Churches Open in Bars, Movie Theaters, Dance Studios and Homes as Traditional Churches in the Bible Belt Shut Down

House church leader Chris Garduce preachers during a service for The Church at West Vista inside New Brookland Tavern in West Columbia, SC. The Church at West Vista is a house church network which meets at separate homes during the month except for the last Sunday when they go to New Brookland Tavern. Gavin McIntyre

Amid dozens of church closures in the heart of the Bible Belt, some in South Carolina are planting congregations in bars, movie theaters, and in homes.

South Carolina newspaper The State reported Thursday that across the traditionally conservative state, many churches have closed — 97 since 2011 — and others are slowly dying, reflecting a nationwide trend, yet there is new growth amid the decay.

Reflecting on the article Thursday, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington D.C., noted that the South Carolina newspaper’s account of the unconventional ways of doing church shows that stories of decline are “more complicated than church shrinkage … as people leave old denominations, especially Mainline Protestant, in favor of newer churches.”

In West Columbia, New Brookland Tavern, a bar that features punk and metal bands on Saturday nights, hosts services on Sunday morning once per month.

“Everybody just goes, ‘What?'” when they hear about having church services in a bar, said Jody Ratcliffe, who had been a Southern Baptist pastor and now leads Church at West Vista.

The church is a network of home groups that worship in homes three times per month and meets in the bar on the remaining Sunday.

“And then they think and go, ‘Wait a minute, that’s really cool,'” he said.

This particular church speaks to people who have ever been hurt in the past and do not want to go to church ever again, he said.

“The traditional church has the mentality that everyone knows we’re here, and if we just open our doors, people will come if they want,” the pastor continued, explaining this is an ineffective approach to ministry particularly among the younger generations.

“Millennials don’t value legacy. … A lot of our older churches, they’ve been relying on legacy for decades.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brandon Showalter