Religion 2.0

In a Storied Downtown Concert Hall, a New Church Takes Root

City Church at the House of Blues isn't your grandmother's Sunday service.

By Marianella Orlando December 4, 2015

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Thanks to ample space in the House of Blues, there's no need to arrive early to save your seat on Sunday morning.

The sound of drums, guitars and a keyboard bounces off the concrete floors and tall ceilings inside the dimly lit venue while a purple, luminescent light shines on the band that's at the center of the stage. The audience sways to the rhythm of the song, somewhere between indie and funk, an eccentric vibe looming over the room that's filled with unique scenery from the cartoon-like artwork on the walls to the two fully-loaded bars. Perhaps the last detail is only odd when contrasted with the song's lyrics, all sung in unison by the captive audience: “Every praise, every praise is to our God.” 

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Head pastor Leo Schuster

All outward appearances aside, this is not a concert—it’s church, and it's taking place this Sunday morning inside the House of Blues on Caroline St. downtown. Yes, that’s right; the House of Blues temporarily transforms into a place of worship once a week when City Church Houston, a Christian assembly, books the space for its Sunday morning service.

City Church opened its doors this past August as “a place for people to explore the possibility of belief,” according to head pastor Leo Schuster, who's focused in part on making the church a safe place for people to ask questions.

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City Church's parishioners head up the escalator to the House of Blues every Sunday morning.

“It’s very complicated to believe in 2015 in the Western part of the world,” says Schuster. “We want to be there for people that maybe wrote off the possibility of being connected to a church…and give them the space to reengage.”

His young congregation convenes every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. for a 45-minute service and generally sees about 275 to 325 parishioners in attendance, most ranging in age from early 20s to mid-30s. No need to worry about getting there early just for a designated seat, though. Thanks to the House of Blues’s spacious setting, plenty of chairs—there are no pews in this church, after all—are available on the first floor and top mezzanine.

Like most services, there is the the expected singing, praying, scripture readings and sermon. Communion is also served: gluten-free crackers (so 2015), wine and grape juice, all of which is stored in the bar area.

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Not your average Sunday service.

City Church embraces modern technology with a projector screen that displays each reading, song lyrics to the music and a photo slideshow that coincides with Schuster’s homily. The pastor even reads his notes off an iPad versus the old-school, handwritten memos that pastors would discreetly tuck into their Bibles.

More importantly, the dynamic music is what makes having City Church in the HOB an experience in itself. “We want it to be pretty eclectic, multi-generational and multi-ethnic,” says Schuster. “Last week it was a new country indie sound, and it will soon vary between having a bluesy sounds on the other end of the spectrum, and folk Americana.”

And when church comes to an end and its parishioners trickle out, the HOB begins to prep for its next event where another weekly tradition is celebrated: Sunday Funday, which kicks off over the venue's popular Gospel Brunch that starts serving at 1.

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