February 7, 2022

U.S. Local Church Thrives through Drive-In Services

“The experience has been exciting and exhilarating,” congregation pastor says.

Barrington Maxwell, for Southern Tidings

At just a few minutes after 12:00 p.m., it was “game time.” There was no turning back now. James Doggette, pastor of Patmos Seventh-day Adventist Chapel in Apopka, Florida, United States, grabbed his tablet from the table and made his way toward the doorway.

Doggette took a deep breath and made his way down the steps toward the podium. At the metal podium, he looked out across the parking lot at the cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickup trucks. He took hold of the microphone and welcomed those in attendance. Car horns blared in unison — music to his ears. The first drive-in Saturday (Sabbath) church service had begun.

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A cameraman helps to broadcast one of the Patmos Seventh-day Adventist Chapel drive-in services. [Photo: Curtis Walker]

Days earlier, the governor of Florida had issued a stay-at-home executive order for the entire state aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Doggette had immediately started brainstorming ways to maintain the worship experience with a network of young pastors he mentors. He reminded them that the solution had to be in accordance with the governor’s restrictions and keep members safe. 

One of the young pastors, Doggette’s son, James “JD” Doggette Jr., suggested that his father hold drive-in church services and informed him of a church in Daytona Beach, Florida, that was holding drive-in church services long before the start of the pandemic. The next day Doggette made the drive to Daytona Beach to meet with the pastor of the church. The meeting proved informative. As he drove home, Doggette realized, “We can do this.”

Working with the elders of the church and other church leaders, a worship service was designed that would not replicate an indoor church service. Instead, the service was trimmed down to the mainstays of divine worship — opening prayer, praise and worship, offering, and the sermon. One thing hadn’t changed: the Holy Spirit is present for each and every service. 

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James Doggette, pastor of Patmos Seventh-day Adventist Chapel in Apopka, Florida, United States, leads one of the drive-in services. [Photo: Curtis Walker]

“The experience has been exciting and exhilarating,” Doggette says. Week after week an average of 180 vehicles comes to the parking lot for drive-in church, and the service has an average of 3,000 online viewers.

Though drive-in church has proven to be a success since early 2020, it presented some challenges. One of the greatest challenges was finding innovative ways to meet the spiritual needs of children and youth while drive-in church is going on. “Creativity requires improvement instead of maintenance,” Doggette says. “We have grown lazy and have become entitled. This virus [COVID-19] is forcing us to be involved in the process of creating the new normal. It’s possible that sanctuaries will no longer be a place church members congregate on Sabbath. Churches may eventually become studios to stream services to people across the world. We must be part of that change. [Church] leaders will have to think differently for the future. There are new opportunities to invest in ministries and outreach.”

Fast forward to the present. Drive-in church has evolved from a single weekly service to a dynamic weekly experience that caters to all ages. A video screen was installed on the building facing the parking lot to improve viewing for attendees of the worship service. 

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The drive-in church has evolved from a single weekly service to a dynamic weekly experience that caters to all ages. [Photo: Curtis Walker]

Church members and leaders joined forces to streamline and differentiate the worship experience to meet the spiritual needs of all attendees, with the addition of The Droplet and The Drip. The Droplet is an hour-long church service full of singing, activities, crafts, and a meaningful lesson designed just for children ages 12 and younger. The Drip is an interactive weekly experience designed for ages 13 to 22 and includes singing, prayer, and discussions geared toward deepening their relationship with God. 

“Drive-in church at Patmos Chapel continues to be an innovative, spirit-filled worship experience as many congregations across the world seek new ways to spread the gospel in the midst of a pandemic,” church leaders said.

The original version of this story was posted by Southern Tidings.