A church housed in a former cinema is presenting a different picture of God through a community-driven spirit.
COM Church in Dunstable, near Luton, is based at a former 1,000-seat picture house in the high street, which has helped worshippers launch an inventive event typifying the importance of reaching out to locals.
They’ve started a ‘dementia cinema’, which the church runs with a local charity.
Senior pastor Julian Richards said: “Our thinking is that the world won’t be reached from behind a pulpit and that our worship is demonstrated by meeting people where they’re at.”
“Because our building used to be a cinema, a lot of people came here when they were younger. We show old films for people with dementia who maybe have memories of the place.”
His wife, Sarah, who also pastors the church, added: “We run autism and soft-play cinemas too. With these it doesn’t matter if people start walking around or talking. They have the whole place to themselves and it’s safe.”
Julian and Sarah are well placed to connect with their tight-knit community. They grew up in the church – which Julian’s parents started 38 years ago from their living room – before taking over leadership in 2016.
The church hosts many other activities, including school uniform and clothing banks, weddings, funerals and parties. Julian and Sarah are glad to be seeing years of relationship-building starting to show fruit.
“One of the groups we host is the local boxing community, who hold professional fights here. A few weeks ago there was an entire row of guys from the ring in church on Sunday,” said Julian.
“The guy who fitted the floors in church is now sat on the front row with his family too, and recently dedicated his life to following Jesus.
“The gospel message is much better received through relationship than it would ever be if we stayed as our own entity on the edge of town.”
Hundreds of asylum seekers have been housed in Dunstable hotels, which has helped develop more community links.
The church works closely with other churches to provide support for these families, and while others focus on practical help, COM Church has majored on spiritual outreach.
“We’ve shared the gospel in hotels and also offer transport to people who want to come to our meetings,” said Julian.
Sarah added: “It’s about making sure that every time anyone comes through our doors they get a good spiritual meal.”
To this end, it helps that COM Church is hugely international, with more than 40 nations represented and a congregation in Spain who can connect with Spanish-speaking asylum seekers.
The Easter service was translated into 30 languages and Julian and Sarah are investigating translation technology to serve families joining the church.
“Reaching out to asylum seekers has been amazing,” said Sarah. “Weekly we are seeing the fruit of the harvest and the miracle of salvation.”