Cars Line Up for Worship and the Word!
Daytona Beach Florida has more than sun and beaches. How about a Drive-In church! Who would attend a drive-in church? Its popularity and the reasons why people attend may surprise you!
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
This converted Drive-in movie theater is believed to be the first of its kind. The Drive-In Christian Church is located on a beautiful Central Florida landscape, and it is led by Pastor Robert Kemp-Baird. The existence of a drive-in church fascinated me. I contacted Pastor Robert Kemp-Baird so he could explain the purpose, history, and success of this blessed venue.
How long has the Drive-In Christian Church been in existence?
The church has been in existence since 1953. It was used for years as a drive-in movie theater. The movie industry was in transitioning at that time and the owners were looking to get out of the drive-in movie theater business. The church began services here in 1953, and the land was purchased in the early 1960s.
Would the idea of a Drive-In Church work in a northern U.S. climate?
There is one in Michigan (Woodland Drive-In Church, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with services year-round). I don’t know how they do it in the winter months [laughing]. There are others across the United States that offer seasonal drive-in services. Most of them will do it in their church parking lot, but it is often not their main worship ministry. This is our main worship ministry.
You have discovered a congregation who prefers an outdoor drive-in service over brick-and-mortar. Why do Christ followers attend your services?
There are almost as many reasons as there people who come to worship. We have an older demographic being located in a retirement community. For some of our folks it’s an ease of access issue. They can come here and stay in their car if they have to. They don’t have to navigate to get into a building, into a sanctuary, and into a pew. We have folks into their ’90s regularly coming here to worship. Other than falling off the roles, or going on to a home-bound list at a conventional church. Followers are still able to come and be a part of the worship community on Sunday mornings. Some come to us in times of illness. Perhaps they are receiving chemotherapy and want to be part of the worshiping community, but can’t attend to a traditional church because they don’t know how they’ll feel when they show up. The drive-in church allows them privacy to be more comfortable. They can show up in their house clothes or slippers if they want. Thank God many are now doing better.
From a younger family perspective, we have several young families who attend because they don’t have to worry about the kids disrupting others trying to worship. The kids can play outside or if they get fussy in the car they’re not bothering anyone else.
Does your drive-in church services differ from a standard service?
We offer a traditional service. We perform the service from a platform facing out to the congregation. It’s a very narrow balcony area. We offer communion. We have about a 20 x 15 foot room behind the platform, which is indoors. We offer live music, except for the music between services. We have a live choir, piano, organ, and on occasion other instruments. They are located in the small room behind the outside platform. We open the windows from that room, so if you’re sitting up close to the platform, you can see a bit of the choir, but they are mostly just heard. The choir also serves as worship leaders and do everything the folks should be doing in their cars. We do everything here that you would experience in any other church service in town, except we broadcast it over a low-frequency FM radio signal.
What is attendance and is it year-round?
Our average weekly attendance last year was 605. We often see a surge of attendance over the winter months from people coming down from the north. We’ll often see an attendance boost to about 700 to 800 during the months of January and February. Even in the heat of the summer we average 400 to 500.
Do you offer special services such as a Christmas Eve midnight service?
We don’t do a midnight service, but we do offer an evening Christmas Eve service. But because we’re so close to the ocean and can’t predict the weather, on a windy night we’d never be able to light candles. But it is a service of light, so we use glow sticks.
Do you offer any small group opportunities?
We have about 300 to 400 people who worship with us year round, and they need to be served by their church community. We offer Sunday School for children, along with activities during the week. We offer Bible study that happens in men and women’s groups. We just finished a bereavement series for those who suffered a loss in their lives. We try to fill the spiritual needs of all who come to us whether they come to us for a week, a month, a season, or all year round.
Do you offer funerals or weddings?
I do quite a few of both. Since we don’t have a traditional sanctuary, most of the weddings occur at other locations. I’ve done a lot of beach weddings, and weddings held at reception halls.
Do you use the old concession stand?
That’s our friendship hall. Each Sunday morning we serve fresh doughnuts and coffee there. That’s also where most of the funerals are held. We just had our congregational Thanksgiving dinner there.
How did you become the Drive-In pastor?
I was serving in a church in Cincinnati. They contacted me through my regional minister in Northern Kentucky.
Had you asked me five years ago if I were doing a ministry like this, I would have asked if you were nuts! I love this setting, it’s so unique yet it seems so natural for where we are, I’ve loved every minute of my ministry so far and look forward to many more years!