By Brad Hicks
Drawing inspiration from his former church, Fishery Community Church Pastor Rusty Wishon saw the opportunity to bring what he calls a “unique worship experience” to Unicoi County.
Wishon said what makes the experience so out of the ordinary is that attendees don’t even have to step foot outside of their automobiles.
Since Memorial Day weekend, Fishery Community Church has offered what church officials have referred to as “Drive-In Church.” Each Sunday, Fishery Community Church’s morning service is broadcast over low-frequency radio, allowing church-goers to remain seated in their vehicles rather than taking to the pews.
“We’re not trying to break tradition,” Wishon said. “We’re just trying to offer an alternative.”
Wishon said he got the idea for the Drive-In Church from University Parkway Baptist Church in Johnson City, where he used to serve as youth pastor. After coming to Unicoi County to lead Fishery Community Church, University Parkway Baptist Church asked Wishon to come back one Sunday and speak as part of a reunion event. Despite his initial skepticism, Wishon spoke during University Parkway’s Drive-In Church.
“I spoke at it, and there were two people who made decisions for Jesus that morning,” Wishon said. “I came back and told the church, ‘Hey, we might look at this because we have the perfect place here to do it.'”
To pull off the Drive-In Church at Fishery Community Church, a small building was constructed above the parking lot below the church. Using radio equipment set up inside the enclosure, Wishon delivers the Drive-In Church service.
The Drive-In Church service is broadcast over 89.3 FM beginning at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday, and those parked below the broadcast booth can clearly pick up the signal to listen in.
“What I done when we started this, I just came over here at 9:30 one Sunday morning and run through the channels until I found an empty one,” Wishon said, “and the empty one was 89.3.”
Wishon said a trial run of the Drive-In Church was conducted the Sunday before it went live and everything went off without a hitch.
Wishon also said the service must be aired over a low radio frequency, which limits the distance of the broadcast.
“We’re limited by FCC regulations, so we keep it so low we don’t even have to have a license,” he said.
Still, this hasn’t stopped residents of a nearby mobile home park and some homes in the Pippin Hollow area from picking up the broadcast.
Wishon said the Drive-In Church has not replaced the normal Sunday morning service, which begins inside Fishery Community Church at 10:45 a.m. He said the sermon delivered during the Drive-In Church service is the same as the regular morning service, only slightly abbreviated. This gives Wishon time to take a golf cart down to the church parking lot to greet Drive-In Church attendees before the regular Sunday service begins.
A separate bulletin from the regular Sunday morning service is provided to Drive-In Church attendees, and the music played during the service is different.
Drive-In Church attendees are also served coffee and donuts, and church officials are available to pray with those present and answer any questions.
“This is just an alternative ministry of Fishery Church,” Wishon said.
Wishon added the Drive-In Church is ideal for those who are ill but still wish to attend Sunday morning church service, those with a touch of agoraphobia, or even those who just don’t feel like getting ready.
Feedback for the Drive-In Church has thus far been positive, Wishon said, adding that at least two “cars” have made it their permanent church.
“They love it,” Wishon said. “They’re always very thankful. They see the need for it …They see the value of it, the necessity of it.”
And Wishon said church officials are looking to grow Fishery Community Church’s Drive-In Church. He said it typically sees around 20 attendees each week, as compared to the approximately 150 who attend the regular Sunday morning service. The first communion for the Drive-In Church was held on Sunday, Aug. 7.
Wishon said the intent of the Drive-In Church is not to start another church, but simply to offer another worship option.
“It’s sort of a different idea, but it’s a good idea and I think it will pay dividends,” he said.