1 of 3
Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
A band performs during Rock Canyon Church worship services at the movie theater at Provo Towne Centre. The church leases theater space each Sunday.

PROVO — On a recent Sunday in the Assemblies of God church, the pastor discussed the book of Proverbs.

While Psalms is the Bible's songbook, Proverbs is the teacher's manual, the Rev. Dean Jackson says. It shows folks how to develop moral skills, moral insight and fear of the Lord.

"Don't get the wrong impression," he reminds the congregation about the concept of fear of the Lord. "Don't dread God to the point of being paralyzed from acting."

The congregation listened. Not from pews, but from plush movie theater seats.

They paid tithing. Not in the collection plate, but in a popcorn bucket.

And they sang along. Not with the organ, but with guitars, drums and keyboards.

For the past three years, Rock Canyon Church members have been worshipping in the theaters at the Provo Towne Centre. The church board actually sold a bricks-and-mortar building on Canyon Road in Provo to purchase audio-visual equipment and lease theater space each Sunday from 8 to 11:30 a.m.

"It was part of my struggle going into the ministry," said the Rev. Jackson, a third-generation pastor. "I think a lot of traditional churches — please don't misunderstand me, I'm not against traditional churches — but my frustration always came with, I don't think they're meeting all the needs. My challenge was, can you do it differently without compromising your core values or compromising the church? We found it very doable."

The move hasn't saved the church any money, because it's expensive to lease the theaters, the Rev. Jackson said, and some church members opted not to follow Rock Canyon. Many of the church's new members are not used to tithing, so finances remain tight.

Doing the Lord's work, however, rarely gets one rich, as the Rev. Jackson discovered in 1998 when he led another revolution in his church: A "Year of Repentance" from God and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for any negative actions and attitudes toward members of Utah County's dominant religion.

Rock Canyon Church leaders drafted a formal declaration expressing remorse and pledged "to live our lives as ambassadors for Christ, as though he were making his appeal through us." It was presented at church on Nov. 29, 1998, before Rock Canyon and LDS Church members.

The reconciliation marked a happy time for Rock Canyon Church members with loved ones in the LDS Church. It also led to the departure of some church members. Only about 50 people have remained with Rock Canyon Church from

1998 through the present.

Christianity Today magazine recognized the expression of radical love, calling the Rev. Jackson the "Peacemaker in Provo."

Local LDS Church members told the magazine that they had plenty of negative actions and attitudes to apologize for, too. Friendships between the two churches developed.

These days, the church takes advantage of the rich speakers in the movie theaters. They project Bible verses and lists of people for whom to pray on the silver screen.

Theater 11 is the prayer room, where people can offer up their own and others' intentions, as well as receive communion. Theater 12 is the meetinghouse for Club K.P. (Kidz Prayz), a high-energy, multimedia interactive church experience for youths, organized by the Rev. Jackson's wife, Marlys Jackson, who is trained as a teacher. And in Theater 16 at 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. are services for adults.

Kim Palmer, a Rock Canyon Church member for 5 1/2 years, recalls her reaction as the plans unfolded to move from the church on Canyon Road to the movie theater at the mall.

"At first I was a little reserved," she said. "After we moved, though, it's been great. ...

"The benefits are for people who don't want to go to that traditional building. Maybe they've been burned in the past. They've had some past experience, and that's all they can think of (when thinking about church). Now, they can get their needs met in a spiritual way. That, to me, is a big plus. We see new people every week."

The future of Rock Canyon Church may include owning a physical building again, but not a traditional church.

The church has embarked on a campaign to raise $300,000 in 90 days to purchase a space that would have offices and meeting rooms for youth groups and Bible studies.

It also would have restaurant space.

"We want to open a bistro," the Rev. Jackson said. "It would be open during the week. We would bring in different groups from the colleges (to play music) and create a place where people can come together and work through some of the assumptions and perceptions we have of each other."

A place to convert to Rock Canyon Church it would not be. Rather, church leaders envision, "Starbucks meets BYU Creamery."

"If I take my friends out who are LDS, if I go to Starbucks, it's pretty slim pickings," the Rev. Jackson said. "If I get ice cream with them, there's no coffee."

E-mail: [email protected]