If you’re interested in eating popcorn while you worship, you might want to check out Light & Life Goleta, the brand-new Free Methodist Church that congregates Sunday mornings at the Fairview Twin Theatre, 225 N. Fairview Ave.
The aim of the church, which held its first official service last Sunday, is to attract young families who might feel uncomfortable in a typical church setting, said the pastor, David Goss.
“Church in a movie theater can be very comforting for people who may have suspicions about church — everybody feels comfortable going to a movie,” he said, adding that he one day hopes to have the congregation inhabit a building of its own.
The casual atmosphere at Light & Life is certainly disarming. In addition to allowing the consumption of popcorn, coffee and other snacks during the service, the church’s paiper-mache backdrop resembles something out of a high school play. After Sunday services, Goss and other members must quickly disassemble the stage to make way for the Sunday movie matinees.
Light & Life Goleta is an offshoot of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa.
The Free Methodist denomination began in the 1860s. The architects were abolitionists who broke off from the Methodist Church in part because many of its members were not opposed to slavery.
At Light & Life Goleta, the first half of every two-hour service begins with a “kids hour” in which student actors take to the stage for a skit. During the 9 a.m. kids hour, which Goss said is adult-friendly, the skits will focus on a different virtue every week — such as orderliness (Sunday’s theme), honesty, compassion or courage — and decidedly de-emphasize scripture, Goss said. The second half more resembles a traditional Christian church scene, with sermons, hymns, Bibles and communion.
“We are very comfortable with families coming to just the first hour for as long as they want,” said Goss, who runs the church with his wife, Tracey.
On Sunday, it was clear that Light & Life Goleta is a newborn: Scarcely more than a couple dozen theater seats contained worshipers, most of them congregants from the home church on the Mesa.
But Sunday’s service included some true newcomers.
Max Alfera, a new resident of Goleta and the owner of the paint-your-pottery shop, Color Me Mine, said she has been in search of a church where her 8-year-old wouldn’t feel bored. After the first day, she seemed to believe that the church lives up to its slogan: “The place where kids drag their parents to church.”
“I love the energy,” she said. “The kids — they were energized, they were engaged. Then I looked around at the adults — they were laughing and engaged.”
Goss, a 38-year-old Santa Barbara native, was a volleyball star at San Marcos High and went on to receive a scholarship to play at Stanford. After graduating, he logged some time as a pro, playing a season in Brazil and another for the U.S. National beach volleyball team.
Later he landed a job at a middle school in the Los Angeles area, where he taught and coached for six years. During that time he met Tracey. After trying without success to start a bath-and-beauty products business, the pair — who had always been active in their church — decided to make church a career.
In 2004, they sold their home in Los Angeles, and moved to Kentucky, where Goss earned his seminary degree at Asbury College in Wilmore.
“Now we’re back here, planting a new church,” said Goss, who with his wife has three sons between the ages of 2 and 6. “We could not be happier; I am so stoked.”
Light & Life Goleta pastor Dave Goss can be contacted at email@example.com.