Tim Walker [Update from the First Heavy Metal Church of Christ: Due to safety and health concerns, FHMCC will be hosting Drive-In style services with weekly changing locations, as well as live Facebook broadcasts every Sunday until further notice. Check their website for more information.]
Psalm 95:1, Bible, King James Version
The distortion builds to an overdriven crescendo. Amplified electric guitars, played in tandem, combine with the thud of a pounding bass. The drumbeat begins and a scream cuts through the air. Lights flash. Smoke billows. The room fills with the unmistakable sounds of heavy metal rock music and the gathered faithful, clad in black T-shirts, raise their fists in the air and begin to bang their long-haired heads in time to the music.
Taking the admonition to “make a joyful noise” seriously, the First Heavy Metal Church of Christ is once again in session and the congregation is filled with the spirit.
Although it sounds more like the beginning of a rock concert in a local venue, with millionaire rock stars playing their hits for an arena filled with fans, it’s really just a typical Sunday service for First Heavy Metal Church of Christ’s senior pastor Brian Smith, the bus-driving Dayton native who presides over his passionate flock during the nondenominational, Bible-based church’s weekly services and community outreaches. This is a church that is, quite literally, built on solid rock.
The First Heavy Metal Church of Christ is based in Northridge, Ohio, and is in many respects unique. Services are conducted at noon on Sundays (“Loving the Hell Out of You Every Sunday” is emblazoned on the side of the church’s bus, which is—of course—painted black), with doors opening at 11 a.m. for free doughnuts and coffee.
Parishioners are urged to come dressed comfortably, with jeans and rock concert shirts being de rigeur attire. And the music played during their services might be a bit different than your typical hymns—a revolving selection of musical acts playing everything from godly blues to hard rock performs during the services. And that’s just the way Smith likes it.
“We really don’t play heavy metal music at the actual services,” says Smith. “We bring in a different band every week ranging from blues to rock—so that’s not traditional. Basically, the reason we called it the First Heavy Metal Church of Christ was that we didn’t want it to be affiliated with any other Christian church out there, because so many people have been either turned away or jaded against Christianity, because of a bad experience with a certain denomination or a certain group of self-righteous, holier-than-thou types.”
Smith, who graduated from Northridge High School, is featured in both the Northridge Athletic Hall of Fame and Northridge Hall of Fame. A part of the 1989 State Champion 2-mile relay team, Smith still holds the quarter mile record at Northridge with a time of 49.4.
A former track star who presides over a congregation of hard rockers and sang in his own heavy metal band for years? What gives?
Smith laughs. “Well, I started the rock band Saint Hellion in 2007, but I didn’t start preaching until 2011. I just recently got the band back together.”
The heavy metal church’s first service was conducted on Sunday, June 19, 2011, at the VFW in Union, Ohio. On that day, approximately 70 people showed up for the inaugural service and the faithful consisted mostly of the fans of Smith’s “secular biker band.” Five people accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and savior on that day and 15 others re-dedicated their lives to Christ.
Smith had started his career path as a CDL-holding dump truck driver before working his way up into operating heavy equipment and then into executive management position with a local construction company. As part of that position Smith traveled to Hawaii and Alaska and was living what he thought was a good life.
“One day I had an epiphany,” Smith says. “I was riding my bike down the road, I was 39 years old and I was happy. I was thinking, ‘Wow, man. This is the best that my life has ever been. I’ve got a wonderful career, I’m riding a Harley, I’m the lead singer in a band, I have a beautiful girlfriend…’ and then all of a sudden a voice shot through my head. ‘Yeah but you’re not serving Me.’
“It gave me goosebumps. I had always believed in Jesus, but I’d spent too many years chasing my tail in the desert. I knew right then that I had to start a church for people who would never set foot in a traditional church.”
Now eight years further down the road the First Heavy Metal Church of Christ’s services have relocated several times, from the Union VFW to a biker bar named Jackass Flatts, then to an empty elementary school before winding up at their current home, a high school auditorium.
Still, the church has baptised over 800 people to date, all in the river off Rip Rap Road, and their services are viewed all over the world. The church has been profiled by The Today Show and by VICE magazine, and the website heavymetalchurch.com features contact information, videos of sermons and information about all that Smith and the parishioners do for Northridge, a community that has certainly seen its share of adversity the past 12 months.
On May 27, 2019, a series of severe storms swept through the Miami Valley, bringing rain, hail and over a dozen tornadoes with them. One of those—an EF4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale that rates a tornado’s intesity from a low of EF0 to the most severe at EF5—the most powerful tornado to hit Montgomery County in 70 years bulldozed its way through Northridge and literally smashed everything in its path—crushing businesses and shopping centers, uprooting huge trees and devastating hundreds of lives.
Smith and the congregation of the First Heavy Metal Church of Christ immediately went to work, feeding the hungry, helping clean up the massive amounts of debris left by the storm as part of the Love Northridge initiative, donating automobiles to those in need, giving classroom supplies to teachers and providing financial assistance to those who needed it and doing all that they could to help their community heal.
But it is the day-to-day business of teaching people the Gospel, of leading the wayward to Jesus Christ, that remains Smith’s passion.
“I’ve actually had many pastors tell me ‘Praise God for you and your Church, Brian,’” he says. “They say, ‘I hate to say this, but you’re actually getting a lot of the people that none of the other churches want.”