Chris Synesael would be the first to admit he’s not your average preacher, if the place he’s holding Sunday service didn’t give it away.
In the plush chairs of the newly opened Langford Cineplex Odeon, Synesael will lead the congregation of West Village Church through scripture, prayer and song — projecting the words on the big screen for folks to follow along.
“We’re a church for people who wouldn’t usually go to church,” the 32-year-old says. “We’re all about breaking down the boundaries that keep people from coming to church.”
The music is contemporary, the dress code is nonexistent, and no topics are off limits.
Synesael was a youth pastor at Saanich Baptist church for 10 years before starting West Village, so he’s used to tough questions and he welcomes them. He describes his style of preaching as, “unapologetically truthful.”
And if the 100 people that come every Sunday are any indication, it’s something young adults are particularly attracted to.
The average age of adults in the congregation is around 30 years old, much younger than most churches. A lot are young families with kids.
“What we’re doing might offend some church people,” Synesael said. “But the people we want to engage are people that would be offended by the traditional church, who don’t like the structure.”
Synesael decided to start West Village after learning that West Shore has the lowest church attendance in the region. Only 1,600 West Shore residents, or two per cent of the population, attend church on the average Sunday, according to Synesael.
He began the church last February with 25 people meeting in his living room. By April, West Village started meeting monthly at the Caprice movie theatre, and when the Cineplex opened they made it their weekly meeting place.
“The theatre is neutral territory. You know where it is and your way around it, you don’t have to ask where the bathroom is,” Synesael said. “It’s less intimidating than going somewhere totally new.”
Throughout the summer, the church has held free barbecues outside Ruth King elementary after Sunday service. They set up bouncy castles, activities for the kids and invite everyone to hang out. This helped attract members.
“People (non-church members) would come by and wonder who we were partying at the school, and we’d invite them to join us,” Synesael said.
Throughout the week the church has social groups that meet in coffee shops and pubs. West Village’s first baptism will be this fall — at Thetis lake.
Synesael has high hopes for the church, the first being that he’ll attract a large enough congregation to warrant moving into the deluxe 300-seat theatre with leather chairs. He also wants to become more involved in the community, beginning with supporting Ruth King by donating to programs there.
“I want people to look back and think, I’m really glad this guy decided to start a church in his living room,” Synesael said.
West Village Church meets at 10 a.m. Sundays at the Langford Cineplex movie theatre.
It’s final community barbecue of the season, at Ruth King, will be held following after it’s grand opening service on Oct. 2.
West Village is online at www.westvillagechurch.com.