Evangelist Matt Pitt takes The Basement youth service to Birmingham’s Bartow Arena
Published: Saturday, November 26, 2011, 5:30 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The Basement youth service may have started in Matt Pitt’s basement, but now it draws one of the largest crowds of any youth service in America.
When The Basement met at the 5,000-seat Boutwell Auditorium in July, fire marshals closed off access to the overcrowded venue and it moved across the street into Linn Park. As many as 7,000 people sang along to Christian music as the service went past 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night downtown.
So it’s likely that The Basement could fill an even bigger venue. The monthly service this month will be held on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at UAB’s Bartow Arena.
Since The Basement has always catered to a student-oriented crowd, it makes sense that it would end up on a college campus. Pitt said Bartow Arena, which seats about 8,500, has also been booked for The Basement’s Dec. 27 service.
“We needed a bigger venue for more people,” Pitt said. “I’m pretty excited about it.”
Bartow Arena could be a permanent home for The Basement, which has been drawing overflow crowds to Church of the Highlands.
“We’ll share hope to more kids now than ever,” Pitt said. “We’re putting on an event that gives hope to all ages. I think this is the start of something that will grow into an outside event in the summer. I’ll always feel pushed to reach more people.”
Having a secular arena as a setting may make it more welcoming to people of all faiths, Pitt said.
“It’s not a church setting, but the concept is to lift up God,” he said. “The message stays the same. Our message is that God loves you no matter what. We’re not perfect, just forgiven. The message is geared to love and hope.”
Although it has been considered a youth service, The Basement has always welcomed parents and people of all ages, Pitt said. “This is a family-oriented event. People are coming of all ages.”
The Basement has also been running a smoothie cafe in Trussville called B-Spot, open 7 to 8:30 p.m. most nights except Wednesday and Sunday in the former Smoothie Joes’ location at 5850 Valley Road.
The youth service known as The Basement has grown steadily over the past seven years. Pitt started The Basement in the basement of his parents’ Huffman house in 2004. Within a year, there were 100 cars parking on the street for the meetings and then Destiny Life Church in Springville began hosting it.
It outgrew that and moved to LifeChurch in Trussville for a year, drawing attendance of more than 1,000 for weekly meetings.
In January 2007 the weekly service moved to the 6,500-seat Cathedral of the Cross in Center Point. In August 2009, The Basement moved to Church of the Highlands off Interstate 459 at Grants Mill Road, and scaled back from weekly to monthly services as Pitt began to travel as a national speaker at youth conferences.
Pitt, with his rapid-fire, excitable preaching, makes light of his Attention Deficit Disorder.
“I’m an ADD kid trying to reach an ADD generation,” he said.
Even if The Basement doesn’t fill up Bartow Arena, it’s still a dramatic turning point for the ministry, he said. As usual, gospel hip-hop artist Canton Jones and other musical guests will take part in the service.
“It’s going to be high-energy, intense; we’re planning on The Basement to take it up a notch,” Pitt said.
“You never fail trying to make a difference. If one person is changed, it’s a success.”