The concept of using a drive-in movie theater as a house of worship is not a new phenomenon. Famed televangelist Robert Schuller, for instance, got his start in the 1950s preaching to his flock at a Southern California drive-in.

Now, as COVID-19 forces houses of worship to shut its doors, some churches are turning again to the drive-in movie theater to keep live services going.

One area church doing just that is Church @ The Springs, which launched services at the Ocala Drive-In last week. Services are currently scheduled at the drive-in on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

“We had our first service at Ocala Drive-In last Wednesday (March 18), and the whole process, from heads-up that we could use the site to the actual service, happened in a 24-hour period,” said Jacob Sylvia, campus pastor for Church @ The Springs’ Villages Campus in Lady Lake. “We had 278 cars in attendance for that first service, and I saw at least 30 members of our Villages campus there as well.”

The drive-in service shares some similarities with regular worship at Church @ the Springs’ three locations in Lady Lake and Ocala. Congregants will hear songs, a greeting and other information before a message is broadcast from church leaders on the movie screen. That message will be recorded ahead of time.

Congregants are encouraged to stay in their vehicles and not get out while at the theater. Donations to the church will be done at the end of worship, as there will be bucket to drop off tithings as participants are exiting.

But since this is church at a drive-in, visitors can expect a few hallmarks of a moviegoing experience.

“Ocala Drive-In is allowing our guests to make concession orders prior to their arrival,” Sylvia said. “Guests can make their orders by going to orderocaladrivein.com before arriving at the theater. Our staff will assist in delivering the food to you, and you can enjoy dinner or a snack during services.”

Following worship, congregants can opt and stay to watch a feature film. Sylvia said this week’s post-worship movie is “Toy Story 4.”

“We are very grateful to Ocala Drive-In for hosting us, and we are happy to be helping a local business during this time,” he said. “These special services are a great opportunity for friends, family and others to come together for a greater good.”

Ocala Drive-In is located at 4850 South Pine Ave. in Ocala. Services are Tuesdays and Wednesdays with doors opening at 7 p.m. and worship starting at 7:45 p.m. both nights. For more information, visit thesprings.net.

Senior Writer James Dinan can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5302, or james.dinan@thevillagesmedia.com.