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No twerking. No drinking. No smoking. AP looks at a Christian nightclub in Nashville

Jeremiah Manley, left, and other attendees at The Cove, an 18-and-up, pop-up Christian nightclub, raise their arms in worship on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The Cove was started last year by seven Black Christian men in their 20s who sought to build a thriving community and a welcoming space for young adults outside houses of worship. AP PHOTO / JESSIE WARDARSKI

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Luis Henao and Jesse Wardarski on the religion beat produced an all-formats story that earned a massive response. They looked at a Christian nightclub in Nashville that’s drawing racially diverse crowds to dance parties featuring Christian rap and reggaeton, plus periodic interludes of prayer.

The religion team took to heart appeals by senior news managers for more stories that have a “feel good” tone. In this case, the headline itself was an invitation: “No twerking. No drinking. No smoking. But it’s still a party at this Christian nightclub.” What followed was a hugely popular, all-formats piece that elicited a conversation by thousands on social media. It was shared by religious leaders, Christian rappers, devout believers and intrigued atheists and got a shoutout from Stephen Colbert. The story highlighted an emerging trend of dance and worship nightclubs where young Christians seek community and a safe space outside houses of worship. It 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. Henao and Wardarski identified the story’s subject through Instagram, spending time online over many weeks tracking The Cove nightclub in Nashville and establishing a long-distance rapport with its founders, seven Black Christian men in their 20s.

Response was extensive. Wardarski’s pulsating video was one of AP’s top five most downloaded of the weekend. A tweet by @AP featuring the story got 1 million views. The story got more than 7,000 likes on the AP’s Instagram account, thanks to a post expertly crafted by Digital’s Sophia Tulp and Sallee Ann Harrison. The Boston Globe, Business Insider and The Independent shared it on their social media.

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