In South Carolina — and many other states — you needn’t ever darken the door of a traditional church building to hear the Word of God or engage in fellowship with His people.
West Columbia, South Carolina’s Church at West Vista, for example, meets regularly at New Brookland Tavern, as The State reported on Thursday.
Yes, that kind of tavern.
The same physical building in which beer and liquor flow like water on most days serves up only Communion wine on the last Sundays of the month.
Taverns represent a particularly unusual choice of venue for worshippers to meet. Yet as church attendance dwindles in some areas, getting together in a variety of nontraditional venues is becoming increasingly common, and has been for several years.
Those who worship at Willow Creek, one of the largest megachurches in America, began meeting in a movie theater in Palatine, Illinois, in 1975.
The congregation of OneLife Community Church in Columbia, South Carolina, also meets in a movie theater — a decent upgrade from its former meeting place of a hockey locker room at a local gym, The State article also noted.
Other nontraditional Palmetto State gathering spots include a dance studio for Live Oak Christian Church in Bluffton and a waterside campground at Myrtle Beach’s Apache Pier for a congregation called Church of the Bad Sheep, the outlet added.
What the venues lack in lack in statues, steeples, and stained glass, they make up for in more meaningful ways, pastors and parishioners say.
For some leaders and attendees, “church” has nothing to do with architecture and everything to do with a fellowship of like-minded worshippers.
While a traditional church might feel imposing or off-putting to those who associate even the building itself with bad memories, a movie theater or even a bar might feel just familiar and welcoming enough for people to consider giving it a go, at least in some denominations.
It’s clearly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea — but some of the faithful appear to be making room for congregations whose churches, like Jesus’ on the sea of Galilee, might have no walls at all.
The local church has always played an important role in our communities, and I believe it will continue to do so – just in a very different way than we're used to. Not to equate journalism to religion, but much the same is true for local reporting…
— Sarah Ellis (@ellissk04) August 9, 2018
I call this religio-tainment: band playing jangly devotional pop music, lots of swaying about with your hands raised up and exhortative outbursts.
Extremely common in the Bible Belt among the anti-denominational, neither-fish-nor-fowl, Protestant types.https://t.co/Z20kFcP5kZ
— PaulFrantizek ❌ (@FrantizekPaul) August 9, 2018
Someone with more biblical training can correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t any group of people talking about Jesus, God, bible etc… considered “church”?
— Jay Conally❌ (@JayCornish3) August 9, 2018
I see nothing wrong w Church Bars. More butts in seats! Fellowship is happening in the pub/bar anyhow.
— Bernie Sperry (@SperryBernie) August 9, 2018
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.