Popcorn and cola stand a fair distance from the body and blood of Christ, but Pastor Josh Karrer wants to bring them closer. He'll do just that Oct. 14 when he relocates the congregation of Crossings Church to the Regal Virginia Center 20 movie theater in Henrico County.
"Our vision, our passion is to have a church that meets not behind the four walls of the church building -- but in a community place, a marketplace," Karrer says. "We view it as a way to really live and be amongst the people."
Karrer had been on staff at a church in Washington, D.C., until last year when he moved his wife and infant son to the Richmond area in hopes of "planting" a non-denominational church in a nontraditional space.
For the last year, his tiny congregation of roughly 25 people has met in a home. He hopes the new location, where he holds Sunday services at 10 a.m., will draw in people who've been turned off by church. As an added bonus, during the first four services at the theater, one lucky new congregant will go home with a year's supply of movie tickets.
Finding new ways to connect with potential churchgoers is a sign of the times, says the Rev. Abbott Bailey, associate rector for St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Richmond. She's aware of at least two other movie-theater congregations in the area.
"The baby boomers were the first generation to leave the church, and so it's the boomers' children who have a lower percentage of having grown up in the church," Bailey says. "Frankly, I think that's what some of the mainline denominations are struggling with."
Her church, though more traditional, has tried to grow membership by drawing them to nontraditional services such as its weekly Celtic service and a "U2charist" worship service set to the music of the popular rock band.
Is Karrer worried about encouraging R-rated morality among his congregants? After all, he'll be sharing facility space with the likes of "Good Luck Chuck," a movie about a successful dentist who suffers from an unfulfilling sex life in the wake of a curse put on him by a Goth girl in an adolescent game of spin the bottle.
"Obviously, I would say some movies push that envelope," he says, "but we're not trying to hide people from culture."
In fact, Crossings' services will feature clips on the screen from blockbuster movies where the character's dilemmas serve as jumping-off points for a discussion about the Bible.
"Take 'Bruce Almighty,'" Karrer says. "It's a classic movie where he becomes God. It lends itself to a conversation about Christian themes of God." S