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The Pro’s and Con’s of Planting a Church In a Movie Theater

MalcoThis past Sunday made the fourth week in a row we’ve worshipped in a local movie theater with January 15 being our official launch. We didn’t intend to launch in a theater. I fact, we spent a great deal of time looking at retail spaces, but eventually landed at the Malco because of space, price, and availability. There’s a part of me that fell in love with the idea before we moved in, and has remained attached to it since.

Advantages of Meeting In a Theater

We know that we won’t be in the theater forever. We’re already looking around for our next home, but we’re enjoying some great advantages in the meantime, such as…

  • The rent is great, especially since we’re only paying for a few hours per week instead of the whole week. For us, it’s $650 per week, which gives us access to three theaters.
  • The decorating is done. It’s not what we would do in our own space, obviously, but it’s something we don’t have to think about.
  • We don’t have to stack chairs.
  • There is a cultural barrier between the church and the community around the church that is automatically gone. It already feels good and familiar to most people to walk into a movie theater.
  • There is a cultural barrier UP between the church plant and those who are uncomfortable with non-traditional settings. Since “churched” people are not our target, it can actually help that some people are uncomfortable with the idea of their kids going to worship in a room with a marquee that reads The Devil Inside.
  • The acoustics are great. We’re figuring out how to squeeze drums in, but the sound quality of the room is just right.
  • There’s a screen. It’s really, really big, and we don’t have to retract it after the service.
  • Kids think that going to kids’ worship in a theater is awesome.
  • We have community visibility – a prime location well-known to the community. Our theater is on what the locals call “restaurant row” in a very visible shopping district.
  • The theater personnel are wonderful at both the local and corporate levels – we love Malco‘s people!

By the way, have you "liked" Grace Hills Church on Facebook yet?


Disadvantages of Meeting In a Theater

As I stated before, the theater isn’t our permanent home. I think it could work for some churches on a permanent basis, but for us, there are a few things that we’re thinking about long term that stand in the way.

  • We only have access on Sunday mornings until noon. We have to find other sites and spaces for membership classes, etc. We meet in homes a lot anyway, but larger, non-Sunday meetings can be a trick.
  • Altar calls are tough to figure out – not impossible – just tough.
  • As with any space rented weekly, we’re still loading and unloading, setting up and tearing down. We love it, but look forward to a sense of permanence (and trust me, we’re very patient on this one).
  • Lighting is an issue. The theater lights dim and brighten, but we still turn on the house lights for the teaching time. We bring in a lot of lamps.
  • Sometimes the movie posters in the lobby scare the children. Thankfully, Malco’s folks make a good effort at keeping those in the wing we don’t access.
  • Sometimes there is the remnant odor of popcorn… which could have fit in either category, actually.

If we had it to do over again, we’d definitely head to the Malco. It’s been pretty ideal. We’re beginning to look now for a larger, retail or warehouse space with some freedom to spread out, create our own space, and still have the flexibility of a lease instead of incurring debt this early. For now, it’s off to the movies for us, and we’re excited about next Sunday!

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  • http://www.charlesspecht.com/ Charles Specht

    I’ve always wondered how much the rent was for a theater.  $650 for three.  Does that mean it is around $200 per theater, or did you have to rent three theaters?  If you have one for worship, one for kids, what is the 3rd for?

    I’ve often thought about doing a church plant in a theater.  I do think that it would help people realize that “church” is not a building.  Also, it would force the congregation to foster small groups, which is a good thing.

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Charles, you’re spot on with those assumptions. I’ve told Grace Hills many times that we won’t be in a building for a loooong time to come, so finding creative spaces to “gather” is important, but so is “scattering” the rest of the week throughout the community.

      We use 1 for adults, 1 for kids, and the third is our nursery, but we bring in 6 cases of foam flooring and 4 cases of kid-friendly fencing to create a whole new environment. It all fits on the floor between the front row and the screen.

      There wasn’t really a per-theater option that I know of. We went in asking for three, so I’m not sure.

  • Stolleson

    (Funny – my pastor just provided me with trend/research info about churches meeting in theaters for a release we’re sending out & you guys were in the info!) We’ve been meeting for two years in a theater. We didn’t plan for it to be permanent, either, but it has knocked down traditional walls to reach people who might not otherwise have come. Our pastor likes to say that God has strategically placed us in a place where great stories are told to tell the greatest story of all. We worked with the theater the past two years to sponsor free Veggie Tales movies on Sat mornings before movies start. Before Christmas, we had nearly 200 people come with 90% from the community! The theater also lets us leave our outside banner up for awareness - many have come just because they saw it. We’ve encountered some of the same challenges you mention, but have been given an entire wing for our service and children’s area (5 screens total), and the large screen has encouraged us to be more creative with the visual elements of our worship. We set up communion stations around the theater rather than pass the trays – that works fairly well. We’ve lost some of the more “traditional” folks, but God has brought us seekers and that is really refreshing and invigorating for those who’ve been there from the start. Now every time I smell buttered popcorn, I think about worshipping – not a bad deal!

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Haha, I love this!!

  • Ray R Harris

    Brandon,  Try meeting with the management of the theatre and asking them if you can rent one or two storage rooms at the theatre to put your trailer stuff in.  We rented two rooms for $75/mo/ea. and it was great during bad weather days (plus safer than a trailer).

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Storage isn’t available to us, but we’re becoming ninjas at the packing process. Good tip though!

  • Cary Weaver

    Brandon,

    I am in talks with Malco for a potential church plant myself. My biggest issue right now is that corporate is requiring we be out by 11:30 – You mentioned being out by noon… Did you negotiate this later exit time? I know it’s just 30 minutes, but that’s huge when you’re setting up/tearing down!

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Cary, we have had a great relationship with the local manager. He said their box office doesn’t open until 12:30, so he was fine with us getting out by 12. We start at 10 and conclude by 11:20 or so and we have no problems, so worst case, we would start at 9:30 if we had to be out any earlier. I hope you can work it out.

      • Caryweaver

        Thanks for the reply! The local manager can make or break you!

  • Dave

    Great blog. We are planting 1 April (seriously) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Yesterday I approached a local movie theater situated like yours in a busy part of a mall. I came on-line to get exactly the info. you have posted. Thank man, big help.
    A couple of questions:
    1. You say you are achieving some ministry times at the front. How have you done this? 
    2. Are you preaching from a platform? Our Cinema seat go head high and are perfectly positioned so that the screen is visable just above the back of the seat thus blocking out  a guy standing at the front. I figure we can raise the front but havent  figured how that will affect people in the front row.
    3. I would love to hear how you do kids. clearly there is no space for a lot of play.
    4. Finally, what music/sound/lighting have you gone for?
    Thanks again for a great blog post.
    Dave.