The lights dim in the five-story, 9,100-seat sanctuary of Southeast Christian Church as the sound of a synth keyboard begins to swell. On three jumbotron-sized screens suspended above the pulpit, the verse John 15:9 is displayed: “I have loved you even as the Father loved me. Remain in my love . . .”
One of the members of the worship team, a man in a white T-shirt and silky tan bomber jacket, brings the microphone up to his lips and launches into a heartfelt rendition of “Simple Kingdom,” a contemporary Christian song released in 2022 by the husband and wife duo Bryan and Katie Torwalt.
His voice is backed by light bass plucks, piano chords in the key of C and the crinkle of thousands of tiny plastic wrappers being peeled back. This is what communion sounds like in many churches across the U.S. today.
Southeast Christian Church, which has been operating in Louisville, Ky., since 1962, has been the country’s fourth-largest church since 2019, according to the bimonthly evangelical magazine Outreach, which annually lists the 100 largest and fastest-growing churches in America. Under the Southeast umbrella, there are nine campuses across Kentucky and Indiana with a cumulative weekly attendance of about 23,000 people, most of whom take part in weekly communion.
While the sacrament of communion or the Eucharist — which is present in many Christian denominations and involves consuming bread and wine in remembrance or exaltation of the body and blood of Jesus Christ — has shifted in presentation and delivery over the centuries, most contemporary churches have similar systems.
Parishioners may be called to the pulpit to receive bread or a wafer from a church leader and to drink from a common cup of wine or — in the case of some more conservative denominations — grape juice. Alternatively, deacons may pass around a tray of wafers or small hunks of bread, followed by small disposable cups of juice. This is a common enough approach that most religious goods stores carry specific communion trays with slots for 1-ounce cups.
However, in the age of megachurches — as well as that of a global pandemic, which caused many churches to reconsider the sharing of bread and use of a common cup — an alternative delivery system for the Eucharist has increased in popularity in recent years. And it’s something of a booming business.
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