Interview With Vince Antonucci

Vince and Jennifer Antonucci with their children, Dawson (8) and Marissa (6).
By Brad Dupray

Vince Antonucci found Christ very simply—by reading the Bible. Vince heard an evangelist speak two sentences on TV and thought it was so ridiculous he decided to investigate the Bible on his own. Soon Vince became a Christian and a few short years later started Forefront Christian Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, one of the most innovative churches in the United States. Vince holds a degree in political science and philosophy from the University of Buffalo, attended law school at the University of Illinois, and has a master’s degree from Cincinnati Bible Seminary. Vince’s book, I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt, will be released by Baker Books on February 1.

Would you have called yourself an atheist?

I would say I didn’t care about God. I wouldn’t have argued that there wasn’t a God. I just never gave it much thought.

When you became a Christian did your friends think you had “gone off the deep end?”

Yes. I became a Christian and in the summer I went back to my hometown to tell my high school friends and they all were shocked. My college friends were a little less shocked because they saw me living it out day-by-day.

And then you decided to become a preacher?

As soon as I decided Christianity was true I thought, this is what I want to do with my whole life. I met with my minister and told him I thought I should become a minister because all I wanted to do was share Jesus with people. He said you can still do that through a career in law. So I went on to law school, as I had planned, but the whole time I was there I knew I was in the wrong place. So in the summer after my first year I switched to seminary.

What drives your passion for evangelism?

First, it was Jesus’ passion, and I want to be passionate for the same things that he was. Jesus would repeatedly state his mission: “I have come to seek and save the lost.” “I have come for the sick, not the well.” When I saw that was his passion I wanted to make it my passion too. But no one had ever told me about Jesus. I went 20 years and never heard the first thing about Jesus.

How did Forefront get started?

The first time I heard of church planting was the year after I became a Christian. I did a law internship in Washington, D.C., and I went to the church where Brett Andrews was the associate pastor. He told me he was going to start a church. It never occurred to me that new churches were started. I just thought they were always there. Then when I went to seminary my goal was to find the best way to reach the most people for Jesus, and it turns out church planting is it.

Did you go to New Life with the intention of leaving to start a church?

I went there with the agreement that I would be there for two or three years and then would launch a new church with their help.

Were you more scared or excited when you started Forefront?

Both! I was nervous. It was new. But I was really excited and felt like it was a God thing and he was going to do something really cool.

You guys were the first “Forefront.” Where did you get the name?

I wanted a name that didn’t sound churchy. I wanted to start a church for people who don’t like church. We were having trouble coming up with a name, and I thought maybe there’s a band that has a cool name we could use. None of the band names appealed to me, but I noticed “Forefront Records” on a few of my CDs, so we eventually took that name. We tell people that we want them to put God at the forefront of their lives.

What makes Forefront Church unique?

Every church wants to reach lost people. Some churches don’t reach any. It’s kind of like fishing. I could say I want to go shark fishing. I could go out to a fishing spot, use normal bait, normal poles, fish for awhile, and hope that I would catch a shark among the other fish I would catch. Or I could find out where the sharks are. I could use the kind of bait that would attract a shark, the kind of poles that would catch a shark. Some churches go out fishing and hope they might catch some lost people among everyone else who happens to come to church. We, on the other hand, are completely focused on reaching people who are far from God.

Is Forefront the church you hoped it would be?

In some ways yes, because we reach those we wanted to reach. Seventy-two percent of people who come to Forefront come from unchurched or antichurch backgrounds. We are reaching people who were very far from God. But it’s been more challenging than I would have guessed. Because of our target there are a lot of speed bumps and curves in the road that fill the journey with unexpected struggles.

For example . . .

One example would be a lack of leadership. We don’t reach people who bring a church leadership background. Another example is losing people. Remember Jesus’ Parable of the Sower? He seems to indicate that out of four people who hear God’s Word, only one will receive it and stick with it over the long-term. When you’re reaching almost exclusively people who are far from God, you sometimes feel like that farmer throwing out seeds. And Jesus’ parable is true. No matter how good of a job you do in your ministry, you’re going to lose a lot of people

Does it annoy you when people leave because you’re not an “ordinary” church?

Of the 28 percent who come in with church background, we lose some of them because we’re not an ordinary church. Of the 72 percent who are from an unchurched background, they love it that we’re not an ordinary church. They don’t want ordinary church! We do lose some of those people as well, but for other reasons. I think the types of reasons Jesus describes in the Parable of the Sower.

Have you had to give up anything as a church in order to have the unique vibe you have created?

I think we could be a whole lot bigger if we did church in a way that pleases as many people as possible. We lose a lot of Christians who might go away because we’re too raw or extreme. You give up offerings, because these new people will give, but it takes them awhile. You also sacrifice personal comfort, because there is a whole lot of messiness in people’s lives. That’s not a lot of fun, but if you’re going to reach people far from God, this is what you find.

So, do you do “normal church” stuff?

Sure. We do Communion every week, we do offering every week. We do about 22 minutes of worship and a 35-minute sermon every week. We preach from the Bible. We do tons of foreign missions. Most of the components are there, it is just a different flavor than what any ordinary churchgoer would be used to.

How is the multicampus thing working out?

It’s just getting started. We’ve gone from one campus to three. Two of our campuses will be meeting in high school auditoriums. The third campus will be on Tuesday night in a bar. The bar will be open for business while we’re having church in it! Part of the reason we decided on Tuesday night is that we have a lot of people trying to get their lost friends to come, but they won’t come on Sunday mornings. Maybe their kids have soccer, or they’re hung over from the night before, or they go to the beach on Sunday morning, or maybe they like to sleep in on the weekends. So that got us thinking about doing a different night of the week.

How did you end up at a bar?

We had a bar tell us we could meet there on Tuesday nights, since it’s typically kind of empty on Tuesday nights. So we’re going to have church in a bar. We’re going to do our exact same service as Sunday morning—worship, Communion, sermon, offering. The owner’s not a Christian, and he’s kind of a rough guy, with tattoos all over, but he’s totally excited about it. We’ve said we’re going to talk about sin and Hell and even occasionally the dangers of alcohol. He said, “No problem. That sounds great to me. I’m going to come every week!”

What’s your ultimate goal for people at Forefront?

Love God, love people, turn the world upside down. We take people wherever they are and walk with them, in hopes that some day they will be lovers of God and lovers of people. People that God can use to turn the world upside down.

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