DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Sunday Service: Now at a Cinema Near You

If I remember my Bible correctly, Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, not the Sermon in the Movie Theater. But, of course, in the historical times of Jesus, technology as we know it was entirely lacking. Jesus and his contemporaries were not that many years removed from the written-on-stone-tablets phase of communication.

That isn't the case today. Technology is everywhere. And that's why it makes perfect modern sense to hold Easter Sunday service, the biggest church going day of the year, in a theater complex equipped with 3-D screens and pulsating Dolby digital surround sound, and announce such services in direct mailings, the internet, and various forms of social media.

I found out about this type of service when a postcard addressed to occupant and heralding DC's National Community Church - One Church, Six Locations - arrived in our apartment complex mailbox. A quick check showed that all 6 church locations - Georgetown, Kingstowne, Potomac Yard (just down the street from our apartment complex), Ballston Common Mall, Columbia Heights, and Barracks Row - are movie theaters.

I was intrigued and wanted to know more. I grabbed my iPad and headed to the National Community's Church website.

Clicking on the Who We Are tab, I discovered this story from lead pastor Mark Batterson:

On January 7, 1996, a blizzard left record amounts of snow on Washington DC. Only three people showed up at our first Sunday: my wife, Lora, my son, Parker, and myself. Of course, the upside is that we experienced over six-hundred-percent growth in one week when 19 people showed up the next Sunday! During the first nine months of 1996, a core group of twenty-five people gathered for weekend services at Giddings School in southeast Washington, DC. That September, a voice-mail proved to be a defining moment for NCC. I was retrieving messages during an out-of-town trip. In one message, the individual in charge of leasing DC public schools informed me that the school where we met was closing due to the fire code violations. NCC was on the verge of becoming a homeless church, but God opened an amazing door of opportunity. President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill of Congress allowing for the creation of Union Station on February 28, 1903. It simply stated: A bill of Congress to create a Union Station - and for other purposes. A Century later, Union Station was serving God's purposes through the ministry of National Community Church. The church held its first public service in the movie theaters at Union Station on November 17, 1996.

The Union Station theaters eventually closed. But  over the years, other theaters began to be utilized as churches. As you might expect, the NCC - which has been dubbed the theater church - utilizes the full range of current technology to spread its message. You can get email church updates delivered directly to your computer, tablet, or smart phone. Both webcasts and podcasts are offered. The church employs Twitter and Facebook in its ministry. There is a special Help and FAQs site (just imagine how busy such a site would be if Heaven had one?)  Pastor Batterson publishes a blog. One of his most recent entries is entitled "SFSG"     ( So Far So Good) and talks about Ebeneezer's - a former crack house which the church turned into a coffeehouse with a cause and which served 65,516 cups of coffee last year.

So how does Batterson feel this theater and modern social media approach is working? "Jesus told us to go into the highways and byways and compel people to come in. That's what we're trying to do," the pastor says. "The message is sacred. The medium isn't. We want to use every tool at our disposal to share the good news."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Easter service at the Lincoln Memorial
Of course, NCC isn't the only unique Easter service in DC. All the services at the must-have-a-ticket-for-entry-on-Easter-Sunday at the National Washington Cathedral were closed out weeks ago. So if you want to attend next year, make sure to get your request in early. Of course, for early risers, there is always room at the sunrise Easter service at the Lincoln Memorial. Each year, more than 6,000 attend that service which begins at 6:30 a.m.

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