Millennials restoring their faith at Toronto's C3 Church
C3 is making it hip to be holy, setting itself apart from traditional Christian churches
With an avant-garde rock band, an Australian pastor in skinny jeans at the mic and Drake-inspired graphics behind him, C3 might seem more like Coachella than what it really is — church.
"I think if Jesus were alive today, he would've had an Instagram account," said C3 Toronto's lead pastor Sam Picken in an interview Sunday. "When we preach the Bible, we try to preach it in a way that's going to be relevant to the audience."
The Pentecostal Christian City Church movement — known as C3 — started in Australia in 1980. There are more than 450 churches across the world, including 11 in Canada.
Picken, 32, started the Toronto chapter with his wife and a handful of friends in 2012. Now, more than 800 people call it home.
"I think the people of Toronto, myself included, we're seeking meaning," Picken said. "We're seeking acceptance. We're seeking community."
The church rents auditorium space each week at Central Technical School, 725 Bathurst St. The members hope to raise enough money to acquire a permanent location, Picken said.
'I never connected'
The congregation is not the typical church crowd. It's mostly made up of trendy 20-somethings. Many said they grew up going to church, but stopped because they couldn't relate.
"I went to a traditional church as a kid," 24-year-old Yessi Arifin said Sunday. "I was always bored. I never wanted to wake up for it, and I never connected."
Faced with problems like precarious employment and mountains of student debt, she says she sees many millennials searching for some sort of solace at C3.
"I think it's very hard to be a young person," Arafin said. "Going out of school, there's no guidance anymore, and you have to find your way in this world and figure out who you are."
Josh Sam, 28, said C3 is a safe place to explore spirituality. "If you're seeking something, and you don't know what that is, and if it's something to do with God, you're able to walk through that with the people around you," he said.
'Where millennials are at'
Some people take the plunge and go through full water baptisms at C3, but others are there for the social aspects.
"There's a community that I can relate to," said 22-year-old Ezekiel Gancena. "A lot of my friends come here as well. It's the people I get to do life with and the people I choose to do life with."
C3 Toronto's sleek website, stylized videos and flashy Instagram account might be considered bold for a religious community, but Picken says that's intentional.
"People can look at religion and draw a conclusion that it's boring and irrelevant based on marketing," he said. "I don't want to create barriers. I want to create bridges for people to come and discover something new."
Brian Clarke, a church historian at the University of Toronto's Emmanuel College, says Pentecostal churches draw people in with their ability to reach people.
"Theology doesn't change, but they know how to communicate their messages on issues that people are experiencing in their everyday lives," he said. "They're reaching millennials where millennials are at."