PHOENIX -- Anyone with the nerve to create XXXChurch.com is going to get attention, especially if they keep calling it "the No. 1 Christian Porn Site."
"We're No. 1 because there really isn't a No. 2, which is a good business plan if you think about it," said Craig Gross, co-founder of the ministry in Corona, Calif.
Two years ago, Gross and partner Mike Foster opened their first booth at the Adult Video News trade show in Las Vegas, handing out anti-porn brochures to hardcore consumers and sharing their faith with porn stars and producers. The youth pastors took their wives as chaperones and to take turns inside their church's full-body rabbit costume. The approach was goofy, but intrigued the Los Angeles Times, ABC, Playboy and others.
This year XXXChurch.com teamed up with veteran pornographer James DiGiorgio -- producer of videos such as "The Sopornos #3" -- to make a surreal public service announcement called "Pete the Porno Puppet" warning parents not to expose kids to explicit images. As it turns out, "Jimmy D" is also a parent who worries about porn.
Now comes the hard part. Yes, the online ministry offers anonymous education, counseling and prayer support. It has free X3Watch software to help porn users form accountability groups. It has hip media products for skeptics.
But a website is not enough, said Gross, speaking at the annual North American Christian Convention. Sooner or later, church people will have to talk about pornography.
Sadly, it's easer to discuss God with porn stars than pornography with many pastors.
Why? A poll by Leadership magazine found that four in 10 pastors with Internet access had visited a porn site and more than a third had done so in the previous year. Many skeptical pastors said those numbers were too low.
"If 37 percent of our pastors are looking at this," said Gross, "then this is not a subject they're going to feel comfortable with in the pulpit. ... Think about it. What is going through a pastor's mind if he wants to look at online porn before he preaches on Sunday morning? What's that all about?"
Many believers prefer to ignore such questions. Faced with a minister who gets caught with porn, the typical church board will send the offender packing -- quickly. Yet this kind of zero tolerance policy will drive other addicts deeper into fear and denial, said Gross.
"What the church keeps saying is, 'Get out! We have no sin here,' " he said.
The goal is to take this secret sin seriously, while still offering hope to broken people in pews and pulpits, said the Rev. Gary Rowe, minister of pastoral care at the East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis. Nevertheless, churches that create ministries for those struggling with pornography and other sexual sins will face unique challenges.
For example, it's hard to promote small-group sessions for porn abusers without listing the times and locations in the weekly church bulletin or on a web site, he noted, during another session at the convention in Phoenix. This sensitive issue must be openly discussed in the pulpit and in church education efforts, yet without violating the privacy of those involved.
It's also important to learn that the most effective ministry may not begin with the men.
"We had eight guys come forward when we started this work," said Rowe. "But we immediately had calls from 100 women, looking for help with a husband or a child who was involved with pornography. That really impressed us."
Gross agreed that wives almost always cry out for help before husbands. It is also important for church leaders to ask questions about pornography in premarital counseling and in parenting classes. Youth pastors have to realize that the teen years are crucial, since that is when most boys first come into contact with sexually explicit media.
The trick is to pull this subject out into the open with little or no warning.
"You can't come right out and say, 'We're having a men's breakfast and we're going to talk about pornography," said Gross. "Guess what? If you do that, nobody's going to be there. You are going to have lots of pancakes left over. ...
"We're at the stage where you're going to have to ambush people."