Preaching to the Dogs


This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach to some dogs! (And I’m not talking about the congregants!) If I had really been on the ball, I could have used Mark 7:24-30 as my text. On my way home from the Allegheny Region’s annual conference sessions, I stopped by the Lillyville Church of God ( near Ellwood City, PA. Pastor Dennis Arndt was kind enough to allow me to bring the message to the good folks at Lillyville. The church offers three Sunday morning worship experiences with the middle service at 9:30 being a drive-in service. It was my first time to preach at a drive-in service. Dennis informed me that along with the twenty vehicles gathered that morning, there were also a handful of dogs who faithfully attend the service with their owners.

It was a wonderful experience that grew out of the congregation’s work through the pandemic. Lillyville had initiated the service when congregations were asked to consider curtailing their in-person gatherings to help stop the spread of COVID-19. After the church resumed their in-person worship gatherings, they decided to continue the service due to the response they were observing. The congregation sets up a small sound system and microphone on the steps of the church that faces the parking lot. They also utilize a radio transmitter so that folks can access the audio broadcast on the radio in their vehicles. Several folks walked between the cars distributing the bulletins and copies of the Global Advocate to those in attendance. Pastor Dennis welcomed the congregation, shared some announcements, shared a call to worship and led in an acapella chorus. There were several times when car horn “honks of praise” filled the air. There was another song and then the Lord’s Prayer in unison. Pastor Dennis introduced Dr. Brent Sleasman who brought some updates from Winebrenner Theological Seminary ( and then introduced me for the morning message. After the message, pastor Dennis invited me to join him around the corner of the church in the receiving line.

There were several individuals from the church who greeted the folks as they exited the service. There was a fishing net extended for the collection of tithes and offerings. One brother was distributing dog treats for the four-legged friends and others were distributing special bags for the children in attendance. The folks at Lillyville are doing this kind of service very well and with a sense of excellence that was moving. I was amazed at the interaction between the folks serving with those leaving the drive-in service. It was warm and sincere, and it was obvious that relationships are being developed and people are connecting beyond just the drive-in service.

Should every congregation do this? Probably not. Does it have limitations? Of course. But I’m so glad the folks at Lillyville are doing this service. As pastor Dennis and I talked about the service afterwards, I learned a lot about what they’ve learned through this experience. Some of the folks who are connecting with their drive-in service are individuals who have higher health risks or vulnerabilities and would probably be hesitant to return to an in-person worship service at this time. A few others have some serious mobility challenges and the drive-in service allows them the opportunity to worship without the struggle of making the walk from the church parking lot and traversing some of the steps into the building. They’ve also observed that this service has connected with some folks who haven’t attended a local church for decades. They’re also seeing others who are not connected to a local church visiting the drive-in service first as an introduction to the congregation and its ministries. Younger families, who otherwise might not be likely to attend due to the sleep rhythms of their younger children, are there because their children are able to sleep in car seats for nap time while mom and dad worship from the front seat. They’ve even had neighbors share that they take in the service from their front porches when the weather is nice.

Missionaries have to learn a lot about the people they’re trying to reach, and they have to apply that learning to their efforts. The moment we’re living through will require us to think and act like missionaries. When we think and act like missionaries, this will inevitably challenge us to do church in ways which feel unnatural, lesser than, or just plain odd.

I love the spirit of this congregation and their willingness to try something different in order to learn how to meet people where they are with the Good News of Jesus. I also appreciate their sacrifice: it was a beautiful May morning this past Sunday, but I would venture to guess that there have been some cold and snowy mornings or that there will be some blazing hot mornings before too long. It would certainly be easier to just keep on doing what they’ve always done, but our brothers and sisters at Lillyville are adapting and I’m grateful for their work.

Christ’s Peace,

CGGC eNews—Vol. 16, No.  20

CGGC eNews

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