Where can you sit in the same seat for worship in the morning and the latest Star Wars movie in the evening: at the Springville Crossing campus of Watermark Wesleyan Church. Located inside the historic Joylan Theatre in the village of Springville, New York, this church is in the unique position of hosting a service on Sunday and sharing the space with an active, first-run movie theater the rest of the week.
How did this come to be?
For the past 12 years, Springville Crossing was a nondenominational church in the heart of Springville, a rural community located 45 minutes southeast of Buffalo, New York. The church was initially launched in the local high school by a team that included Pastor Keith Clark, but renovations forced them to search for another home. In a small village of around 4,000 people, finding a suitable space seemed daunting, and they wondered why God was pulling them out of their comfort zone.
But it wasn’t long before Clark found himself meeting with the owners of the Joylan Theatre, a key business in the village’s historic district.
“What they said blew me away,” said Clark. “At our first meeting, they said, ‘This is God’s building, and we’re glad you’re here.’”
Starting in 2010, Springville Crossing began holding Sunday morning services in the Joylan. As time went on, the congregation grew, and the church acquired more space for children’s and youth ministry. And then, after about six years, it seemed like God began tilling the soil again — stirring things up to bring about something new.
The church launched a capital campaign to be ready for whatever opportunities God might bring next. Soon after, the church bought another building to offer more fellowship space. At roughly the same time, the theater owners approached the church and asked if they would consider buying the theater building. Then church leaders were approached about yet another opportunity — that of assuming the assets and responsibilities of a local outreach center (the Trading Post) — and were unsure of the next step.
Upon review, Springville Crossing was not in a position to oversee the Trading Post, prompting the Trading Post to approach Watermark Wesleyan Church, a multisite church located 20 minutes away. Watermark was interested but wanted a local church to be involved and help facilitate conversation. In the course of this process, Watermark’s lead pastor, Rev. Dr. Ken Nash, was introduced to Clark. Watermark ultimately assumed the responsibility of the Trading Post and, thus, formed a connection with Springville.
This connection and growing relationship led to Clark joining the Watermark sermon writing team. For about a year, the pastors collaborated on sermons and Clark got to know more about The Wesleyan Church as a whole. The more he learned and shared with his elders, the clearer the next step for them became.
In July 2018, Springville Crossing’s elders voted to become a Wesleyan church and join WWC as one of its multisite locations. Together, they purchased the theater intending to renovate the space to make it more ideal for worship. An agreement was reached in which the church would continue to lease the theater to its last owners and operators.
Renovations began in August 2019, only taking two months. The Joylan got a complete facelift: new seats, flooring and paint, an extended stage, a sound/media booth, more lighting and a larger welcome area for fellowship.
On October 20, 2019, the Springville Crossing campus of Watermark Wesleyan Church officially launched. Since then, Springville has seen attendance jump by almost 40 percent. The buzz in town is unmistakable. The new seats and lighting provide a great atmosphere. People stay and visit in the expanded welcome area. And Clark has had both long-time congregants and newcomers tell him how much they love attending church there.
The Joylan Theatre remains operational, showing first-run movies six days a week. On Monday nights the theater is closed, so the church uses it for community outreach and spiritual formation. When the church sponsors a free movie showing, the theater runs the concession stands.
“Being in the heart of this community, visiting with people as they walk by, is such a blessing,” said Clark. “Holding church in a unique setting presents so many opportunities to welcome new people. They might feel intimidated walking into a big church, but they’ll come into a theater to check out what we do here and see how church can happen in a movie theater of all places. This entire journey has been a reminder of God’s goodness and provision, and we look forward to what he has for us next.”
Kristin Armstrong is communications manager at Watermark Wesleyan Church in Hamburg, New York.