Steamboat Springs "Stand up," John Cortez boomed. "Let's applaud Jesus."
The crowd of about a dozen people in the movie theater obeyed. When the clapping subsided, the members of the congregation embraced one another.
The founders of Steamboat Springs' new Theater Church want it to be unlike traditional congregations. They sing country songs about God and shout "hallelujah." They wear jeans and stand to testify - or whenever they feel like standing. And they meet each Sunday at the Chief Plaza Theater at 813 Lincoln Ave.
Easter Sunday was their fifth meeting at the theater, said Kenny Day, a church founder who serves as the congregation's pastor. The main founder, Houston minister Jim Scalise, died March 10 in Texas. Day said God called him to Steamboat to help with the nondenominational church, which began as a small Bible study in a real estate office.
"Jim Scalise had been coming up for years," Day said. "He met me, looked at (another member) and said, 'Now we can start.' I asked him what he meant, and he said, 'You were called here.'"
Day and his wife, Holly, moved to Steamboat nearly a year ago from Texas, where this kind of interactive church thrives. They got involved with the Bible study, which met during the week and then started meeting Sunday mornings. The group outgrew the real estate office and went hunting for its own space.
Kenny Day said God led him to the theater. He tried several times to work out an arrangement with managers who agreed to host the church and then were transferred from the theater, he said.
Day was ready to give up. But he wanted to try once more.
"I told the Lord, 'This is the last time,'" Day said. "I said, 'Lord, open the door or close the door.'"
He went to the theater again. That time, the arrangement worked out. Services start at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday, and the congregation has the theater until 12:30 p.m. It uses just one small theater, but the Days hope to eventually use a larger theater with a stage for the main service and smaller ones for youth and child services.
The group pays $100 per service. That, too, was a blessing, Day said.
"Downtown, at the beginning, a lady from Texas came to us and said God spoke to her," he said. "She said God told her she should give us $100 to start a service - something about a theater or movies."
Day said he told the woman they were trying to start a church in a movie theater. The woman gave them the $100.
"If that's not a sign from the Lord, I don't know what is," Day said. "When you ask the Lord for signs : he'll give you the signs, if you listen to them."
Day, who has no formal training in the church, said he is serving as pastor only until God sends another leader.
The church invites different speakers, including Cortez, who delivered the message Sunday. He called people to the front of the theater and blessed them. He asked several to testify about why they attended the service. One had felt lost, separated from God. All wanted to share the spirit and worship.
The Theater Church is about more than just watching a service - what Day calls the "sit, soak and split" method.
"I tell the people here that it's a relationship thing, not a religious thing," he said.
Ron Pollard attended part of Sunday's service. He is a member of Euzoa Bible Church but often visits other churches.
He said he admires what Holly and Kenny Day are working to do.
"They have so many visions for this valley," Pollard said. "They're great people."
All are invited to the church. Day said he and Holly particularly hope to attract young people and people who aren't yet Christians.
He has faith that they will succeed.
"When they come, they come."
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