Drive-in church offers safe way to meet during stay-at-home orders

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MADISON–With its new drive-in church service, Fellowship Church in Madison is inviting members and the public to “Drive up, stay in car, and tune in for music and teaching.” In these days of stay-at-home orders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a safe way for churches to still gather for worship.

Each Sunday, members drive their cars to the church, as usual, but they remain there once they park for social distancing reasons. The makeshift stage is a flatbed truck with two big speakers and the worship team only consists of a guitarist and a vocalist who lead the group in praise and worship songs. Then it is time for Pastor Jackie Watts to bring the day’s sermon.

Members can roll down their windows to hear or tune in via their car radios to pick up the broadcast. They sing along and take sermon notes using the digital bulletin on their smart phone or tablets. And to show their excitement and enthusiasm for the service and preaching they honk their car horns, of course.

No, it’s not your typical church service, but these are not typical times, as anyone will tell you.

“We’ve always had that mentality and flexibility and being willing to try some things,” Watts said of his church. “It was kind of a no-brainer. We can either do nothing and try to get everyone online or we can give them an option like this as well.”

The reasons for holding the drive-in service were twofold.

“One was to maintain some sense of normality for those who want to meet together and see each other – even if it’s just through a car window,” Watts said. “The other is wanting to care for people. It’s a chance to communicate care to them and show that we love them.”

Watts said gathering for worship in this way serves a need that many have.

“We’re relational folks,” he said. “We want to see each other. We’re struggling not to give each other hugs.”

While the drive-in service serves that purpose, not everyone wants to worship from their car. Attendance has been averaging about 40 cars, far below the regular attendance of 250 people. That’s why Fellowship Church has continued to broadcast its church services via Facebook Live, just as it has done for the past several years. Viewership there has continued to grow.

“We’ve seen a tremendous rise in the number of people watching on Facebook,” he said. “Who knows if they’re watching three seconds or 30 minutes or whatever. We don’t know but we have a good amount of people who are checking that out and commenting.”

The church is also taking advantage of virtual meetings for its members, including a Zoom meeting for a women’s Bible study group, Facebook live for a daily devotional with the pastor and a Facebook Live weekly Awana club meeting for families of small children.

“Technology is just like money – it’s neutral. It depends on whose hands it’s in,” Watts said. “It can be a good tool or an evil tool. We want to use it well and honor God with it. All good things come from Him and we’re grateful for stuff like that.”

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