CONCORD, N.C. -- The growing movement to reach the unchurched is taking on new dimensions in the Carolinas, symbolized by a suburban Charlotte church determined to provide more than praise and worship.
Meeting in a movie theater, West Cabarrus Church intends to move its consumer style of Christianity to a 46-acre site beside Charlotte Motor Speedway where members can worship, hike, swim and retire to the RV campsite.
Declaring the creed that drives this new Christian movement, the Rev. Terry Faulkenbury believes the new church home must be "user friendly."
"It's a serene environment," Mr. Faulkenbury said on a recent Sunday morning about the future site of his rapidly growing church. "A total environment not only to worship but to recreate.
"We have conservative theology," he added, "but we're making the Gospel relevant to today's society for people who perhaps didn't grow up in church. . . . There's this anti-establishment feeling among boomers and busters. They want a church today that reaches needs."
Founded after a telemarketing campaign in 1991, West Cabarrus isn't the only church looking for new ways to send the old message that Jesus saves.
But no church has grander plans, at least physically, than West Cabarrus.
Mr. Faulkenbury directed a telephone survey of 21,000 homes in booming Western Cabarrus that uncovered 2,058 families without any church affiliation.
Inspired by such fertile evangelical territory, he set out to plant a Southern Baptist church for those turned off by denominations that have more traditional approaches.
"I didn't know it was Southern Baptist until I asked," said church member Penny McCutcheon, a 35-year-old mother of three, new to Concord from Titusville, Fla. "It's not stiff, rigid. If my little boy comes in jeans, that's OK. It is accepting."
The church draws an average of 325 to worship at Clear Springs Plaza Theaters in an attractive strip shopping center on U.S. 29 South.
About 80 percent of the membership comes from outside the Southern Baptist Convention. The average age is 31.
At the 10:30 a.m. service a few weeks ago, the congregation of 157 did a jazz version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" before Mr. Faulkenbury preached 30 minutes on forgiveness and other issues from the Book of Mark.
The church bulletin stated, "Relax. Enjoy yourself. Worship in a contemporary style!"
Some men wore shirts and ties, others knit shirts. Coffee and danish were served in the video arcade area after the service.
Some song lyrics and Scripture verses were beamed onto the silver screen via a software computer program.
"It's neat. It's high-tech," said Mr. Faulkenbury, 37, who grew up in Cabarrus County and was named 1991 Church Planner of the Year by the North Carolina Baptist Convention.
The church service that ended with an altar call was held in theater No. 3, where "Trapped in Paradise" is playing this week.
But the six-screen movie theater is meant only to be a temporary home.
The church has bought a $2 million parcel of wooded land from Charlotte Motor Speedway and plans to relocate to within a mile of the huge racetrack.
Plans call for the site to include a sanctuary, lake, gym, education building, nature trails, missionary quarters, swimming pool, ball fields, amphitheater and RV camping.
From worship to volleyball, it is all part of the dream that drives West Cabarrus -- to make Christianity a full-service religion that can go down easy.
"Anyone who walks on the campus would not feel threatened," said Mr. Faulkenbury.
Building in phases, West Cabarrus isn't planning on having its new home ready until 1997.
Until then, said Ms. McCutcheon, the cushioned seats of the movie theater will accommodate this new style of Christianity just fine.