Stories From the Front Lines: Jeremiah Semmler

By Jeremiah Semmler

Three years ago I planted CityView Church in Phoenix. I was born and raised in Phoenix and truly have a heart for the city. I knew when I planted. I wanted the church to be in the heart of culture. When we discovered a movie theatre could be an option for our meeting place, it felt like a perfect fit. We have been meeting here from the beginning. Since going to the movies is a natural rhythm people have, we are meeting the community where they are—where people experience life.

God has open up so many opportunities through being in this location. At least once a month we meet people who came to see a movie but ended up coming to our church and meeting Jesus instead.

A few months ago, a lady named Brenda, brought her granddaughter to see a movie only to discover they came at the wrong time. It was on a Sunday morning and a girl from our church recognized Brenda’s granddaughter from school and invited them to stay. They accepted and after service Brenda called her son, Jereme, to let him know she had accidentally found a church and invited him to come back with her the next week. Jereme and his wife, Jennifer, agreed and began attending regularly.

Last month, I was teaching on marriage out of Ephesians 5 and during the service, Jereme gave his life to Christ. When I asked him about his decision, he told me that hearing the message was an eye opener for him. I had shared about how I have messed up at times in how I’ve spoken with my wife, but how Scripture calls us to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). To top it off, after church that week we invited people to watch the movie I Can Only Imagine, and that is when Jereme decided he was all in. He was baptized a few weeks later.

Some may see planting a church in a movie theatre as odd, but we have found it to be so beneficial is sharing the gospel in our community. We do special movie events and invite people who would not typically step into a traditional church to meet us where they already love to go. This summer we had a movie screening for The Incredibles and 500 people came. I did a brief welcome, a prayer and then invited people to join us back at the movie theatre for church. They were able to watch the whole movie with no obligation to come back, but just enjoy the movie and hopefully enjoy our company at the same time.

We leverage our location in our favor. We will rent a photo booth for people to use when they come to the movies or have members dress up as characters for premieres. Our purpose is to attract people to church, but we also want them to see that we are a fun group and love our community. We are able to be where the people are and take away the stigma some people have about the Church. I like to think we are the perfect place for imperfect people. So much can come with stepping into a traditional church, but no one feels that way stepping into a movie theatre.

Meeting in a movie theatre is true to who we are as a church at this stage. My best advice for someone who is looking to plant a church is to not compare yourself to others. Know who you are and don’t try to be someone else. Since all of our communities are different, our churches should look different, too. Examine your community and listen to how God can position you to best leverage the gospel to those who do not know Christ. God has you planting and pastoring in your unique demographic for a reason. Don’t shy away from doing something that may be different from what you have traditionally seen.

This is why we meet in a theatre. We meet there to present an opportunity for people to hear the gospel and know Christ. We meet there to truly be in our community instead of within the walls of a church building. We meet there because we want people to see we have made an effort to reach them. We love to see lives changed. Jereme’s story is a reminder of this. We want to help people know that they belong in community, and then believe in Jesus Christ and become the person God is calling them to be.,

Published October 25, 2018

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Jeremiah Semmler