Jam Night, an outgrowth of the youth ministry for Celebration Tabernacle Church, is offered as a wholesome alternative to more traditional Friday night activities.

Tiffany Balloun, a 17-year-old Wilson High School student, is the hostess. She greets patrons — always with a smile and sometimes a hug — handles the $3 cover charge at the door and directs patrons to their seats.

Damon Keller, 22, is an actor and reserve DJ. He also oversees valet parking and monitors activity in the venue, making sure everyone is comfortably seated and the aisles are clear.

Karen Mathews, an 18-year-old 2001 Benson Tech grad, is one of three servers. She collects orders for food and soft drinks. All of them, as well as their co-workers, whom they refer to as family, work for free. That’s because Jam Night is more about ministry than employment. Revenues are invested into the ministry.

“It’s one of the biggest ministries in our church, actually,” Mathews said. “It’s kind of a way to show people that Christians aren’t all just stuffy people that you can’t hang around or you don’t want to hang around. We’re real, we can have fun, we laugh.”

“We even tell jokes that are sometimes inappropriate, we’re told,” she said, unable to suppress a laugh. “But what do you expect with a whole bunch of teen-agers . . . running the show?” That’s not to say anything goes at Jam Night. But the organizers, members of the church’s college and youth groups, feel they have a pretty good feel for the pulse of their target audience: youths and young adults ages 16 to 26.

DJ Elbert Mondaine, who doubles as an actor and sound guru for productions, feels Jam Night is making inroads. “When I go through Lloyd Center and I hear somebody going, ‘Hey, have you heard about the new place called Jam Night?’ ” he said, “that’s when I know that we’re tapping into the right community and age groups.”

And, while ministry-based, the productions are not overtly preachy. Keller said the focus on the church is minimal. It’s limited, for the most part, he said, to announcing that Jam Night is produced in association with Celebration Tabernacle and that food and drink are prepared and provided by Friday’s Espresso, a church-owned business that operates in the same building with the church and The Wave Room.

“We’re offering everything the family — Mom, Dad, children — can appreciate,” Keller said.

The Wave Room, though unassuming from the outside, is intimate and inviting. It’s well-lit, with candlelit booths and tables sharing the floor with a small stage. Stars hang from a dark, glitter-flecked ceiling.

There’s no tobacco smoke in the air, no alcoholic beverages served. The menu offers “Belly Fillers & Tummy Ticklers” — everything from cheeseburgers and chili-cheese fries to a green salad and fruit bowl; “Coffee & Such” — espressos, iced granitas, lattes and “Tease” (teas).

“We don’t offer the stereotype,” Keller said. “Basically, every club and bar is pretty much the same,” he said. “You go there and get a drink, have smoke in your lungs. And people, I guess, go there to let go with other substances . . . with Jam Night, you’re going and letting go with laughter.”

Mondaine, a 2001 Benson grad, believes the entertainment makes Jam Night a unique draw for teens and early twentysomethings.

“They see folks their age onstage, folks their age playing music, folks their age DJing,” he said.

“You’re attracted to where you’re comfortable. And if a bunch of 35-year-olds are onstage telling you how to be young and what to do when you’re young, then you don’t really want to be drawn to that.” Constant chatter and laughing competes with music played by Mondaine from when the doors open at 9 p.m. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. Finally, Don Elliott, 23, takes the stage as the night’s host.

On this early summer night, entertainment includes a comedy skit and solo singing performance. Shortly after 10 p.m., a hearty round of applause welcomes the Jam Night house band, The 25th Hour, a five-piece jazz/funk ensemble.

Elliott, who helped revamp Jam Night earlier this year into a livelier event, said the goal is to “show people a lighter side of God and being Christian.”

“We want to show them that you can be Christian, you can be saved,” he said. “But still, not everything is about wailing and crying and carrying on. Sometimes you can just laugh and have fun and relax. So, we want to show that side that we don’t feel is shown very often.”

The Oregonian