Summer Sunday mornings at Armbrust Wesleyan Church in Hunker, Pennsylvania, are a little different than your average church. Every Sunday morning, June through August, many worshippers can gather early and park in a lower level parking lot with cars all facing a small pavilion on a hill just outside the church’s back door. With windows rolled down and radios tuned to 1670AM, passengers await the start of the drive-in service. Many talk through open windows about how their week has gone with those in the car next door. Some mingle through the parking lot while sipping their morning coffee, catching up with friends old and new. The dress is casual, and some back-seat-kids might still be in pajamas. It gives “come as you are” a whole new meaning.

It really is a sight to see. At 8:30, everyone hops back in their cars for the start of some acoustic guitar worship followed by a message. Just weeks ago, when my husband, Kaleb, and I started our new season of ministry on staff at Armbrust, we were skeptical of the service. (I serve as assistant pastor, and my husband serves as student pastor.) We thought the drive-in service was maybe a little dated. We are quite open to innovative methods that reach the personality of the community, but we were unsure about this. Then we began to hear the rich history that the drive-in service has, as well as the people that are reached through the summer as a result of the ministry. The drive-in service has been part of the Armbrust ministry since 1976. That year, there was no radio transmitter. Instead, a live band with a sound system was set up outside a side door of the church toward a side parking lot. The addition of the radio transmitter came soon thereafter when some neighbors wanted their quiet Sunday mornings back.

For many, the outdoor service is an experience that they come to try and end up enjoying. We have learned that many come because Pennsylvania summer mornings are usually beautiful. Others come because it leaves them with a whole day ahead — time for activities that summer has to offer. But what came as an unexpected surprise to me was the missional outreach that is done through the summer months at Armbrust. The drive-in service affords an accessible way to worship that some may not have otherwise. For many homebound people, it is too much strain to get up, get ready, make the trek into the building and then return home. The drive-in service allows those with limited mobility to experience a community without restriction, at a time of life that feels restricted by limitations. This is what really makes the drive-in service worth it. Whether worshippers come out of convenience, pure enjoyment or just to give it a try, the church will see new families often stick around when the early service moves back inside for the fall.

A week or so ago, I had the opportunity to preach at the drive-in. While it was an odd feeling to preach to a parking lot full of cars, there was something special and exciting about going a little out of the way so someone who might not normally hear the message of Jesus could hear it. It made me think, where else in my life could I go a little out of the way for the sake of the gospel being heard? I am still pondering that question because it seems so important as we come up with creative ways, old and new, to share the gospel message with those who need it most so that The Wesleyan Church has a transforming presence in every ZIP code.