SOUTH TAMPA — Something different will be playing in Auditorium 1 at the Britton Plaza movie theater on Sunday mornings.
Radiant Church, a new ministry led by Tampa newcomer Aaron Burke, premières this weekend before an expected audience of about 200 people.
“We’re super excited,” said Burke, 29.
Burke and his wife, Katie, have been planning the church’s launch since they moved to South Tampa about six months ago. They fell in love with the community, Burke said, and after they settled in with their 14-month-old daughter, Lily, they began scouting for places to hold services.
“Our target audience is people that have given up on church,” Burke said. “Because of that, we didn’t want a churchy-type building.”
They chose the Britton Plaza movie theater, both because it makes for a unique church setting and for its popularity with locals.
A team of about 65 people have helped get the ministry going, Burke said, assisting with tasks such as marketing and community outreach. Some of the people helped do minor renovations — painting and carpet cleaning — for the theater, Burke said.
“We got lucky enough to win them,” said Ken McBroom, the theater’s manager.
The theater, at 3938 S. Dale Mabry Highway, has seen ups and downs since it opened in 1956. Five Star Cinemas is the latest in a string of owners.
Jill Strumpf, the property manager, said her company is working to get another group to manage it, but there is no time frame for that move.
But McBroom said many people have seen fliers promoting Radiant Church and have asked him about it.
“Hopefully, it will help put us back on the map,” he said.
This isn’t the first time a church has held services in a movie theater — even this one. About four years ago the Britton Plaza theater hosted a church that held services, McBroom said. Other Tampa theaters, including AMC West Shore and Muvico Starlight 20 in New Tampa, have been home to churches, too.
Burke said he likes the movie theater setting because it will help Radiant Church draw people who have stopped going to church and young people who never have gone before. It’s a comfortable and familiar atmosphere.
About a year ago, the young couple felt the calling to form Radiant Church and leave their home in Pensacola, where Burke was a student ministries pastor. They had a house, good jobs and a baby, but the decision to move wasn’t hard, Burke said.
“It was a big step of faith,” he said. “We had to start from scratch.”
The move went smoothly, Katie Burke said. She found a new job as a hospice nurse and Burke was able to get right to work with the church launch.
He was appointed chairman of the young executives committee of the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce, and has big plans to develop the church’s youth programs, he said.
Radiant Church will have community service days once a month, when members will get together for a project, he said. Eventually, he wants to set up once-a-year mission trips to India.
“I think that we’re going to present to (people) the same great gospel message, but in a new package for this generation and those that are done with the old religion,” Burke said.
The Burkes will welcome churchgoers at 10 a.m. Sunday at the theater.
There won’t be any popcorn or candy, but there will be free doughnuts and coffee.