It's better known often for being rough and raunchy, but hip-hop is also the music of choice for a growing number of North American churches using the style to reach out to urban youth.
While many churches wrestle with embracing hip-hop, "Charisma" magazine has found an increasing number of hip-hop congregations emerging -- a trend that some say could transform the urban church.
"The walls that have defined the traditional church are going down," said W.P. Middlebrooks, 32, a lay minister in the Church of God in Christ who is planting a hip-hop-influenced church in Los Angeles.
He sees the day when pastors will wear twists and dreadlocks in their hair and sport hip-hop fashions instead of suits, and members will spend more time outside the church than in, reaching their communities, he told "Charisma" for an August cover story report -- out today -- on the movement. "People can't buy into it because they've bought into the facade of what church is as an organization as opposed to what God is calling [it] to be as a body," he said.
His dream has already become a reality in some places, though. What is thought to be the first hip-hop church was born in January when Tommy Kyllonen was appointed senior pastor of Crossover Community Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Tampa, Fla. As youth pastor at the church, he had used hip-hop to connect with young people in the community, offering classes from DJ-ing to rapping and break dancing.
Other hip-hop churches have followed -- The Universal Fat House in New Jersey and Now Faith International Ministries in Atlanta. At Church Without Limits in Ontario, Canada, the 90-strong congregation's pastor Brendan Witton said hip-hop churches reflect postmodern congregations within an urban context. "A lot of traditional black churches are resistant to hip-hop. For a lot of young people, it's been, choose God or choose hip-hop."
The Christian hip-hop scene has spawned its own Holy Hip-Hop Awards, but those involved are not only facing resistance from some parts of the church, they can also find it hard to win an ear for their sound in the world where much hip-hop trumpets materialism, violence and explicit sexuality.
"You have to have a strong delivery, and I think it really needs to be able to be played on hip-hop stations," said Vickie Mack Lataillade of GospoCentric Records. "And the hip-hop stations do not care for most of the Christian music that's out there, and that's just the truth."
Delmar Lawrence found fame and fortune as a member of the explicit rap group Three 6 Mafia. Now a Christian, the 23-year-old pastors 50-strong City of Refuge in Memphis, Tenn., where the worship has a hip-hop beat.
Shekinah, a 30-year-old female rapper from Burlington, N.J., says: "When I was growing up I heard about the civil rights movement, and I feel like this is like that. God is going to use youth to impact the world."
Read the full story of the "holy hip-hop" movement in the August issue of "Charisma."