[sarcasm warning! This is another article from "Lark News", a website which pokes fun at some of the stupid things Christians do.]
"FORT COLLINS — Tired of competing separately for new members, churches here recently sold their properties, pooled the money and bought the largest movie multi-plex in town. They now meet in its various theaters, and for most, it's a lesson in stiff competition.
"There is a Darwinian element, but on the whole we're much stronger together than apart," says Foursquare pastor Len Reed, who rallied the churches behind the idea.
The 30-screen Grand View Cinema Multi-Plex, which last year showed The Hulk, Legally Blonde 2 and other Hollywood fare, is now home to every Christian congregation in Ft. Collins. The advantages, pastors say, are the simplicity of having a single ad in the yellow pages to appeal to on-the-go church consumers; substantial financial savings in sharing a facility; and most importantly, sending a message that Christians are on the same page — or the same screen, in this case.
Each sermon is advertised on one line of the marquee. Ticket booths serve as information desks. Congregations share ushers and child care, which is housed in a separate building. "Customers" start arriving at 8 a.m., filling the parking lot and choosing the church they wish to attend. A bank of monitors in the foyer displays what's happening in each theater.
"We usually go to the Baptist church in theater five, but if it looks like they're having a good time in theater four [the Pentecostal church], we'll go there instead," says 17-year-old Helene.
Some people attend worship in one theater, then sneak out to catch the sermon in another. Theater-hopping is tolerated, if not encouraged.
"People were changing churches every week anyway," says one pastor. "Now they can just go across the hall, and the kids get the benefit of staying in the same nursery."
Some patrons have found themselves attracted to churches they might never have visited before.
"I was on my way to the Catholic theater when I heard the preacher in theater 19 tearing it up," says Ramon Lopez. "I went in there and got saved for real."
Other churches, like the liberal-leaning Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians, have watched their attendance plummet as members are drawn to livelier meetings with more fundamentalist teachings. The mainline churches now meet in a combined service in the employee break room with about a dozen people each week. They hope the addition of a Unitarian congregation to their combined service will boost numbers.
Other differences are less theological. Some churches allow drinks and movie candy like Mike and Ike's. The Catholic church has suffered because of its strict rule against popcorn. The rich, buttery smell, they say, interferes with the gravity of Communion. Other churches, like the up-and-coming Vineyard congregation, offer free "gargantua-tubs" of popcorn to first-time visitors.
When congregations grow to 800 people or more, they qualify for a time slot in the largest, 1,000-seat theater which is currently dominated by a seeker-friendly church built on Rick Warren's purpose-driven model. It boasts THX worship, reclining seats and, of course, a massive movie screen.
Despite some inner tensions, the unique partnership is holding together.
"I love coming to church because you get that sense of anticipation and excitement walking down the hallway to your theater," says 43-year-old Sandra. "The ushers even tear a little notch in your bulletin, like they're taking your ticket." •