September 15th, 2010
08:05 AM ET

Pastor: I'll get a tattoo if 200 people show up

Two weeks ago, 26-year-old Pastor Kyle Bonenberger threw down the gauntlet with his flock. September 12th, 2010 marked City Church in Anahiem's one year anniversary.

Bonenberger told his church, if attendance doubled and 200 people showed up to their "birthday bash," he and another parishioner would get tattoos of the church's logo. And he invited others to join them. "It’s my way of showing my commitment to Christ and from that comes my commitment to give back to the community," the young pastor said.

“I’ve done altar calls and nothing happened. This is the most successful thing we've ever done," he said. Ten parishioners signed up to get inked.

The church is loosely affiliated with the Reformed Church in America.  It has about 85 regular attenders and for the past year has met at a local punk rock club, Chain Reaction. "The owners let us meet there for free because nothing else was going on Sunday mornings. For us it’s great because it comes fully loaded with lights and a sound system. It breaks a barrier for people who would never walk into a church. It breaks that wall down," he said.

On Sunday, congregants and visitors trickled in to the punk rock club. The service was about 75% complete when the attendance ticked from 199 to 200.

“It’s still a little bit sore,” Bonenberger said on Tuesday about his freshly tattooed forearm.  He and five others were able to get their tattoos on Sunday before the tattoo artist had to leave.  The other six congregants are getting appointments to get their tattoos.

The logo means a lot to Bonenberger because a friend came up with the design for the church's website about a year ago.  "It's a ghosted cross with a heart in the middle."  He said when he first laid eyes on it he knew he had to get it as a tattoo.

Editor's Note: You can see more from the event and follow Bonenberger on twitter @kylesteven and @lovehopecity. While you're at it, follow us for all the latest @CNNBelief.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Art • California • Christianity • United States

soundoff (109 Responses)
  1. You are all going to hell

    Everybody here should really read the Bible, most of you that is. Because:
    Matthew 7:1-5
    “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

    September 15, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • Um...

      Aren't you judging people with the whole "You are all going to hell" thing? It's kind of a double edge sword, huh?

      September 15, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • Aauugghhh!

      My eye! It has a log in it! Eeeeyaaarrrgghhh!

      September 15, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
    • You are all going to hell

      Nope because I was stating a fact not judging.

      September 15, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
    • SomeTruth

      You are all going to hell:

      So what?... a little pearl of wisdom from the Bible - it does have some; but that does not mean you have to swallow the whole myth.

      "The pot calling the kettle black" says the same thing, in effect... and so does "People in glass houses should not throw stones". No god necessary.

      September 15, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • David Johnson

      I'll have you know, I was taught to read from the King James! My mother home schooled me. We don't need any other books! The King James tells you all you need to know about any subject.

      We need to get right with Jesus! Did Jesus study geometry or even science? Some say Jesus couldn't read. But he could. He was all mighty god! There should be only 1 book in our libraries! Only 1 television show. We need to get right, people!!

      September 15, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  2. David Johnson

    Remember what the Jesus said:

    "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one t!ttle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled."

    September 15, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  3. Aaron Moore Sacramento, CA

    13Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

    September 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  4. Mahrk

    Looks more like a health powerup.

    September 15, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Mahrk :It does sort of look like a companion cube...

      September 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
    • Wild Eyed

      It's the red ring of death!
      I saw the same thing on my brother's xbox!

      September 15, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  5. jazz

    I think it's incredible how so many people- Christians and nonbelievers alike- are judging this church without EVER HAVING ACTUALLY BEEN THERE. People are assuming that because the pastor got a tattoo he can't POSSIBLY be a good pastor. He said in the article that the tattoo symbolizes his commitment to the community. He means it. I go to City & am one of the people who got a tattoo. Some people are saying it's a social gathering and that we don't do anything for the poor or the community. That's ridiculous. A) No one here knows us. B) Real churches are not just social gatherings. Most of the people who go to City work for some kind of non-profit, ex. I work for Laundry Love Santa Ana, an organization the directly meets the needs of a community, but thanks for judging us based on this short article about our radical faith. We did something that symbolizes that we are serious about our commitment to helping out our community. I don't see how that is a bad thing. People are used to Christians being all talk, but we showed people that we mean it. That is Christ-like. That gives people hope. That cannot be a negative thing.

    (And the 200 thing? That wasn't a concern for numbers. We just wanted as many people as possible to hear the Gospel and enjoy the huge free BBQ we threw. =] )

    September 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
    • farmfresh

      More parishioners = more $$$

      September 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • keonda

      This quote from this Pastor did it for me...

      “I’ve done altar calls and nothing happened. This is the most successful thing we've ever done," he said. Ten parishioners signed up to get inked.

      so what's up with the preaching that nothing happens during these "altar calls" – time for a self examination...

      September 16, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  6. Joe

    This is a joke.
    These–and there are many of them–aren't religious services.
    They're weekly social gatherings where the attendees passively have fun and go through the motions instead of actively working on becoming better human beings.
    I can tell you for a fact that they would get more out of it–and really do Jesus work–if they all skipped the service and instead all volunteered to work at a soup kitchen for a couple of hours.
    But that's not a party, is it?

    September 15, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • Richard

      Uhhh.. Joe sorry to dissapoint you but we do help out the community. Thats why its called city church. Instead of criticizing before you have any information about our church maybe you should check out your facts.

      September 16, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  7. jerry

    id have to say so far the truth wins out and the truth is this is a joke.very shallow its a gimmic

    September 15, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  8. jerry

    wonder who his pastor is wonder what affiliation he is under there are plenty of other ways to reach people than defiling your temple which is the temple of the holy spirit,how about loving people how about feeding the poor

    September 15, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  9. Falcon78 in Northern Virginia

    Tattoos–graffiti on the walls of a temple. In the hill country, known as "tramp stamps."

    September 15, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  10. david

    I like the idea.. yeah church isn't about numbers, but it helps bring in "kids" (teens, young adults) who would think it would be interesting to see the pastor get tattooed if they broke the 200 mark. Its a good outreach I think.. No i'm not a christian, but I love tattoos and hey, its different. Better than handing out the free little green bibles and trying to bring in people that way.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:56 am |
    • jerry

      i wonder what there going to find when they go there are they going to find the real JESUS or some made up jesus

      September 15, 2010 at 11:19 am |
    • Ykcyc

      Why not genital piercing then? Would that be pleasing to God?

      September 15, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • David Johnson


      I'm bettin' on made up Jesus. LOL

      September 15, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
    • David Johnson


      You asked, "Why not genital piercing then? Would that be pleasing to God?"

      Would probably depend if the woman was hot or not.

      September 15, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
    • Frogist

      @David Johnson : Who said it had to be a woman? I'd show up to see some guy get a hole put in his wiener! 😉

      September 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  11. I. Hustle

    I think it's funny how these young "Pastors" want to remain hip and cool. I am not against tattoos and stuff but like someone else said he needs to get over the whole numbers thing. These people think that if they don't have a mega church that they aren't successful. Meeting in a punk rock club breaks down barriers? Come on! Some of the 200 probably woke up there not expecting to be in a "curch" service. I put church in quotations not because of the building but because of what is going on there.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  12. jesse

    ridiculous and absurd. How about preaching the Word fo God and letting the Holy Spirit dictate??

    These churches are so concered about numbers. Numbers numbers numbers. Goota have 200 people. Gotta have 200 people. Gotta have 200 people. Get over it. Scriptures teach that where 2 or 3 are gathered I AM THERE! So what if your gatherings only have 85 people, or 75, or 10. Or 2 or 3.....it's not about numbers.

    The comeback to that is always the same, well....the more people you bring in the more they learn about God. If that's REALLY your priority, then go to any fair, mall, concert, sporting event, etc where there are THOUSANDS of people and tell them about God.

    This tattoo stuff is garbage. And i not because I think tattoos are bad. But because I think it's someone who obviously is consumed with numbers, his own attendance records, and his own way of doing things instead of just letting God be God.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • farmfresh

      more people = more $$$$
      That is how a business like the Church works.

      September 15, 2010 at 11:08 am |
    • jerry

      amen jesse amen bang on preach it gotta kinda wonder who his pastor is or is this just a lone ranger church having no affiliation or under any athority

      September 15, 2010 at 11:24 am |
    • SomeTruth

      ...and the Holy Spirit said, – nothing.

      September 15, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • David Johnson

      The reason numbers are important, is all about survival. In my small town, we have a new church start up at least once a month. Most fail. They couldn't get enough paying customers to pay the rent and utilities.

      If you ask the new preacher why he started the church, he would probably tell you, "god told him to". Hmmm...

      God works in mysterious ways.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  13. Reality

    And his tatoo should read:


    September 15, 2010 at 10:35 am |
    • peace2all


      Say it brother..!


      September 15, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  14. that'spathetic

    "[meeting in a club] breaks a barrier for people who would never walk into a church. It breaks that wall down," he said.

    Really? So much so that he had to pull a cheap ploy to get people to walk into the club? This sounds like junior high where dude says he'll shave his head if enough people sign up for camp.

    There has to be something else attractive to the place besides inking your brand on your wrist. Would recommend Kyle read the ink on the pages of Stark's book on the Rise of Christianity.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  15. doctore0

    Gawd = 0
    Tattoo = 1

    Hey, Gawd hates tattoo's

    September 15, 2010 at 9:56 am |
    • jerry

      you spelled GOD wrong

      September 15, 2010 at 11:25 am |
    • Margaret

      He hates tattoo's what? That possessive apostrophe is crying out for some closure.

      September 16, 2010 at 2:50 am |
  16. Jeepers

    First of all, I never trust any man with highlights in his hair...and secondly, 95% of the preachers I've known have been slimy wolves in sheep's clothing...starting with one from my childhood who left his sweet wife and two young children for an older woman in the congregation. Religion is BS.

    September 15, 2010 at 9:50 am |
    • Fred

      Jeepers – You rapidly brand and judge everyone by your previous personal experiences in regards to religion. Religion is hopefully an elusive, intelligent, active & possitive body that remains in a constant evolution. You cannot truly believe that everyone worshiping within the same faith are robotically going to make the errors in judgement as was done in the past.

      September 15, 2010 at 10:26 am |
    • Jeepers

      No, actually that was just the beginning of my awakening. It was not a "rapid" realization and it was not just one experience. But once I got to where I am now, I felt a weight lift. Some people need religion for whatever reason but as for me...all I see the weak minded and the ones who take advantage of them.

      September 15, 2010 at 10:46 am |
    • ABerdaine

      wow – 95% is a high statistic – perhaps an over generalization? Show me proof before making an absurd statement such as this. Besides 95% of the people I know who use statistics in their posts are just pulling numbers from the air....or the hind end. At least have the decency to treat other readers with some intelligence.

      September 15, 2010 at 11:19 am |
    • jerry

      really weak minded people wow thats funny no its called humbling yourself and realize that you need help

      September 15, 2010 at 11:28 am |
    • Jeepers

      ABerdaine...you're right. I didn't actually sit down and do math before I made my statement. Sorry for the confusion. Most people don't take things quite as literally as you apparently do. Jerry...you seem to be personally offended by my use of the term "weak minded." I'm guessing you hear that one a lot. Maybe if you familiarized yourself with punctuation and capitalization, people would take you more seriously. Just a suggestion. Oh, and I'm "humbled" by your taking the time to comment on my comment.

      September 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
    • lestat

      jeepers did say 95% of the ones he knew so...his stats could have been validated in the first place

      September 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  17. Frogist

    That is a sweet tattoo. It's adorable! I'd love to get one... except now I know it's a church symbol... =(

    He has a novel approach that's for sure. I just hope he is innovative in the way he approaches things like hom-ose-xuality, separation of church and state, human rights, reproductive choice... I guess I hope they are not your typical church in other ways too.

    September 15, 2010 at 9:30 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Novelty or fads usually don’t last so if one wants a tattoo it best be something you can live with for a long time [well, short time in compared to eternity]!

      September 15, 2010 at 10:00 am |
    • peace2all


      I would have been happy if this pastor and his church thing never happened, let alone the tattoo. Although....yeah...pretty cool tattoo...


      September 15, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • David Johnson

      I miss the real CatholicMom...

      September 16, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  18. Fran

    How many people went to this thing wondering if the pastor was going to catch HIV from the tattoo needle?

    September 15, 2010 at 9:25 am |
    • wendykh

      Very unlikely these days, if you're working with a professional artist anyway.

      September 15, 2010 at 10:16 am |
    • Mike

      only you, Fran!

      September 15, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • Fran


      I didn't go. Your comment is FAIL. 😛

      September 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  19. Ykcyc

    Masters of the Universe

    You tell me, that you know what’s going to happen
    That I should be like this, and not like that
    That I should live my life by laws that you make
    So I can get all that you think I want to get

    What if you ceased to be, this very moment?
    Life that is in you, simply ceased to be
    A simple thought, but you choose to ignore it
    And change reality to what you think you seek

    That, which you seek, you will not ever find
    That thing or place does not exist
    Except inside egoic mind
    Delusions that persist

    Pretend that you can own things, people, places
    Ideas, thoughts, and concepts that are “you”
    Like all before you, that have left no traces
    And didn’t keep a single thing – it’s true!

    The kings and scoundrels, saints and villains
    Not able take one extra final breath
    Have come and gone are countless billions
    Unable to escape embrace of death.

    The Universe reclaims what’s always been there
    And always will, forever, can’t you see?
    Eternal, Infinite, and Sacred doesn’t care
    About your thoughts of how things should be.

    The world in which you feel so special
    Important, smart, good, pretty, able, strong
    Just an illusion, dream, a fable
    You won’t admit, in fear of being wrong

    You think that you can will things into being
    Reshape your future, rule by force
    The lie you live, that makes you feeling
    Like being Masters of the Universe.

    September 15, 2010 at 8:51 am |
  20. David Johnson

    Leviticus chapter 19, verse 28, which says:

    You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.

    September 15, 2010 at 8:30 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Do you adhere to all the proscriptions in Leviticus?
      "...neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee."
      If your underoos are a poly/cotton blend, off to hell you go.
      "Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you."
      Eat at Red Lobster? DOOM FOR YOU!
      "If a man commits Adultery: both the adulterer and adulteress shall be put to death."
      Send Tiger Woods to the electric chair.

      September 15, 2010 at 9:28 am |
    • Jane Doe

      Galatians 6:17(KJV)
      From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus

      September 15, 2010 at 9:44 am |
    • Mcrunner34

      The scripture in Leviticus has to with out that culture mourned the dead. People were cutting their hair and tattooing themselves on behalf of the dead. That was wrong. Bible doesn't saying anything explicit about tattoos in other contexts.

      September 15, 2010 at 10:02 am |
    • Fred

      If you believed in the words of the Lord – then you would not so easily cast a stone at this pastor but try to look at the motivation behind his act of acquiring a tatoo.

      September 15, 2010 at 10:17 am |
    • James T K

      Second Commandment:
      Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth

      Are you not on a computer right now full of moving images?????

      September 15, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • mh

      ever heard of the new covenant?

      September 15, 2010 at 10:26 am |
    • TammyB

      I guess I'm going to hell for having tatoos then. 😉

      September 15, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • David Johnson

      It is not I that said these words! It is the LORD YOUR GOD! Maker of all things great and small!

      If my King James says it, I believe it!

      If you have been stained by these marks of the Devil, you can not enter the gates of heaven.

      September 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Remember what the Jesus said:

      "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one t!ttle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled."

      You mock me, but remember the children who were eaten by the she bear for mocking one of god's prophets! I hear the bear awakening...

      September 15, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • Momo

      Lev 19:27 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.

      So David, do you shave? : )

      September 15, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • joe

      Leviticus also says not to shave your face, not to eat shell fish, to stone people who don't share your religion, illustrates how to properly perform animal sacrifices to your god. Get a brain.

      September 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • ETS

      Key phrase, David: "For the dead." And even what that meant, should be studied further.

      September 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
    • David Johnson


      You said, "Leviticus also says not to shave your face, not to eat shell fish, to stone people who don't share your religion, illustrates how to properly perform animal sacrifices to your god. Get a brain."

      A brain is not needed nor wanted, to worship God Almighty! I have done all that you say, since my youth! Many times the neighbors have called the police, when I have pelted them with rocks as they leave their homes. A razor has never touched my face. IT IS THE WORD OF THE LORD! Shell fish are an abomination. So sayeth the God of Abraham! The altar, in my backyard, has seen many stray dogs and cats. They make a sweet fragrance unto the lord!

      September 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • schnekv

      @ David Johnson,

      "Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of 10 things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these 10 things he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry for ever and ever until the end of time...but he loves you."
      ..........George Carlin

      September 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • Eddie Vanmeer

      I wonder......, Christians believe that god created Adam and Eve as the first humans, they had two sons, and then...........
      Did those sons screw a monkey or their mother?

      September 15, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
    • Frank

      Are you an Ultra-Orthodox Jew? If not, don't worry about the Mosaic Law has to say.

      September 15, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
    • Debra

      People get tats for diff reasons. I do n0t have any because I feel that being Christian, it is n0t the right thing to do.
      Although, MANY Christians bands have them. It does n0t mean I will go out & get one. They have a reason, & it may be personal. I thought of getting one when I was out of town for my BDAY this past July. Did n0t know what kind to get, how painfull it will be, or how much $. This Pastor maybe thought that is what he is to do. To honor GOD. I do n0t know. I'd like to meet him, & see his church. : ) Do n0t be quick to judge this Pastor. Meet him, talk to him, then find out why he did it. : )
      Debra Matthew 22:37..

      September 16, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • NL

      Christians get this kind of tattoo to honor Jesus, right? Yet I couldn't help but notice that Jesus is dead, so...

      September 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • David

      Yeah and I am sure you abstain from all pork, don't hang out with your wife when she is on her period, don't eat cheeseburgers; hmm do you do stuff on Saturday? Well if so you are just as guilty of not following the Jewish law code as him. Shame on you.

      September 19, 2010 at 8:37 am |
    • dan

      David, the new covenant in Christ leaves the Levitican covenant obsolete; the laws had a point for that particular tribe, and it was perfect, and remains perfect, but has been updated to allow for mercy and hope on a WORLDWIDE scale.

      November 19, 2010 at 7:33 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.