The distinction between secular and sacred space continues to blur as a small but growing number of churches meet in movie theaters and consider eschewing traditional church buildings altogether.
Currently 180 churches are renting movie theater space under one-year contracts with National CineMedia, which manages rentals in 1,400 theaters nationwide. That's an increase from three churches six years ago.
"Movie-theater screens are postmodern stained glass. We're using moving pictures to tell the gospel to a post-literate culture," said Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church, which meets in Washington, D.C., theaters and hosts a conference for theater churches. "There are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet. We have to live with the tension of being biblically true and culturally relevant."
While most of the congregations eventually want to own a building, experts suggest about 10 percent plan on long-term portability — and the number is growing.
"In the beginning, a lot of people viewed portability as a means to an end," said Kendra Malloy, marketing director for Portable Church Industries. "Now people see portability as a way to go and be part of the community."
The majority of Malloy's church clients rent schools, but about 15 percent rent movie theaters for worship space.
Although a LifeWay Research survey last February suggested that people who don't go to church may prefer traditional, cathedral-style buildings to modern sanctuaries, the hope is that theater-style buildings will draw those who might not feel comfortable entering a traditional church.
Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, began in a movie theater in 1975 with 125 attendees. Today the church has 20,000 ...1
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