If so, it will be another evolution for a peculiarly American tradition.

The nation, with its wide-open spaces and devotion to the automobile, has always been an innovator in devising things that can be done without leaving the car. America gave the world drive-thru windows, which dispense about two-thirds of fast food in the U.S., and the drive-thru pharmacy. In Louisiana you can get a drive-thru daiquiri and Arlington, Texas, once had a drive-thru pawnshop.

Drive-ins boomed during the 1950s and 1960s as a nighttime hangout — and make-out — spot for teenagers and a cheap option for families who paid by the car instead of per person. They got two movies for the price of one if they stayed for the double-feature.

As air-conditioned, indoor multiplexes showing movies throughout the day took over the market in the 1970s and 1980s, drive-ins began to fade. The industry took another hit in 2013 when studios switched to digital, forcing drive-ins to buy new $75,000 projectors for each screen.

Now the pandemic is redefining the drive-in as a community gathering place. The natural social-distancing available in the large parking lots has made them useful for other events besides movies, including church services and graduation ceremonies.

The Sandell Drive-In in Clarendon, Texas, outside Amarillo has been repurposed as a drive-in church by a minister, who stands before the big screen with a microphone to preach to parishioners parked in front of him. In a video livestreamed on Facebook, horns honked enthusiastically to punctuate the sermon instead of the usual “Amen!”

John Knepp in Ohio has booked more than 20 high-school graduation events at his Mayfield Road and Midway Twin drive-ins. The schools will screen a 90-minute video of students receiving their diplomas.

“They’ll see themselves on the big screen,” Knepp said, and then they’ll watch old movies.

Josh Frank, owner of Austin’s Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, had already begun reimagining the modern outdoor theater before the pandemic hit. His concept for a smaller-footprint, pop-up style drive-in allows him to operate in the city. He keeps costs low with a Blu-ray projector and by showing cheaper “comfort food classics,” such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Goonies.”

The theater had a hipness factor that made it a hot ticket among Austinites, and he opened a second location at the end of February. Both are now reopened for business after locking down for a few weeks.