Bethel University sophomore Matt Velasco stands outside of Bethel’s CC building May 16 Commons, wearing his black skinny jeans, beanie hat, leather jacket, long-line tee and white Adidas shoes. Velasco has a passion for fashion and Jesus, presently an intern at a hip church in Edina and recently being hired as Executive Director of Student Ministries at Bethel. “I’m a highly charismatic person,” Velasco said. “I’m highly Pentecostal in the way that I do worship, but I am as Baptist as you can get theologically.” | Photo by Hannah Quinn

When church and cool collide

Modern churches balance being relevant and true to the Gospel in how they communicate to people within and outside of their church.

By Hannah Quinn | Royal Report

Matt Velasco stands with his arms raised, wearing skinny jeans, a long-line sweatshirt and Vans shoes. He is led in worship at River Valley Church in Edina, where he has been interning for the past year. Similar to select other churches in the Twins Cities area and beyond, River Valley holds a culture that is not like your traditional church service — it holds a cool culture, one that is relevant to millennials.

“I wouldn’t say we’re unique where you can’t find anything like River Valley, but in Minnesota, it’s hard to find something like it,” Matt Velasco, a Bethel University sophomore, said. “There is such an emphasis on worship, music and giving.”

A history major and biblical and theological studies minor at Bethel University, Velasco considers himself a highly charismatic person: Pentecostal in the way that he worships with a southern Baptist theology. He has always been a church-going guy, starting his faith journey at Westwood Community Church in Excelsior.

Coming to Bethel, Velasco started attending River Valley-Edina full-time, as it was a shorter commute than driving to Excelsior. With locations around the Twin Cities, River Valley has opened its doors in a nightclub, high school, office buildings and has built several other campuses. It is one of the fastest growing churches presently in the United States and is continuously finding new ways to reach people groups that would not normally feel drawn to the church with their modern methods: trendy Christian music, extravagant lighting and effects, hip apparel and a relaxed environment.

“I think the rise of trendy churches are going to pull a lot of people into the church that normally wouldn’t be comfortable going to a more traditional church,” sophomore Caroline Blomberg said. “It’s going to open a door to a whole different church group.”

Blomberg attends Hope Community Church in Minneapolis, MN. She appreciates the energy at churches like River Valley, but prefers more simplistic services like Hope Community Church offers.

“It’s just the musicians and their instruments and I really like that,” Blomberg said. “I like it because I think that sometimes worship teams at these cool churches are so flashy that it distracts people from the words and the message that the lyrics were intended for.”


“You start to worship the cool church and not Jesus.” — Matt Velasco, sophomore Bethel student

Sophomore marketing major Malea Bertsch prefers services more geared towards the younger generation, where arms raised high, loud music, dancing and giving a proud “preach it!” statement in the middle of a sermon is not frowned upon. Bertsch is an active member of River Valley-Minneapolis located in The Pourhouse, a nightclub by night and a church by Sunday morning.

“Specifically speaking to the Minneapolis campus, there is a younger demographic,” Bertsch said. “Everyone at the campus is doing life with you, everyone is at the same stage. There is this excitement and hype directed towards millennials.”

Velasco finds a danger in this, however. He asks the question: “Do we really care what the church is or do we care too much if it is cool?”

“A lot of times when you’re 20 something, you go to a trendy church and you’re there because it’s cool, not because it’s church,” Velasco said. “You start to worship the cool church and not Jesus.”

Getting people in the door is the first step, but keeping them there is a more important task. “I 110 percent believe that right now the Lord has blessed the church with relevance and it is our decision or not whether we’re going to steward that blessing or we’re going to throw it out the window,” Velasco said. “That’s the danger that the cool culture has.”

Velasco believes the church has never more relevant than it is today, meaning that the church has never been more in the spotlight. Velasco expresses that if our churches are going to be relevant, Christians need to be good stewards of that relevance by staying true to the Gospel and not continuously changing as culture would like us to.

“I think Bethel is a cool place to be,” Velasco said. “We need to, as a community, be grounded in the Word, be people willing to stand up for what we believe and what the Bible says.”

Bethel University sophomore Matt Velasco speaks at River Valley Edina Youth, where high school students come to hang, worship and connect with their peers. Velasco has been an intern at River Valley this past year, committing to attending events such as Youth at River Valley — Edina campus. He has a passion for fashion and Jesus, presently an intern at a hip church in Edina and recently being hired as Executive Director of Student Ministries at Bethel. “I’m a highly charismatic person,” Velasco said. “I’m highly Pentecostal in the way that I do worship, but I am as Baptist as you can get theologically.” | Photo by Grace Schmidt

Modern churches:

Westwood Community Church

3121 Westwood Dr., Excelsior, MN 55331

River Valley Church — Edina Area

9675 West 76th Street, Eden Prairie, MN 55344

River Valley Church — Minneapolis

10 S 5th St, Minneapolis, MN 55402

· Black skinny jeans with hole in the knees

· Long-line t-shirt

· Leather biker jacket

· A black grandpa fedora

· Vans