Northwest NEWS

January 31, 2000

Features

Church - at a theater near you

Redwood Hills Church

Greg Wingard, pastor of the Redwood Hills Church, visits with members of his congregation.
Photo by Bronwyn Wilson.

by Bronwyn Wilson

   At Redwood Hills Church in Woodinville, there isn't a music stand, a pulpit, or pews. There is, however, a 10-piece band, cushy stadium seating, and a pastor with a different approach.

   Greg Wingard, a former youth pastor and a Northwest College graduate, wants his congregation to feel comfortable. He may deliver his sermon while parked on a stool. Or he may deliver it standing, David Letterman-style.

   "The atmosphere is like we're hanging out in my living room," he explains. A podium, he adds, is never mentioned in the Bible. Yet neither are movie clips, amusing spoofs, or high tech graphics mentioned.

   But Pastor Wingard incorporates all of these to highlight his sermons. His method is to bring the Christian message to today's culture. His current sermon series, "Who Wants to Be More Than a Millionaire," explores five universal reasons God created people. To illustrate, a mini-spoof of the popular game show is performed with heart-thumping music and actors so believable, even Regis couldn't do a better job.

   "We are committed to styling the Christian faith in ways that connect with people in our city right now."

   During a sermon series on "Irritating People," Pastor Wingard integrated movie clips from "What About Bob?" and "As Good As It Gets." When talking on "Conquering the Darkside" last spring, he passed out free movie tickets for "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace."

   And why not? Redwood Hills meets at Woodinville's Cineplex Odeon every Sunday morning. Moviegoers may ogle Tom Cruise or Denzel Washington in the theaters next door, but in theater #9, electric guitars rock to a heavenly beat.

   The Redwood Hills congregation sings their hearts out to words of praise flashed on the enormous movie screen. At the break, churchgoers are invited to chat, sip coffee, or relax and listen to jazz festival-like music.

   "We want Redwood Hills to be a comfortable place to come in and check out Christianity," Pastor Wingard says, while emphasizing their desire to be a group of people serving in their local and global community.

   Fostering the comfortable atmosphere are baskets of scrumptious doughnuts and cookies with pink frosting. Everyone is invited to help themselves to the complimentary treats.

   "Food is intimate," Pastor Wingard says. His example is Jesus, who was always eating as he was teaching. Is it okay to purchase a box of buttery popcorn at the concession stand and bring it to church? Greg Wingard smiles, "Absolutely!"

   Redwood Hills first opened its doors at the Cineplex in September 1998. The church (named for Redmond, Woodinville, and surrounding areas) began as a branch of Cedar Park Assembly of God in Bothell. Prior to choosing the movie theater, they had considered every conceivable place they could put 100 people--senior centers, wineries, the Hollywood Schoolhouse.

   "Even the Kingdome bathrooms," Pastor Wingard jokes.

   But the theater was finally chosen because it was able to accommodate a place for their nursery. They began with an attendance of 115. Today, they are sovereign, and have grown to 380.

   The church service is broken into three parts. Lively music, intermission for doughnuts and chit-chat, and the sermon. Communion is offered at a separate time and the offering is low-key. Sixty percent of new church members never attended church before attending Redwood Hills.

   Another way the church breaks from tradition is their plan to never build a church building but rather build a multi-use facility designed to meet the community's needs, such as a place for performing arts groups.

   "Jesus never said 'Come to my synagogue and I'll tell you about God.' He went where everyone is," said Wingard.

   Taking that cue, Redwood Hills is in the process of getting involved with Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, and other organizations within the community.

   "The church is not a building. The church is people. We can meet anywhere," Wingard said.

   For now, that meeting place is the movie theater. And though a runaway movie trailer may occasionally interrupt the church service, it's taken in stride. The church may not have a pulpit, but they do have a sense of humor. And it's a good thing, because they would have needed it, had they chosen to meet in the Kingdome bathrooms.

   For further information, you can call the church at 425-481-9300, or e-mail Pastor Wingard at greg.w@redwoodhills.com.