AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champEven as video games have grown in popularity, the Halo series stands out, selling more than 20 million copies since the trilogy debuted in 2001. Halo 3 sold $300million worth of copies in the first week after its September release, and Microsoft predicts it will become “the No. 1 gaming title of all time.” Halo has spawned novels, games and action figures, with a film based on the series said to be in the works. Since the release of Halo 3, congregations around the country have hosted “Halo Nights,” where hundreds of teenagers came to play the game, eat pizza, listen to a Bible lesson, then play some more. A Colorado-based youth ministry called Dare2Share sent thousands of primers to parents, church leaders and other subscribers, offering tips on using the language and themes of Halo 3 to spread the gospel. Lane Palmer, the youth ministries coordinator who authored the guide, said the organization isn’t condoning the game or trying to promote it. “But you have to understand,” he said, “everybody’s already playing it, so why not use it as a conversation piece?” With its intricate plot, range of weapons and levels of difficulty, the game takes strategy and patience. And, players say, it’s addictive. “When Halo 2 came out, I didn’t have a life for a long time,” said Justin Medina, 19, who plays at Coast Christian. The concept of using cultural trends to attract members is nothing new. Evangelical leaders, in particular, have been savvy in using print, radio, television, the Internet and podcasting to spread the gospel. Many pastors make a point to use popular movies, music, TV shows and top-selling books in order to present their message in ways people understand. “One of our goals is to show how the Bible can be applied today,” said Chris Nicely, a youth pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch. “We want to try to give (kids) a taste of the fact that God’s not boring.” And anything that helps reach this generation is worth exploring, pastors agree. More than any other age group, the 14- to 30-year-olds are a tough crowd to please. About 20 percent of teenagers in America are unchurched, and 61 percent of those who were raised in a church left in their 20s, according to a 2006 survey by the Barna Group, a Christian research organization based in Ventura. Efforts to keep teens interested, however, often beg the question: How far should churches go to meet kids where they’re at? “It is a fine line, there’s no doubt about that,” said Palmer, with Dare2Share. “Any time you show blood and gore, you have to consider whether the end justifies the means. “It is very subjective, and I think churches have to look at their own traditions and figure out what’s right for them.” Bungie Studios, which created Halo, didn’t intend for the game to be used for evangelistic purposes, although part of its promotional outreach included pastors, spokesman Frank O’Connor said. The game is rated Mature, meaning it’s restricted to users 17 and older, but the M rating is deceiving, he said. “The violence in our game is actually very cartoonish,” he said. “It’s not nearly as bad as some of the other video games out there.” Rolling Hills Covenant Church doesn’t have a formal Halo group, but high school pastor Sean Hurley and a couple of other clergy and teens get together every Friday to play and socialize. “It is a video game, but it’s also a great connection point with kids in the ministry and their peers outside the church,” he said. “We have this commonality, we can establish relationships.” Creating community so kids could build relationships with each other and adults was the goal of Coast Christian when it opened the youth center this fall, said Janice Arnold, manager of The Portal. They also offer activities such as jewelry making and graphic design. On a recent afternoon, all but one of the Halo players was not a member of the church – and that’s typical, she said. The church does hold youth religious services on Friday nights at The Portal, and many of the unchurched kids have chosen to stay. “We certainly don’t bang them over the head with a Bible,” she said. “But most of them want to stay afterward for youth group. We’re very excited about that.” [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Although the plot involves an ark, a covenant, seven halos and religious prophesies, the thrill-kill video game Halo seems a tad out of place at a Christian youth center. But every afternoon after school, dozens of teens flock to The Portal center at Coast Christian Fellowship in Torrance, where they huddle around game consoles and battle for control of the cyber-universe. It’s a scene being played out around the country as religious leaders try to use Halo to attract youths. The goal, they say, is to make a connection and build relationships with teens who might not otherwise be interested in church. “I think people understand that this is part of our outreach,” said Guy Takashima, pastor of Coast Christian, an Assemblies of God church.