Skip to main content

I preach regularly at the Woodland Drive-In Church in Grand Rapids. I’ve been doing so for almost twenty-nine years. This church began in 1970 as an outreach of Fifth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, which challenged their congregation to create a ministry for people not reached through traditional church programs.

The question inevitably arises: Why would people want to worship at a drive-in church instead of sitting inside a traditional church?

There are two main categories of people who attend our services: permanent (those who have made this ministry their church home) and temporary (those who come occasionally or for a certain period of time).

There are many reasons people chose to be permanent attenders of the Drive-In Church. For some there’s a continued need for special physical accommodations (e.g., reclining instead of sitting, oxygen tanks, etc.). Other people choose to deal with issues such as fragrance allergies, agoraphobia, or negative past experiences with traditional church settings by worshiping in a drive-in setting.

Some people who attend temporarily have post-surgical needs, which can be better accommodated (e.g., elevating feet or legs) in a vehicle than a pew. Others may have personal circumstances that cause them to feel too fragile emotionally to have social interactions that are part of the traditional church setting. People with such needs attend the Drive-In Church until they feel physically or mentally ready to go back to their regular church.

In the last few years I have noticed an additional type of temporary worshiper. A number of middle-aged worshipers have been taking an elderly parent to our weekly church service. These parents have significant health problems, and they no longer feel comfortable sitting in a church pew or chair surrounded by other people. Some have failing eyesight or hearing, or they need oxygen tanks, or they have difficulty walking. They do, however, find they can get comfortable in a car or SUV and adjust the radio volume to whatever it needs to be.

The Drive-In Church has been and continues to be a meaningful worship setting for up to 150 people each Sunday. I personally think there should be more of these in other cities; there are people out there for whom the traditional worship setting doesn’t seem right.

What do you think? How could a drive-in church meet a need in your community?


Good job Verlyn! Next time when in GR, will try to come!

It makes good sense, every major community could use one, maybe even sponsored by a group of local churches. A no-name brand of a Christian worshipping congregation led by various pastors and others willing to make this a priority.

Excellent Verlyn! It is amazing how many folks are uncomfortable sitting in a pew for many many reasons. Our church has been offering a simulcast of the message in our Gym. We often have our own music and what we call an extended time of mutual greeting. People sit in more comfortable chairs gathered around tables in a more relaxed atmosphere. We regularly have 100 or more attending with a surprising number being older. These folks just find it more comfortable and otherwise might not be able to attend. They also appreciate being part of the church fellowship, but perhaps not so conspicuous. Some traditionalist just do not understand, but it fills a growing need.

<P>This brought back many memories for me. I come from eastern Canada (and the Baptist tradition) where several churches that held their summer evening services from the church parking lot or that of a shopping centre nearby. Most had special trailers made up for services that were used solely for the outdoor services. Others used their covered entrances or no covered area at all. One church regularly held their outreach next to a large camp ground, there services were often attended by several cars of the campers. The services did attract more people than would have been in a regular indoor service. There was an effort to have special music at each service and a number of people who were willing to come every week (8-10 services per summer) to set up the sound and electrics. Offerings were received in plastic ice cream containers that were taken from car to car by the ushers. The idea of passing around a card reader seems like it might work well in such a setting.<p>

<P>One of the most interesting parts of the service was the honking of horns when people appreciated the music or something that was being said. The end of some services brought forth more honking of horns as people would express appreciation. The preacher usually went from car to car at the end of the service, often meeting people 'from away' who were passing by and saw the sign for the evening service and dropped in. Actually, the horn seemed to help people to be more engaged in the service than when they would have been sitting in the pew. Coming in the evening usually meant that the outside temperature was more comfortable than it would have been inside the building.<p>

<P>All in all it was an enjoyable experience. And while I preached at several outdoor services over the years, I don't recall ever meeting someone leaving the service with a critical or judgmental spirit.<p>

Thanks to those of you who have responded. There are indeed a lot of summer drive-in services in parks and campgrounds, and those efforts are to be appreciated. We need to go to where the people are. The Woodland Drive-In church is one of the few in the northern half of the U.S. that meets year round. Throughout most of the winter months, we get 50+ cars a Sunday.

As to horn honking, when we met at the old Woodland Drive-In Theater on East Beltline (up to 1988), there was lots of that after special music. However, when that theater closed and we moved to 2600 Breton Rd SE, a piece of property owned by Fifth Reformed Church and zoned residential, we received permission to move there provided that we ceased horn honking.

Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post