Most Dorchester residents donâ€™t necessarily equate prayer with free fruit beverages, but at least one local house of worship is thinking outside the box and beyond the altar to take their message to the streets in unorthodox ways.
Residents of the Lower Mills area may have noticed door-hangers proclaiming that Christ the Rockâ€™s parishioners were praying for them. Several thousand commuters getting onto the MBTA at the JFK/UMass station may have grabbed one of over 5,000 complimentary juice drinks and spiritual blessings from a church outreach worker. An invitation card handed out with the drinks featured a picture of a long-haired man looking comically skeptical in front of a traditional-looking church interior. The cardâ€™s caption reads â€œBeen thereâ€¦ Done that!â€ and has Christ the Rockâ€™s service details on the back.
â€œThatâ€™s what we wanted: people to say â€˜What is that?â€™â€ said assistant Co-Pastor Kristine Zinnanti.
Another advertising campaign brought the churchâ€™s message into local theaters where a short ad was displayed before movies.
These and other efforts are a strategy employed by Christ the Rock to appeal to people who may have had bad past experiences with religion in the past and want to follow a different spiritual path.
â€œThe preaching is very practical and so all of our advertising is very much related to our culture,â€ said Kristine. â€œFor Easter we did a 50,000 piece mailing just letting the community know weâ€™re over at UMass now.â€
The Christ the Rock Church has been using unique methods to spread their message since the husband-and-wife preaching team of Revs. Louis and Kristine Zinnanti came to Boston in January 1999 with the goal of establishing a vibrant and multicultural Assembly of God Church in inner-city Boston.
â€œWeâ€¦ drove down Dot Ave and my heart was beating out of my chest,â€ said Lew Zinnanti. â€œI was saying this is it, this is where weâ€™re supposed to be.â€
They started in a former funeral home at 1644 Dorchester Avenue with between five and seven attendees at their first Sunday service. The congregation grew rapidly, and by December of that year, the church began renting space in the building they now occupy. In 2005, the burgeoning church bought the building it was renting at 48 Pleasant St. and in the intervening four years has spent over $150,000 renovating the space.
On Easter of this year, Christ the Rock began holding Sunday services for their growing congregation in an auditorium at UMass Boston.
The Zinnantis both hail from upstate New York where various life experiences and circumstances brought them to dedicate their lives to ministry. Louis and Kristine both attended seminary college and before reaching Boston, ministered in inner-city Philadelphia and Miami. They have one daughter and three sons between the ages of seven and seventeen.
Christ the Rock Church also embraces technology when it comes to their preaching. Louis Zinnanti says that about 50 percent of the congregationâ€™s first exposure to the church is through the website. Site visitors can log on to find out about the church, request a prayer or just watch the video previews for some of the Zinnantiâ€™s sermons. Most flyers, handouts and message cards from Christ the Rock are visually edit by the staff, giving each piece a unique quirky sensibility.
Paster Lou produces a multi-media-infused Sunday service with themes and lessons sometimes set against the backdrop of poplar culture. Recent sermons have incorporated blockbuster summer movies such as Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, which Zinnanti equated to the fall and redemption of man.
â€œWhen people come to our church thatâ€™s the one thing that makes us different, that sets us apart, said Kristine Zinnanti. â€œAnybody from anywhere will feel welcome.â€