Rev. Robert and Donna Schuller praying.

HOW TO START A DRIVE-IN CHURCH WITH LESS THAN YOU THINK.

Months of stay-at-home orders to protect us from Covid-19 is taking its toll. Those who aren’t worried about contracting the disease are looking at an uncertain economic future. Add inactivity, an unrelenting stream of terrifying news and loneliness, and we have another pandemic no one is talking about: Despair. ​

There has never been a worse time to close churches.

Dr. Robert Anthony and Donna Schuller praying during a service.

“I ask them to look at the person in the car next to you, wave and say ‘God loves you and so do I.’ ”

Dr. Robert Anthony Schuller

Rev. Robert A. Schuller and his wife Donna Schuller took a page from one of his earliest childhood memories and started a Drive-In church like his dad, Rev. Robert H. Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral did 65 years prior. 

Robert’s earliest memory of his dad’s drive-in church was when he was five years old. “If we weren’t feeling well, if we had the flu or the chickenpox or the mumps or something like that, we still went to church. We sat in the car or in our pajamas and so we never missed a Sunday,” said Rev. Schuller, recalling the Drive-In church his father started at the Orange Drive-In Movie Theater. 

Churches with parking lots have the advantage of already having a location but it’s still possible if you are starting out or, in Rev. Schuller and Donna case, had not had a church building for 12 years. They spent the first 12 weeks using a friend’s office parking lot, before moving to the parking lot at the Newport Dunes Resort at 1131 Back Bay Drive, Newport Beach, California. 

Sunday Morning 

Rev. Schuller and Donna load up their truck on Saturday. They have volunteers that build a small scaffolding platform to allow people to see them from the back row. 

As the cars arrive, they are given a “Thank You For Joining Us” Kit and are directed where to park. Small cars in the front, trucks, and RVs in the back. “We have the things that we’re going to pass out for Sunday morning, such as our song sheets, connect card, a prayer card and another card that’s just basic information as far as where you can listen to us on Facebook live on Robert Schuller ministries and how to make donations via Robert Schuller Ministries. We have a QR code on there, people can use Venmo on Robert Schuller Ministries, make donations And that’s all in our Thank You For Joining Us,” said Rev. Schuller.

Because everyone is in their cars, social distancing allows the morning greeting. “I ask them to look at the person in the car next to you, wave and say ‘God loves you and so do I’,” said Rev. Schuller, “or if you’re in the car with somebody else, reach out and shake hands or hug whatever you want in the car and say God loves you.”

Everyone sings along to the pre-selected YouTube playlist and follows along with the song sheets. “Yeah, we encourage them to sing really loud, even if they don’t know how to. We tell them to sing as loud as they want with their windows up because of course, they’re listening to the music via the FM radio station that we’ve chosen,” said Donna Schuller.

Possible Complications

Most of the complications are what you’d expect from running a church, such as microphones not working, but there are a few unique things you should prepare for. 

One is power outages. While Rev. Schuller hasn’t had it happen, he recommends getting a generator.

Be mindful of where the cars are told to park. A large truck in the front will prevent the cars behind them from seeing you.

Stand above the cars so they can see you. At their first location, Rev. Schuller and Donna stood on the second-story balcony, but they had a friend build a scaffolding platform because a dirt hill wasn’t high enough for everyone to see them. 

Inclement weather. This is easier now than when Rev. Schuller’s dad started his drive-in church at the theater, where you had to roll down your windows to fit the speaker. Today, the only people affected will be you and your volunteers. 

“Take a stance for Jesus. He is the head of the church and should be your guide and rule in life,” said Donna Schuller.  

What You Will Need

Most of what you will need can be hauled in your truck and costs around $500. Rev. Schuller and Donna used Amazon and eBay to purchase the electronics and Concordia Supplies for prepackaged communion.

The Equipment

  • FM Radio Transmitter. You can get one on eBay or Amazon for a couple of hundred dollars. Signstek ST-7C FM Transmitter Mini Radio Stereo Station PLL LCD with Antenna, Blackby Global Cyber Mart has 4 stars on Amazon. Make sure to test out the FM transmitter after choosing a station.  
  • Microphone Speakers so you can hear yourself and know that it’s working. Rev. Schuller and Donna use one speaker.
  • A platform or ability to stand above the cars. They have a 8X8 scaffolding platform.
  • Pre-filled Communion Cups. Rev. Schuller and Donna get theirs from Concordia Supply. 
  • Playlist on YouTube with bands such as Hillsong.  “We try to vary the music and include at least one song people probably know,” said Donna.  
  • A couple of signs and a plastic banner to zip tie to the scaffolding.
  • Thank You For Joining Us Kit.
  • Song sheets
  • Connect Card
  • Prayer Card (which on the flip side includes the information card below)
  • Information card with FM radio station listed on the top plus social media links and QR Code for donations.
  • Pre-filled Communion Cups (see above). “We only do communion once every several weeks and we make a big deal about using it as teaching time,” said Donna Schuller.

Enjoy Your Drive-In Church

“Yeah, we encourage them to sing really loud, even if they don’t know how to.

​We tell them to sing as loud as they want with their windows up, because of course they’re listening to the music via the FM radio station that we’ve chosen.”

As you can see, as long as it is legal in your area, it isn’t too difficult to create a drive-in church. With a little planning, you can turn your church parking lot into a church that offers a much-needed community to your congregation. 

Click here for Spanish translation.

Leave a Reply