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Theater gives church room to reach out

November 30, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

A shared interest in "coming attractions" has forged an unlikely alliance between Hagerstown Cinema 10 and Crossroads Church. But while theater audiences expect to see what movies are coming, Pastor Chuck Frank's congregation has its eye on the life to come.

On Oct. 5, the three-year-old Brethren in Christ congregation began holding satellite services at the theater complex on Leitersburg Pike. The weekly attendance is holding steady at around 155 people.

"I love the idea of neutral settings to attract people who don't go to church in the traditional sense," Frank said. He has been pastor of Crossroads Church since it first began meeting at Hagerstown's E. Russell Hicks Middle School in December 2000.

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The idea of locating a satellite congregation inside a movie theater seemed like a no-brainer to Frank - great seating, state-of-the-art acoustics, lots of parking. All he had to do was interest a theater owner in going along with this rather unusual idea.

Enter Tanya Ridenour, president/owner of Hagerstown Cinema 10, who enthusiastically opened her doors to the venture.

"They set up in No. 2 which has seating for about 480," Ridenour said. "It's nice to see the building put to good use." Ridenour said she would like to someday see church services going on in all 10 of the theaters.

Frank shares her enthusiasm for such an expansion, especially since each venue could feature its own distinct type of multi-media service, aiming to suit the religious needs of all ages, cultures and time schedules.

"The Ridenours have unselfishly bent over backwards for us," Frank said.

Sunday services at the theater begin at 10:30 a.m. Sunday school is set up simultaneously in the cavernous lobby, using portable screens to separate classes.

Frank, with the assistance of fellow Pastor Greg Taylor, conducts services first at 9:15 a.m. Sunday at E. Russell Hicks. Then they head for the Leitersburg theater in a modern variation of the old-fashioned circuit riders.

"We have the same staff and use the same resources for both locations," Frank said. At both locations, the church pays a rental fee for the use of the facilities.

The impetus for the bold move of establishing a satellite church came via increased attendance and increased giving by the faithful at the E. Russell Hicks location, Frank said.

"Within just a few weeks, we've gone from a one-congregation church with 200 members to a church with two locations and 350 attending each Sunday," he said. "We've learned that if you want to reach the culture, you need to adapt to the culture."

Frank stressed that adapting doesn't mean watering down the message of Jesus, only changing how that message gets out - a challenge to Christianity through the centuries.

"Jesus spoke in parables and that was considered very different then," Frank said.

Some take issue with Crossroads' heavy reliance on direct mail, but again Frank counters with a biblical analogy. "It was through letters that Paul tried to reach the culture of his day," he said.

In the school setting, Frank said churchgoers tend to be more participatory during services. But in the theater setting, the syndrome is "entertain me" and that has to be overcome.

"On the other hand, going to the movies is usually associated with a positive experience so we benefit from that," Frank said.

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