship is at 4501 46th Ave. N.E., Seattle.