Michigan church hopes ‘Star Wars’ hype can fill pews

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News
Deasia Isom, 8, dances with a Stormtrooper and other kids at Life Church in Kochville Township. The “Star Wars” themed Sunday services were packed.

Kochville Township —– On Sunday, a former golf shop was filled with talk of Jedis, dark sides, Death Stars and galaxies far, far away.

It wasn’t a sneak preview of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

It was church.

The fledgling Life Church in this rural central Michigan township is using interest in the movie to entice people to join the congregation.

Between services Sunday, it distributed “Star Wars” merchandise and 300 tickets to the movie premiere Dec. 18.

Families posed for photos with a Stormtrooper while children built lightsabers.

After all, isn’t God the original Obi-Wan Kenobi?

“It’s two of my favorite things,” Saginaw resident Theresa Lopez said about “Star Wars” and God, though not necessarily in that order.

The “Star Wars” tie-in was the brainchild of the Rev. Jon Herron, pastor of the nondenominational Christian church.

Herron

Herron, a fan of the movies, said he often dips into popular culture to connect with his flock. During sermons, he’ll recount something from a movie like “The Hunger Games” and connect it to something from the Bible.

“I thought it would be neat to take something everyone is talking about (“Star Wars”) and provide a little bit of hope and light to people,” he said.

Herron, who opened the church in 2013, is trying to build its membership by focusing on people who don’t go to church.

Instead of a choir, a band plays loud Top 40 music. Instead of somber sermons, Herron, who studied with The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, uses humor.

“We’re serious about our faith but don’t take ourselves seriously,” he said.

The force seems to be with him as membership quadrupled during the first year, from 100 people to 400, he said.

About 60 percent of the members are younger than 40.

The church has expanded from one Sunday service to three.

Hannah Merillat, left, and Taylor Atkinson, right, both of Sanford, have their photo taken with a Stormtrooper at the Life Church in Saginaw.

The services Sunday were packed.

“It sounded like fun,” Lori Dennis, of Saginaw, said about the theme. “I like ‘Star Wars’ and thought, ‘Why not?’ ”

It was during his time at Second City that Herron had an epiphany.

In 1997, he attended a holiday party at Second City where he got to meet Chris Farley, another alum who became a star on “Saturday Night Live.”

Two days later, Farley, who struggled with various addictions, died from a drug overdose.

The death, Herron said, showed him how hollow fame is. People needed to fill the void in their lives with something deeper, he said.

“God grabbed my life,” he said. “He said to use your talent for a bigger purpose.” He enrolled at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio, and became a minister in 2000, working at other churches before starting Life Church.

FDonnelly@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell