Light the candles, flip on the music and settle back with a big root beer: The time is Saturday night and the place is Northern Virginia's only Christian nightclub.

It's called The Lighthouse and it's at the Church of the Apostles on Pickett Road in Fairfax County. Last weekend, about 130 people turned up, some from more than an hour's drive away.

"You either feed the flesh or feed the spirit, and they're feeding the spirit here," said Randy Zacharias, 27, a disc jockey from Warrenton.

"This is an alternative to the bars and discos, which are easy to find, but offer nothing of eternal life," said Mike Krasny, 28, a draftsman from Woodbridge, borrowing a phrase from nightclub organizers.

"For me, as a Christian, it's a retreat," said Paul Estes, 18, a Fauquier High School student. "You know -- you've got your things about drugs, you've got your sex situations, and you really need a place where you can come and find peace of mind."

The Lighthouse has been operating for about two years, but it's virtually unknown outside of Christian coffee house circles. It's the only gathering spot of its kind in Northern Virginia, organizers say, and, as a result, is a magnet for those seeking -- as one devotee put it -- "Christian fun."

"What's really good about it, is that they're not pushy," said Krasny's wife, Nancy, a 30-year-old accounting clerk. "It's not like they bring out a Bible and say, 'Unless you do this, you're going straight to you know where.' "

The atmosphere vaguely resembles that of a candlelit church dinner, with long tables, hard chairs and friendly people.

The drink selection is strictly nonalcoholic, and the snacks include Cracker Jacks, chocolate chip cookies and pizza baked by Judy Stermer, a hospice nurse and wife of one of the club's organizers.

"Food and fellowship," the program advertises.

The Lighthouse is open only once a month. Sometimes the floor show features dramatic presentations of Bible parables, or a gospel sing-along.

"I think it's a fantastic thing for Christian people in the area to come and listen to Christian music," said Doug Drabkowski, 32, of Silver Spring, an educational coordinator for a scientific company.

Drabkowski came with members of his Bible study group, including Paige Powell, 35, a technical illustrator from Adelphi, and Wade Moroughan, 33, a piano technician from Laurel.

"Regular coffee houses can be pretty bawdy," said Marc Stermer, 29. "We're just trying to go on the other side."

The idea belongs to Stermer and a handful of his friends. While attending Virginia Tech, they had run a similar nightclub as part of the Baptist Student Union organization.

"It was incredibly popular," recalled Stermer. "Usually we had 300 to 400 people there every time. It was like good clean fun for college students, instead of going out to bars."

They had such a good time that after graduating from school, they decided to open a similar establishment here. "Our idea was to provide entertainment for Christians and anybody else who wanted to come, because there didn't seem to be anything like that," said Stermer, now a media service representative for a cable television company.

Stermer and his friends formed Clarion Ministries, a nonprofit corporation, and named the new nightclub The Lighthouse.

"We don't want people to think we're like a 'nightclub,' but that's what we call it," Stermer said.

The entertainment includes a regular skit, called "News at Nine," which features Stermer as a television anchorman. Often, but not always, it has a Christian bent.

Last Saturday, for instance, Stermer took to the stage and announced that District Mayor Marion Barry, in an effort to speed up the city's ambulance service, had just signed a contract with Domino's Pizza.

Also in the spotlight was Rodney Lewis, 20, a singer from Reston who has recorded two albums that feature such hits as "He is the King" and "I Sing Praises."

Lewis, who has used a wheelchair all his life, criss-crosses the country singing to church audiences; last fall he made 42 appearances in seven weeks, he said.

A member of Reston's Christian Fellowship Church, where he helps teach a class for newlyweds, Lewis is very supportive of The Lighthouse's efforts to provide alternative entertainment.

"I grew up in a Christian house," he said. "We jokingly say that Christ saved us from a life of Kool-Aid and M&Ms."

The Lighthouse asks for a donation of $3 a person, and 10 percent of the take is donated to other churches, including the first church that helped the nightclub get going -- Truro Episcopal in Fairfax.

Eventually, Stermer would like for The Lighthouse to find a building of its own, which it could operate as a coffee house, restaurant and dinner-theater on a daily basis.

"We haven't gotten that far yet," he mused, "but maybe someday."