By B.C. Manion
Drive-throughs are a mainstay in our busy lives.
Customers cruise through them for all sorts of reasons. To grab a hamburger and fries, pick up prescriptions, treat themselves to a gourmet coffee or cash a check.
So, why not dispense something of a far more eternal nature in the same convenient way?
That’s what members of Sonrise Worship Center in Lutz do on the third Saturday of each month.
As cars and trucks whiz by on busy US 41, church members stand on the side of the road holding signs — inviting motorists to stop by and get in touch with God.
“Need prayer? It only takes a minute,” one sign reads. Others suggest topics that may be a needed focus of prayer, such as health, finances and marriage.
When a vehicle makes the turn into the parking lot at 18310 N. US 41, a prayer team stands ready to serve.
They offer spiritual support to those is in the car on whatever topic they choose.
“For us, it’s about helping people put down their defenses,” said Tyson Prater, Sonrise’s pastor.
“Today, people struggle with faith and prayer and church, and so we provide an opportunity outside the walls of the church for just the simplicity of prayer in hope that people will desire God again,” Prater said.
They offer the same easy approach as a drive-through service without the hurry-up mentality, the pastor said.
Church members simply ask what the people want to pray about and they pray with them.
It’s a simple operation, Prater said.
“We put some cones up in the parking lot,” Prater said. “We have people who are part of our prayer ministry meet and greet them at their vehicle.”
Those driving in stay in their car while they prayer. It’s a safe and confidential setting, Prater said.
“You can share whatever you want to share,” Prater said. “We keep it simple. That seems to be effective.
“It’s been really interesting to see what people want to pray about on a Saturday morning,” Prater continued. “We had two ladies pull in. One lady’s husband was actually being rushed to the hospital — the ER — and she saw the signs and pulled off . … One lady drove past three times before she got up the nerve to pull in.”
So far, the response has been more like a trickle than a flood.
On any given Saturday, there will be four to eight people driving in, while 12 to 15 church volunteers are on hand to pray or hold signs.
Church members are not discouraged by the number of cars that zoom past, saying they’re there to share the power of prayer with those stopping by.
“I believe that God answers prayers. He’s answered so many of my prayers,” said Susan Stewart, who lives in Lutz.
“When my children were young, I was a waitress and we struggled a lot financially,” Stewart continued. “Every time I had a need, the first thing I did was go to God and say, ‘Lord, I need this or I need that.’ … One day, my oldest son came to me and he needed a pair of shoes. I said, ‘We’ll pray about it.’ And I went to work and one of my customers, who was a regular, put some money in my hand when he left, and I never said anything to anybody. He said, ‘Here, buy your son a pair of shoes.’ That was so from God.”
Another time she and her three sons were running low on food. They prayed that their needs would be met and they headed to church.
“I never said anything to anyone because I don’t like to beg for stuff because God knows my need,” Stewart said. “We went to church and we got home from church and our porch was full of groceries, bags and bags of groceries. I don’t know who put them there to this day. … God put it on somebody’s heart to put groceries on my porch.”
Those dropping in for spiritual support are often worried about practical daily needs, like paying their bills or finding a job, prayer volunteers said.
“So many people don’t realize how concerned God is for them,” Stewart said. “We encourage them to get in the habit of turning to God.”
Church volunteer Mary King, of Wesley Chapel, said one woman who pulled up for a prayer was at her wit’s end.
“Her home was in foreclosure,” King said. “Her kids were giving her problems. She’d lost her vehicle and the car she was driving in was a loaner. She saw our sign and she said, ‘I just need God to intervene. I have nothing.’”
The drive-through service began in February at the suggestion of Jay Canals, a church member.
“I have a niece in Puerto Rico,” Canals said. “Her church had started doing something similar to it, and they had a small church of about 300 or 400. Not long after they started doing this drive-through prayer, they started growing the church. They now have two churches, both churches running over 1,600 people.”
He thinks this ministry will lift up people who are feeling at a loss.
“If someone is looking for direction or guidance and they see that sign, they’re more apt to turn in and see what it’s about,” Canals said.
While it hasn’t built up much traffic, the new ministry seems to be creating a bit of a buzz in the community, Prater said.
“Our people have shared testimonies about it,” Prater said, noting they’ve overheard people talking about the drive-through service at the supermarket and at the hardware store.
“Sometimes it’s, ‘Who are those crazy people with signs on the road?’” Prater said. “A lot of it is, ‘Wow, what a concept.’”
They think the idea will spread to other churches. They’ve already heard from one in Safety Harbor that wants to learn the ropes on setting up the ministry.
They also are looking into the possibility of taking their service on the road, using areas of parking lots at shopping centers, for instance.
Volunteers said there are some things that the ministry is not about — raising money.
There are no collection buckets awaiting people’s offerings.
And, it’s not about self-promotion.
“We’re here to build the kingdom of God, not the church,” King said.
The goal is to remind people of the immensity of God’s love, Prater said.
“God is bigger than just Sundays and a midweek service. God can meet you right where you are.”
—Follow B.C. Manion on Twitter: @BCManionLaker
Sonrise Worship Center, 18310 N. US 41 in Lutz, offers a drive-through prayer ministry on the third Saturday of each month from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Visit the church parking lot and the prayer team will meet you at your vehicle and surround you with prayer before you head on your way. For more information, visit www.drivethruprayertampa.com.