WASHINGTON One of the largest church networking and resourcing groups in the nation began a survey this week to measure the growth and characteristics of the rapidly expanding theater church.
"We have confirmed that churches in at least 36 states, including D.C., use local cinemas for church services," Warren Bird, Director of Research at Leadership Network, a Dallas-based non-profit that works with dozens of large megachurches across the nation. "Locations cover the country, from Alaska and Hawaii to Florida and New Hampshire."
While the exact number is not known, observers say there are at least dozens and likely hundreds of congregations meeting in theater complexes each week for worship.
"We strongly suspect that at least 250 churches are currently meeting in theaters," said Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C.
Battersons 900-member congregation rents the movie theaters in Union Station and Ballston Common Mall every Sunday, and holds small group bible studies in coffee shops throughout the week. The church is also planning a Theater Church Forum on May 4 in Washington, during which theater churches will have opportunities to network and learn new models for growth.
Leadership Network, which last month released results from the most extensive study of U.S. megachurches, will be conducting a survey of all known theater churches with plans to distribute findings at the Theater Church Forum. The survey includes questions such as Why are you meeting in a movie theater?" to "How do you handle childcare/nursery?"
According to Batterson, the theater church phenomenon is part of a larger trend toward doing ministry in the marketplace.
The church is getting out from behind its four church walls and meeting people where theyre at, he said in a press release. A movie theater is a non threatening environment that allows us to reach people who are unchurched and dechurched.
Geoff Surrat, author of The Multi-Site Church Revolution, agreed that the theater setting provides cultural benefits for growth.
"Going to church at the local cinema is an easy culture shift because people already understand how a theater works," Surratt said. "People do not get tired of attending movie theaters for movies; they won't get tired of attending a theater for church."
For more information on the theater church conference, visit: www.buzzconference.com.