BY SHANE BLATT
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
It's a drive-through that doesn't serve fast food. Just a soothing voice -- and a prayer.
AJC Snellville United Methodist Church members Wyndie Powell (left) and Susan White wave to drivers on U.S. 78 while promoting the church's drive-through prayer. It's the second time the church has conducted the alternative prayer service.
As thousands of drivers whizzed along U.S. 78 late one afternoon this week, about 25 vehicles pulled under the portico at Snellville United Methodist Church. Perhaps the drivers were laid off from their job, recently divorced or just diagnosed with cancer. Or were just driving.
Whatever the circumstance, congregation members leaned in, listened and shared a prayer from 4 to 6 p.m. at the church's second drive-through prayer session, an outreach practiced by fewer than a dozen churches nationwide, senior pastor Dr. Richard Hunter said.
"We figure with so many people dealing with work issues, employment, family, that if they're driving home from work, they may want a comforting ear," Hunter said. "Many people right now are hopeless and looking for hope. So we put out the signs to let people know if they need a prayer, we're here."
The 15 or so congregation members didn't ask for names or donations. The drive-through service was free, open to anyone of any religion and typically lasted five to 10 minutes.
"I always feel better when I know someone's praying with me or for me," said Wyndie Powell, who waved to passing cars while helping hold a sign that read: "Need prayer? Next right."
Hunter said the idea came from a church magazine that exalted the practice as a way to minister to communities. Snellville UMC, he said, wanted to reach out to folks who might not otherwise venture inside the gray stone building across from City Hall.
"When you have an impressive structure like this, with the tall steeple and stain-glassed windows, people used to perceive that as very inviting and open," he said. "That has changed. What we find now is, we have to meet people where they are."
Dr. Ron Johnson, professor of mission and evangelism at Mercer University, said that while drive-through prayer was taking place in other regions such as Arizona and Texas, he doesn't believe it's a big trend.
"It's certainly not what you call mainstream at this point," Johnson said. "What typically is happening, I think, it's appealing to those people who are very uncomfortable about going to church. It gives people an anonymous kind of outlet."
The church's first drive-through was in December, when about 20 vehicles filed through. The event was so successful, Hunter said, the church plans to hold the service four times a year, though the next date has yet to be set.
"I think anything that gets people to at least consider God is a good thing," said Snellville Councilman Tod Warner, who honked his horn while driving past the church. "It's an innovative and interesting way to get the message out. In these days, we need more of it."
This article was originally printed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Gwinnett County News. It has been reproduced with permission from the publisher.