Worshipping in the Heart of San Luis Obispo: The Fremont Theater’s Active Church

“My church back home was a bit more reserved and traditional, but Active is very lively, youthful and energetic. The worship goes HARD and is so much fun,” wrote Amanda Sabin, an anthropology and geography first-year student in an email.

She was talking about the Active Church services that are held at the Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo every Sunday. Sabin just recently started attending the services this quarter, but the church has been a part of the San Luis Obispo community for years.

Active Church planted roots in SLO when the Lead Pastor Adam Magana and his wife, Stacy Magana, “felt an overwhelming sense that God wanted them preparing for a new season in the Central Coast” in 2014, which they wrote in a pamphlet that is passed out to new members of the church. The church is a Non-Denominational Christian Church and is apart of the Association of Related Churches, an organization that has helped establish over 700 churches.

Since starting, Active Church holds two services on Sundays, one at 9:30 am and another at 11. They also host Active Kids, which is a way for children that are newborn to fifth grade to learn about Jesus and the Bible in an “age-appropriate way.” Then there are youth groups for middle school and high school kids and young adult outings for those that are 18 to 30.

“Since the set up for the service has to be put up and taken down, it is the people who attend that make up the foundation for the church, not the building.”

Nicole Tribelhorn, first year

What makes Active Church different than traditional churches one might think of, is the fact that it is actually not held in a church.

“They are an in the box church,” said Jennings Jacobsen, the house manager at the Fremont Theater. “They come in here every single Sunday, put their thing together, and then load it out. Their whole church is in a trailer.”

While this unconventional method of existing might deter some people from going to Active, it is a reason many attendees choose to stay.

“Since the set up for the service has to be put up and taken down, it is the people who attend that make up the foundation for the church, not the building,” emailed Nicole Tribelhorn, a first-year environmental management and protection major. “However, I think that Fremont is a perfect location for Active since it is in the center of San Luis Obispo.”

This is the set up of the worship stage for the services inside of the Fremont Theater.

Having the services at the Fremont truly allows its patrons to focus on the communal aspect of attending church. It also influences the overall feeling of the worships. Worship service guitarist and singer Michael Menga talks about that feeling and what it is like being at the Fremont.

“It’s really energetic, really meant to get you ready for the week, and really just encourage you,” said Menga. “ I think its super rad [it’s at the Fremont]. It’s a super historical place and it’s super cool that we get to worship in there. You definitely feel like you’re apart of something, like apart of this culture, because you’re literally in the Fremont which is the heart of San Luis Obispo.”

Tribelhorn then goes into more details about how the worships feel for her being an audience member as oppose to the team like Menga.

“It almost feels like you are at a concert. The stage is perfect for the worship team and elevated enough so that everyone can see the pastor,” said Tribelhorn.

Attendees like how the services feel like concerts.

Tribelhorn is not the only one who feels and enjoys the concert vibes during the services. First-year psychology major and Active Kids volunteer Lauren Hansen says it allows her to be more expressive.

“The worship, they just take over the whole stage and everyone just stands up because its theater seating. It’s not pews or anything. It’s different than a regular church, but I kind of like it because it feels like you can connect more to the message,” says Hansen, who goes on to explain how the church adapts to its unique setting.

“It’s super cool that we get to worship in there. You definitely feel like you’re apart of something, like apart of this culture, because you’re literally in the Fremont which is the heart of San Luis Obispo.”

Michael Menga, worship guitarist and singer

She says that since the theater is so big they add curtains to block off the side seating, which emphasizes sitting in the middle, to ensure feelings of togetherness. They added folding chairs to the front too in order to close the gap the theater leaves open for pits when they do host concerts. Active also utilizes the fact that it is inside a theater by using a lot of audio, such as amplifiers, big speakers, and microphones, and the lobby’s concession stands.

“I think they did a really great job of using the lobby as like a focal point because they have a coffee stand, a donut wall and they make use of the concession stands, like they have people there Easter Sunday [with] bagel stand,” said Hansen. “They worked with what they had. Instead of hiding the fact that it’s a theater, they use the advantages that the theater has.”

Despite how well Active has maximized the space, it’s environment still isn’t for everyone. First-year political science major Jennifer Smith, who was raised Catholic, talks about how she prefers a more simple service.

Some students that attend Active grew up with a similar simple style that Smith is accustomed, but it’s the fact that this church is more modern that keeps them coming back.

“For me, something more simple brings you closer to your culture, especially in Catholic culture and religion. I’m used to the old school. Personally, that’s how I focus, based on those old traditions. I think being in that simple room and the idea that things aren’t materialistic, you just have books [and] simple wooden pews, bring me closer to my religion because it’s more about being together in a room,” said Smith.

“Previously, the churches that I have attended have been traditional services, where they have the whole communion and read out of a prayer book. I find that Active is a lot livelier, there are a lot more people my age who attend, and the sermons are a lot more relatable,” said Tribelhorn, who started going when a girl on her floor went and has gone ever since.

Looking Beyond the Surface

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