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Planes, Chains, and Automobiles
These churches take innovation to extremes.
January 1, 2005
Drop zone church
Former Green Beret Steve Phelps is a cartoonist, biker, and also a skydiver and pastor of The Rock Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At times Steve combines the latter passions and offers a worship gathering that meets somewhere between heaven and earth.
The idea developed as Steve befriended skydivers at the drop zone outside the city. The owner of the drop zone became a believer, and the other jumpers seemed receptive. "They always said, 'If I ever went to church, I'd go to your church.' But they never came." So Steve, with the help of the drop zone's owner, decided to bring the church to them.
The Rock Church started meeting in the airplane hanger at the site about fifteen miles north of Tulsa, and on several occasions, Steve literally drops in. "It's like the opening of the Super Bowl when a skydiver lands in the stadium with the football. I landed with the Bible. The church thought it was really cool."
The event attracted many visitors and about forty skydivers, some who have now become regular attenders. Was anyone shocked by the stunt? "Not anyone who knows me. But I'm sure some of the more traditional churches in town didn't like it." The church plans to conduct the skydiving service at least once a year. "We've set out to make ourselves different. To reach those who aren't comfortable in a conventional church," Steve says.
To reach the Harley Davidson crowd, Phelps organized a motorcycle poker runa kind of scavenger hunt on hogs. Each biker rode to five locations to receive a playing card from church members. The final card was presented at the church, along with a prize for the best hand. A party followed, along with a brief message from Steve and an invitation to return to the church Sunday morning for worship.
It was only a matter of time before someone combined extreme sports and sacraments. Athletes Church Extreme (ACE) of New Zealand has grown a Christian community around a love for Christ and thrills.
"Extreme baptism," as the church calls it, involves chaining new believers to a bungee rope and then taking a leap of faith off a bridge. The cord stretches to immerse the convert waist deep in the river below, as onlookers from the church celebrate with shouts and whistles.
Communion is also an act of faith for ACE. Believers freefall to earth from 10,000 feet while holding hands in a formation known as "the fellowship of the ring." Bread and wine are passed before parachutes are deployed. Tam Reylf, a leader of ACE, says the Eucharist is dangerous and skydiving accurately reflects that call to danger. No doubt prayer is also a popular act of worship.
Classic drive-in church
Some unconventional churches defy the rulessimply by surviving. One congregation in Daytona Beach, Florida, has met at a drive-in theater since 1953two years before Robert Schuller, on the opposite coast, climbed atop a snack bar to deliver his first outdoor sermon.
Today the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church has more than 1,100 members. The movie screen has been replaced with a multi-story altar building with sheltered podium and choir loft. Larry Deitch, pastor for ten years, recalls only one Sunday when gale force winds forced him to preach from inside the building.
Deacons provide motorists with bulletins and prepackaged communion elements as they arrive, and the worship service is broadcast to their car radios. For those who are uncomfortable with modern worship, a few parking spots still have the classic window speakers.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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