[DISCLAIMER: the following story is intentionally satirical in nature, and should no way be construed as an attack on any particular person or ministry.]
* * *
DETROIT, MI – Maurice Patterson never intended to become a leading face of the billion-dollar fitness industry. He was just trying to stir up some passion in his people.
Leading worship in a small nondenominational East Lansing church, Patterson was getting desperate.
The organists’ power chords weren’t working, and neither had any of his previous selections. Faced with a sparsely-attended congregation whose enthusiasm was flagging by the second, Maurice Patterson stepped out in faith, hoping against hope that the flock would follow his lead.
“Touch your neighbor and ask ‘em, ‘Are you ready to praise the Lord, or what?!’”
As the members of the fleeting congregation began to crack themselves up with such a witty remark, Patterson sensed hope. His moment of levity had started to break the ice, but he knew that wisecracks alone wouldn’t get the job done. These people need some movement, he thought.
So as the band cranked out the opening riff of the next tune, Patterson continued.
“Okay now, high-five the people on either side of you, and tell ’em ‘It’s time to get our praise on!'”
As the high-fiving commenced, the crowd began to energize itself.
Maurice was getting pumped. So as the band continued to jam in the background, Patterson capitalized on the momentum by barking out an impressive barrage of commands, not stopping to think or catch breath.
“Lemme see you raise your hands up, and wave ’em all around!”
“Step back and stomp on the devil’s head!”
“Lean down, touch your toes, and thank the Lord for His goodness!”
“Now come on and jump!”
“Get in the Spirit and work it for Jesus!“
By this point, Maurice was on a roll — the only thing left to do was just go with it. He led the praise team through a 30-minute medley of exuberant music peppered with what would later become his trademark style: short, staccato calls of exhortation with commands of movement. By the time he was done, not only was the presence of God thick in the sanctuary — but everyone involved had worked up a good sweat.
An outpouring of support for Patterson’s newfound style led to more high-energy worship. Soon, the traditional church couture of designer suits and fancy hats gave way to warm-ups, sweat-suits and headbands. What had started as a desperate ploy to garner support became the catalyst in a revolutionary modern gospel movement known as kinetic worship.
Patterson, 33, is now the head pastor of Praise Jump International, a megachurch in suburban Detroit. PJI is unique, in that they eschew the typical church format for what they say is a more streamlined approach.
“The feedback we were getting was that the whole sermon-after-the-music thing was getting in the way of people truly experiencing the high-energy worship vibe they’re after,” said Patterson in a phone interview.
“So our board got together to meet about it, and we decided ahhh… we don’t need it. So it got axed.”
Shortening their services to 45 minutes (two 20-minute sets and five minutes for an altar-call) made it easier to accommodate the busy lives of people in their target demographic, according to Chico Alfonso, Patterson’s personal assistant and trainer. As a result, they’ve expanded to five services on Sundays, four on Saturdays, and three on Tuesdays through Thursdays. One of the weekday services includes a 6:30am service for those who choose to worship before their workday starts.
“One of the things we’re most excited about,” beams Alfonso, “Is the rollout of our new satellite services.” In an effort to reach nonworshipers outside their immediate geographical region, PJI has secured a number of smaller, strategic venues for worship services in a variety of time slots and locales. Some meet simultaneously and participate by receiving a live satellite feed of PJI services, while others take advantage by showing consecutive installments of the award-winning Praise Jump!™ series of exercise DVDs.
To bolster a sense of connectedness and participation, PJI is in the process of recruiting and training mainstream fitness professionals to become their new satellite kinetic worship leaders.
“Obviously, nobody can do it like Mo does it,” Alfonso admits. “But with the new staff we’re adding every week, more people are gettin’ their praise on every day.”
One such staffer is Rebecca Dean, who leads a Praise Jump! service at the local YMCA. “People are asking me now, ‘What’s it like working for a church?’ And I have to say, I like it.” Dean has a phys-ed degree from the University of Michigan, and she’s held down a variety of fitness-related jobs before becoming a kinetic worship leader for PJI. “I thought people might not be as responsive to me, since I don’t hold their Christian beliefs, but they’ve been very welcoming to me. I think it’s because I’m a pretty spiritual person – after all, I used to be a yoga instructor.”
Johan and Karla Nodanova have been steady attendees of the Sunday service at Praise Jump International’s main suburban campus for well over a year. “At first, it was pretty strange for us,” says Johan. “It wasn’t like anything we were used to, and I guess it took us awhile to adjust.”
“Amen to that,” says Karla, as she sips on a fruity energy drink.
“Coming to this church really took us out of our comfort zone. But now, with Mo Patterson leading the way every week, it’s great. He really gets us movin’ in the right direction and feelin’ good. Besides, our last church used to have service in a gym, so I guess this is just the next logical step.”
As the throngs of people pack the foam-matted auditorium of Praise Jump International, Maurice Patterson is in rare form. Leading from the center stage, he continues to shout instructions to the believers.
“Get on your knees before the Lord!”
“Get on your face before the Lord!”
“Now squat before the Lord, and feel His presence burn…”
As with any pop culture phenomenon, Praise Jump International has its share of detractors.
Harcourt Bainbridge, author of I Don’t Feel Like Touching My Neighbor, takes issue with Patterson’s brand of Christian spirituality.
“I’m sure he means well,” says Bainbridge, “but I go to church to connect with God, not to jump around in some funky mosh pit.” Bainbridge also contends that his problems with PJI are not only spiritual, but practical as well.
“I love God’s people just like anybody else, but would it be that much trouble to install a couple air fresheners in there?”
When confronted with these issues, Patterson readily admits that there are still kinks in the system, wrinkles that need to be ironed out. Even so, the people keep turning out in droves. On this night, with this crowd, it’s all in the movement.
As Maurice Patterson shows millions of people how it’s done, a generation is moving in a new direction.
“The Lord is calling is to move forward in our worship, so let’s go. Come on now, everybody take a couple steps forward. Okay, now the Lord says let’s take a step back. Okay, now the Lord says move to the right… okay now, move to the left… hey!! – I didn’t say ‘The Lord Says!’”