Churches Get Thumbs-Up at Theaters; Congregations Use Cinemas for Worship

Article excerpt

Byline: Keyonna Summers and Amy Doolittle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The "Grand Theater" of the AMC Union Station 9 is typically the place where moviegoers gather to see the latest blockbusters and feast on popcorn or hot dogs.

But on Sunday mornings, the theater becomes a place of worship for National Community Church, a local 900-member nondenominational congregation, where its parishioners pray, listen to sermons and receive Holy Communion.

Holding services in movie theaters is "so contemporary, so out of the norm, something that Jesus would do," said Tony Snesko, a member of National Community since it was founded in 1996. "If He was here today, I don't think He would go into a usual church for a service. He would find an unusual place where He normally wouldn't go."

National Community is one of several churches in the D.C. area that are turning neighborhood movie theaters into makeshift sanctuaries on Sundays.

At least 70 churches nationwide hold their Sunday services at movie theaters, said officials at National CineMedia LLC, a theater-owned cinema programming company that represents about 1,100 theaters and nearly 12,000 screens in 43 states.

Movie theaters are perfect church venues because the facilities successfully combine location, convenience and comfort, area pastors said.

Holding services in movie theaters has been going on for years, theater company officials said.

"There is a growing trend in new ministries and churches that need to have room for expansion. Churches are very expensive to build," said Tom Galley, chief operations and technology officer for National CineMedia, which is owned by AMC Theatres and the Regal Entertainment Group.

In 2002, National CineMedia created a division to recruit churches and businesses to hold services, meetings and special events in its theaters - mostly as a service to the surrounding communities, officials said.

For churches, renting a movie theater once a week is cheaper than owning and maintaining a church building. It costs about $2,000 per month to hold services in local theaters, church officials said.

Nine of the 70 churches that hold services in National CineMedia-owned theaters are located in the D.C. area. The company this year saw a 25 percent increase in its number of clients, Mr. Galley said.

For Summit Trace Church in Frederick, holding worship services at the nearby Regal Westview Stadium 16 makes sense.

"We're not trying to be hip for hip's sake," said Bill Craig, pastor of Summit Trace. "We're just trying to meet people where they are and take them where God wants them to be. …