The mission of Outreach, Inc., www.outreach.com, is to empower Christian churches to reach their communities for Jesus Christ. To do this, we seek to identify and utilize timely and appropriate bridges of relevance by which churches can engage the culture. These bridges are comparable to the redemptive analogies found in cultures around the world and described by Don Richardson in his book . The idea is to identify those openings in the hearts of people by which the concepts of the gospel can be conveyed and take root.
Before Outreach decides to encourage thousands of churches to rally around an opportunity, certain criteria must be met. Substantial resources are required to promote an effective outreach and churches have much competing for their attention. In the case of movie-based bridges of relevance, such films need to meet the following three criteria:
- The highest standard of excellence in production quality.
- The right content which empowers a direct and powerful presentation of the message of redemption.
- An appeal not just to the churched or the unchurched, but to both types of moviegoers.
In the cases of The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Outreach concluded both movies had met these criteria. (The broad appeal of Mel Gibson's
These movies allowed churches and Christians to confidently say, “Go see the movie, then come discuss its meaning with me.”
Other movies, including, , and many others have relevant spiritual content, but for a variety of reasons did not rise to the level of The Passion and Narnia. There may be hundreds of movies that provide an opportunity for individual churches to do an outreach of some type, but thus far Outreach has found two films which meet the requirements of a national outreach.
(Note: While Outreach has supported the promotion of Every Tribe Entertainment's and sees it as an excellent film presenting a story worthy of national attention, it was difficult to confidently anticipate that it would indeed capture the widespread attention of society. Gratefully, at least in limited measure, it has.)
In the cases ofand Narnia, Outreach used comprehensive resources to gain the attention of churches and direct them toward effective outreach. These resources included: cover stories in , the development of an array of communication tools, the hosting or co-sponsoring of nationwide events to explain the outreach opportunities and the extensive promotion of the outreach opportunity via widespread media channels.
Promoting The Passion and Narnia
The promotion of and took two different paths. With , a rough cut of the film was ready early enough to be used in the marketing strategy. While many things contributed to the “tipping point” which made The Passion the phenomenon that it was, one element made a particular difference: the screening events were held over a period of several weeks preceding the release of the movie. National, enthusiastic support was garnered when, in the span of about a month, three large standing-room-only screenings were held, one at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, one at Saddleback Church in California and one at the Orlando, Florida meetings of the Global Pastor's Network. Nearly twelve thousand pastors were able to view the film prior to its release. In a short while, the country went from almost no Christians having seen the movie to almost every Christian knowing at least one trusted person who was heartily endorsing it. Pastors recommended the film to other pastors in their communities who in turn recommended it to their congregations. This seemed to be the flashpoint which ignited the fire that spread not just across the country but to the whole world.
Mission America Coalition, Outreach and many others sought to mobilize more than ten thousand church leaders through nearly 150 local and regional “Sneak Peek” events nationwide. Because the events did not include a full screening of the movie, it was difficult to gain the unreserved and wildly enthusiastic endorsements as had occurred with .promotion was different. Since a rough cut of the movie was not available until just before the release of the film, the
Nonetheless, Outreach, Inc. was able to work as Official Church Resource Provider for both films and did so with a passion of its own. Both were opportunities to empower churches to reach out. It was our desire not simply to promote the films, but also to draw moviegoers back to churches where they could hear a fuller presentation of the gospel and could grow spiritually in the environment of Christian fellowship. The communication tools we provided—postcards, banners, personal invitations, door hangers, sample sermons and more—encouraged people not only to see the movies but also to visit a local church.
And with both movies, Outreach worked with thousands of churches to do just that. Churches engaged withto invite more than ten million people to church. In addition, churches distributed well over three million Passion-related evangelistic booklets.
However, with's preferred rating (“PG” instead of 's “R”) and broader audience (children, adults and a core audience of Lord-of-the-Ring's-style fans rather than the typical gospel-loving Christian), has been able to gain similar success at the box office as did . grossed over $610 million at the box office worldwide; Narnia is already over the $550 million mark (mid-January 2006), even as it remains in theaters and will certainly do so for many more weeks.
It is rare when both the Church and society in general find a movie that captures both of their attentions. The future will show what films will be used to help the Church engage the culture. Narnia's second movie, almost sure to be produced, will lack the front-and-center crucifixion imagery. And society certainly won't soon be asking for another film that lifts Christ and his cross up for reflective consideration, asand have. But as long as the world prefers to use movies as the place for exchanging ideas, the Church will certainly engage in the same space to present its most important messages.
And the Church does not need to wait for a national blockbuster in order to utilize movies for outreach. Many families are looking for an affordable evening of entertainment and churches can offer it to them with a “Community Movie Night.” Some, like Columbus Evangelical Church in Columbus, Montana, USA offer monthly or quarterly movie nights. Consider www.movieministry.com for more information. Or visit www.cvli.org and after choosing your country of origin, click on “Producers” to discover a goldmine of film producers and their movies, many appropriate for church outreach movie nights. (Screening licenses for legal public showings can also be obtained from www.cvli.org.), , , , , , or . See
Standing Firm as New Movies Fight for Societal Beliefs
Ironically, the next movie to capture the public's attention will most likely be one that is hostile to the gospel and the basic tenants of the faith, namely, . The assignment of the Church will be to assert not just the gospel, but to also present its case for the basic assumptions of the gospel. These include the deity and purity of Christ, his death and resurrection, the reliability of the Bible, the virgin birth and the very right of the Church to represent Christ and the message of salvation. This calls for wisdom as we run the risk of increasing the viewership of the movie just by engaging in the discussion. This is seemingly an unavoidable outcome, but one that needs to be risked if we are to counter what the movie teaches. If we remain passive, we run the risk of conceding substantial ground to the secular and spiritual forces bent on deconstructing the Church and opposing the gospel. The stakes are very high as the story invariably drives people from or to Christ. Thankfully, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Erwin Lutzer, Darrel Bock and other leaders and writers are leading the charge in an appropriate engagement of the culture around The Da Vinci Code. And so, Outreach, along with the Mission America Coalition, Zondervan, Church Communication Network, Parable Stores and numerous other ministries and resource providers, will be in the fray, equipping the Church to prudently invite the unchurched to seek not the obscure and changing truth as warped by , but the real truth as given clearly in scripture.
The Church is the steward of the gospel message and will continue to present and defend it throughout history. At this point in history, movies are the focal point of the public's attention—and therefore an important venue for engaging the culture.