Too Much Church

A Green Mountain High School student finds out there's the Church of Christ, and then there's the Denver Church of Christ

On June 1, 1979, McKean and thirty others of like mind started their own church in Massachusetts, the Lexington Church of Christ. They made disciples of everyone they could. The Lexington church soon outgrew its meeting place, and the group was renamed the Boston Church of Christ. The 1980s was a time of rapid growth for the fledgling ministry; its disciples moved to big cities across the country to begin congregations. Their aggressive evangelism quickly earned them new members, but it also earned them notoriety--mainline Churches of Christ began disassociating themselves from McKean's churches, which came to be known as the "Boston Movement" and, later, the "International Churches of Christ."

Mainline Churches of Christ are offshoots of the Restoration Movement, which started in eighteenth-century England. The early leaders rejected "creeds of men" and sought to restore Christianity to what it was in the New Testament, which means believers base their beliefs only on the Bible. The ICOC still shares many of the church's doctrines, but while the congregations in the mainline churches are autonomous, the International Churches of Christ answer to a central authority: McKean, the man at the top of a pyramidal power structure.

On the R.E.V.E.A.L. Web site, Debra Salley found the story of a man who joined the ICOC while attending high school in Orlando, Florida. During the "reformation" period preceding his baptism, the new convert was assigned a counselor who asked him probing questions about his past sins. The counselor asked if he'd had premarital sex, if he'd ever had sexual relations with another male, or if he'd ever had sex with someone in his family. Finally the young man admitted he'd had sexual contact with his brother. But his secret wasn't safe with his counselor; the man he confided in told his discipler and the young man's brother. There were more stories of people who had been cut off from their families, of people who said that when they left the church, they didn't know who or what to believe anymore.

The accounts left Debra shocked and sickened. She was worried that if she didn't get her son out soon, he might experience similar traumas. One Sunday, Donald skipped church to attend a Nuggets game with his grandfather. Looking back on that day, Debra says getting front-row tickets to the basketball game was a blessing: It was the night Donald was to have been baptized.

And it was also a blessing that her computer froze. If her computer had worked normally that day, she says, "I would have stopped at the ICOC Web site, because I had no problem with their beliefs. I know that God was working through my computer."

The International Churches of Christ have long had teen members, but leaders have been stepping up their efforts to target high-schoolers in the last year. John Lusk, an evangelist at the Denver International Church of Christ, recently posted a response to the Columbine High School shootings on the ICOC's Web site ( In it, he mentioned that two young disciples at Columbine survived the rampage and that because of the tragedy, "we are all sobered and more urgent in our mission to save our city--especially on the high school campuses."

"They're trying to hitchhike on this tragedy, but it's not just about the Columbine shootings. They'll hitchhike on all kinds of societal things, whether it's teen pregnancy or school violence," says Hal Mansfield, director of the Religious Movements Resource Center, a partnership of the United Campus Ministry at Colorado State University and the Fort Collins Area Interfaith Council, which has been providing the public with information on cults and hate groups since 1981.

Mansfield says he's gotten more calls this year than ever before from people concerned about high school students involved in the ICOC. "Where I used to get one or two calls a year about high school involvement, I've gotten six calls in the last month. We network with [cult information] groups all over the country, and they've all gotten more calls about this high school stuff. That tells me there's a trend," Mansfield says. "Parents are seeing this group taking up all their kids' family time and extracurricular activities. This group is very much about milieu and information control. They'll tell kids, 'Satan's out there; you need to stay with us.'"

The ICOC's teen Web site ( announced that a youth minister in Los Angeles was appointed by Kip McKean last year to start a "Teen Revival" all over the world. Last week, Los Angeles hosted the first Youth Ministries Conference, where church leaders discussed "how to forcefully advance the Teen Ministries around the world!" The Web page also states that the goal of the Los Angeles teen ministry is "to get a teen disciple on EVERY high school in LA!"

Denver International Church of Christ administrator John Chisholm estimates that there are between 75 and 100 teens in Denver's 820-member congregation. The members in south and east Denver attend church services together, while members in north and west Denver meet together, as a way to diversify the congregations. "Part of the reason our teens are such a focus now is because a lot of our own children are growing up, so we want to make our teen ministry really awesome," says Chisholm, who has an eight-year-old and an eleven-year-old.

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