No twerking. No drinking. No smoking. But plenty of room for Jesus at this Christian nightclub

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The young crowd at a Nashville nightclub was ready to dance under the strobe lights to a throbbing mix of hip-hop, rap and Latin beats. But first they gathered to pray and praise God.

The rules were announced on the dance floor by a mic-carrying emcee to more than 200 clubgoers blanketed by thick smoke machine fog: ”Rule No. 1: No twerking. Second rule: No drinking. And a third rule: No smoking.” The last unspoken rule seemed obvious by then: No secular music — the playlist would be all Christian.

Welcome to The Cove.

The pop-up, 18-and-up Christian nightclub was launched last year by seven Black Christian men in their 20s — among them an Ivy League-educated financial analyst, musicians and social media experts — who sought to build a thriving community and a welcoming space for young Christians outside houses of worship. The launch comes at a post-pandemic time of dwindling church attendance, especially among Black Protestants that surveys say is unmatched by any other major religious group.

“We ourselves experienced a pain point of not being able to find community outside of our church, not knowing what to do to have fun without feeling bad for doing stuff that’s conflicting to our values,” said Eric Diggs, The Cove’s 24-year-old CEO.

“There wasn’t a space to cultivate that. So, we created it ourselves out of that pain point — the loneliness, the anxiety, depression, COVID, and the long quarantine.


Before their first monthly party in November, they set an ambitious goal: get 1,000 followers on social media. “We ended up getting more than 10,000 followers before our first event, which was insane,” said Eric’s brother, Jordan Diggs, 22, who manages the club’s social media presence.

“Christians get a rep for being corny. And we want to show that Christians can be normal, can be cool. And they can have fun.”

A second equally popular event was timed to ring in the New Year. A third was held in February.

For weeks, on its Instagram account — under hashtags like #jesuschrist #nightclubs — club organizers asked people to be ready to dance the worship night away and look their best: “When you pull up, we expect to see you in your Holiest Drip.”

At the mid-February event, many in the racially and ethnically diverse crowd wore a rainbow of vivid colors — fluorescent turquoise, electric orange, neon pink — in their Nike, Adidas and New Balance sneakers. Or hoodies with images of Jesus and varsity jackets with Scripture from the Bible.

“What surprised me the most is the diversity, honestly,” said Aaron Dews, one of the club founders. “With us being seven Black guys, just seeing the expansion of the type of people that we can bring in, and the unification around one idea has been incredibly encouraging.”

Food trucks in the parking lot awaited hungry clubbers. Inside, Benji Shuler sold vintage clothes with religious messages that hung from racks. A white T-shirt with the iconic Pepsi logo read: “Jesus: The Choice of a New Generation,” echoing the soda company’s tagline from decades ago.

In lieu of alcohol, vendors sold sports drinks, bottled water and soda. Organizers cheerfully set up early. They hung Christmas-style lights from ceilings, sang a cappella and rehearsed their best choreographed moves.


Before he impressed everyone with his dance moves, Garrett Bland, 20, listened on his phone to “Deliver Me,” by gospel singer Donald Lawrence. “It’s about letting the Lord into your life,” he said, wearing a gold medallion around his neck inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer and a beige hoodie that read: “God first.”

He admired what The Cove’s founders are trying to do, saying, “they want to create a space for believers who want to come to the faith and have fun.”

Wearing a blue hoodie embroidered in white with “young sons of God,” Eric Diggs asked organizers and volunteers to join him in prayer. “Dear God, thank you for this night,” he said. “Amen!” the group said in unison before the huddled like a basketball team before a game — and yelled: “The Cove!”

Nia Gant, 18, attended the club for the first time. She moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan, four months ago and said she had been praying to make like-minded friends. “I think joy and religion can go together,” said Gant, who wore nose piercings, Air Jordans and ripped jeans. “God,” she said, “is joy.”

Soon after, a line of people who had bought tickets in advance snaked outside to enter the nightclub. At the door, security officers in bullet-proof vests frisked clubgoers. Inside, they chatted, laughed and greeted each other with high fives.

Word quickly spread around that a couple had traveled 9,000-plus miles from their home in Brisbane, Australia, to the Christian club in the Tennessee capital known as Music City. It was true: Haynza Posala, 23, and his wife, Kim Posala, 24, heard about The Cove through a faith-and-culture podcast co-hosted by Darin Starks, one of the club’s founders.

“We thought, this is cool — it’s God glorifying,” Haynza Posala said.

“It’s surreal,” said Kim Posala, looking around as people in trucker hats, berets and baseball caps streamed into the club and were handed bracelets of different colors. “It’s community and that’s what church is about.”

Mic in hand, Carlton Batts Jr., a musician who is one of the founders and who was the designated DJ and emcee, asked people on the dance floor questions, dividing them into groups: “If you like prefer listening to music, come over here,” he said pointing to one side. “If you prefer podcasts, over here.”

“In church people can be really cliquey,” Batts said. “So here, we give them prompts, so when we start the DJ set people are really comfortable dancing.”

The crowd went wild when the DJ played “Alacazam,” by rapper Caleb Gordon, who has grown popular for his faith-inspired songs, especially Christian hip-hop. They gasped and cheered when 21-year-old Dillan Runions, a former competition dancer, performed a back flip on the dance floor.


Eventually, it turned into a revival of sorts: Some wept or knelt with eyes shut in prayer. Whispering, someone in a small group asked God “to keep away negative suicidal thoughts.”

Many belted out a gospel song that everyone seemed to know by heart: “A God like you” by choir director, rapper and songwriter Kirk Franklin.

The feedback has been mostly positive. Club founders have also faced criticism on TikTok from some who say that dancing and worship don’t go together — or even see it as a sin. Jordan Diggs says he embraces the attention, good or bad — “just the words Christian and nightclub is going to start a lot of conversation.”

Other generations are noticing. At some point, Shem Rivera, 26, a worship leader and a founder walked up to 18-year-old Noah Moon on the dance floor, and asked him how he had heard about The Cove.

“My mom told me about it — she sent me a video on Instagram,” said Moon, who had just moved from Kansas to Nashville the day before. “That’s fire!” Rivera responded smiling.

At the end, they all silently prayed. “It sounds oxymoronic — a Christian dance club,” said Nicholas Oldham, who manages the club’s business. He was initially skeptical and even wondered if it was sacrilegious.

“Fun is the lure; it’s bait,” he said, adding that what happens on the dance floor is so much more than that.

“What it says for old fogies like me, is that the young are hungry for the word of God,” said Oldham, who is in his 40s. “The church isn’t the building, and these young people are catching up to that.”

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