Megachurch Hits Theater in Multi-Site Expansion

WASHINGTON – One of the largest churches in the Washington, D.C.-area spotted out its fourth landmark in their newest effort to create a "spiritual beltway" around the nation's capital.

Part of a multi-million dollar multi-site initiative, McLean Bible Church has marked Uptown theater in Cleveland Park as their next location for Sunday morning worship services that will beam the head pastor's sermons via satellite from McLean which has nearly maxed out its 2-year-old campus.

Uptown theater, formally known as AMC Loews Uptown 1, is McLean's first campus in Washington, D.C., and part of a plan to open nine satellite locations in the next 10 years, or what senior pastor Lon Solomon called "surrounding Washington and pounding Washington" with the gospel.

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Hundreds of young adults are already worshipping at Frontline Arlington – McLean's first community campus at the Rosslyn Spectrum in Arlington, Va. The megachurch opened up an Internet Campus this summer and is so far planning for openings in Loudoun, Va., and Uptown theater in January 2008. Other planned sites include Prince George's, Montgomery and Prince William counties.

"We do things based on vision, and we want to reach the city. That's what this is about," Mike Hurt, McLean Bible's director of community campus development, told The Washington Post.

The multi-site movement has raised concerns and critics who argue churches are just trying to spread their own brand. But multi-site leaders have stressed that it isn't about a growth strategy. Rather, what's behind the movement is a passion to reach lost souls.

"The key to understanding the multi-site movement is to remember that fulfilling the Great Commission drives these congregations, not a growth strategy," Bill Easum and Dave Travis state in their book Beyond the Box.

McLean's planned launch at the District theater is also tapping into the growing trend of theater churches. Twenty churches in the Washington area rent theaters for services, according to National CineMedia, which coordinates the rentals, as reported by Washington Post.

"It's exciting to see something like [the theater church movement] in the nation's capital," Dr. David Foster, lead pastor of The Gathering in Nashville, said earlier. "It's the idea that you don't need bricks and mortar."

According to Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church which meets in Phoenix Theaters at Union Station, Regal movie theaters had reported three churches meeting at its theaters early in the 21st century. Today, Regal reports some 100 churches. Batterson estimated last year that there were about 250 churches meeting in movie theaters throughout the country.

National Community Church also plans to launch a fourth location in the northwest part of the District on Sept. 30. A location has not yet been identified.

Meanwhile, residents around Uptown theater told the local newspaper they welcome McLean's services at the theater if it will help ensure its survival.

"If there is a financial boost that helps the Uptown to stay alive, then that is a really great thing," said Bill Adler, who runs the neighborhood listserv, according to Washington Post. "I cannot imagine Cleveland Park, or Washington, D.C., without the Uptown."

McLean's multi-site initiative will cost an estimated $3 million a year and although "risky territory," Solomon says he's determined to unashamedly take the message of Jesus Christ to every single person in the nation's capital.

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