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Drive-in church offers modern-day convenience to its congregation

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:44 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Today's world is all about convenience. We want to get as much as we can with as little effort as possible, and we want things to take as little time as possible. We like our high-speed Internet. We love drive-thrus. Delivery in 30 minutes or it's free. The speedy self-checkout lines, Walmart and instant coffee have helped make our lives move more seamlessly.

But in the spirit of making life more convenient, are we missing out on the important things?

During spring break, I visited my friend Julie and her husband, Pete, in Florida. Our days were spent lounging on the sandy beaches or shopping in outlet malls that small-town Midwestern girls usually only dream about. On our way to the beach we passed a sign for the "Drive-In Christian Church."

"What's that?!" I asked.

"Oh, that's the drive-in church. You just pull in and park and tune your radio to a certain station and listen to the sermon. It's really popular with the tourists," Julie said.

She was right.

The Drive-in Christian Church has been "worshipping outdoors since 1953." When Sunday rolled around, Julie asked me if I wanted to go to church, and I immediately replied, "Can we go to the drive-in?"

The building is fairly old, with blue paint chipping off the wood of a "beach house" type chapel. It was quaint, with palm trees blowing in an overcast sky above the roof. At first, my appreciation for the newly remodeled churches back home made me scoff at the unkempt feel of the drive-in, but I realized if you don't have a steady flow of people coming in and out, do you really need to renovate? I suppose that leaves more money to devote to missions and good works.

As we drove in, a man handed us communion and a bulletin through the driver's side window. We found a parking spot between a Lexus SUV and a sporty Honda and tuned to 88.5 FM. I could see the minister in his white robe pacing back and forth on an upper deck in the beach house church. His voice came through our speakers and, after taking it in, I concluded he was a dead ringer for Don Knotts of "The Andy Griffith Show."

I heard the choir sing, I listened to the minister pray, and I took communion from the passenger seat of Julie's maroon Mercury Cougar. A man in a golf cart sped through the aisles of vehicles to collect an offering. About halfway through, Julie's 8-month-old, Isabella, woke up and began to cry from her car seat in the back. Julie hopped in the back to give her a bottle, commenting how glad she was no one else could hear little Bella's set of pipes.

I saw a woman using a wheelchair and another on crutches struggle to get out of their vehicles and make their way to the restroom at the fellowship hall located in the middle of the parking lot. I realized this drive-in must make their lives much less difficult than a regular service.

As the service drew to a close, the minister said a final prayer and blessed those who were before him. The choir came over the airwaves, and the cars began to honk. It was almost as if they were applauding.

Everyone began filing out, and it was then I realized no matter how uncomplicated you make a church service, you can never solve the problem of after-church traffic. I took one last look at the dilapidated church as we slowly made our way to the main road. The minister waved happily from his deck view and Aretha Franklin’s “Say a Little Prayer” played low on 88.5 FM.

It took me a few days to figure out how I felt about the drive-in. Upon first inspection, it was reminiscent of a drive-thru chapel on the Las Vegas strip.

But for Julie, it was a godsend. She could stay with Bella and not worry about her crying in the middle of church and disrupting others. Nor would she have to leave her with a church daycare service that might page her in the middle of a sermon. For those women with disabilities I saw, was it easier to get to church every week knowing they didn’t have to leave their vehicle? Those hard of hearing can blast their stereos, while those who don’t like dressing up can come as they wish.

How nice would this church be for tourists to happen upon as they drive through an unfamiliar city? Yes, you miss the interpersonal relationships you could see with a normal congregation. Yes, it was odd seeing a man of God raise his arms and emphatically speak to what is essentially a parking lot. But is this church not fulfilling its duty? The bulletin announced a wedding would be taking place the following weekend. A small note reminded parents of the time for the children's choir practice.

Yes, this was still a church. This was still a congregation. The online self check-in for my flight back home cut down on my airport wait time tremendously. Redbox movies make renting flicks much easier, cheaper and quicker. And yes, the drive-in church in Daytona cut what would have been an hour-and-a-half service to 45 minutes.

But I realized I lost a lot of time I could have been communicating and strengthening my relationships with people. I spent the rest of that Sunday wanting to make up for the missed people time I normally feel after leaving church.

The Drive-in Christian Church provides a great service for many people, and I believe it is another tool that helps many believers. It helped me realize I like the solitude of making my vehicle my private sanctuary, but I also need to appreciate the beauty of spending time with complete strangers.

The church Web site is simple and sparse, with only a few photos and text. It states the church's purpose as spreading “the ‘Good News’ to every person, including tourists, the physically challenged, families with children and others looking for a unique way to worship.”

I think it does just that.

Tracy Barnes graduated from MU in 2008 with degrees in journalism and English. She is a former copy editor and multimedia editor for the Missourian. She can be contacted at tracylbarnes@gmail.com.


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