Marketing Narnia 2: Is That a Mouse in Your Pulpit?

Just when I thought commercialism in the church couldn't get any worse I read this from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Attention, pastors: You have just four weeks remaining to work a lion, a witch or a wardrobe into your next sermon. Walt Disney Pictures is so eager for churches to turn out audiences for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which opens Friday, that it's offering a free trip to London - and $1,000 cash - to the winner of its big promotional sermon contest.

It seems Disney isn't content with having Narnia merchandise, posters, and books in the church–the Mouse wants a view from the pulpit too.

The article quoted above by David O'Reilly cites the financial success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ as key to Disney's decision to market its film adaptation of C.S. Lewis' book directly to churches. One can hardly fault Disney for making a savvy business decision–Gibson's movie raked in over $600 million worldwide.

Far more disturbing is the lack of outcry from the faithful at a blatant attempt by a secular power to manipulate the preaching ministry of the church. The Southern Baptist Convention voiced public disapproval of Disney's policy concerning homosexual couples back in 1997, but where are the cries for a boycott when the Mouse attempts to shape pastors' sermons with promises of free vacations and cash? Which is a greater threat to the ministry of the Gospel and the integrity of the church?

Isn't this why the framers of the Bill of Rights created the First Amendment–to keep the government from preventing (or manipulating) the free practice of religion? I would hope church leaders would not tolerate the federal government manipulating the pulpit ministry as was the case in Nazi Germany, but is welcoming the intrusion of a multi-national entertainment company any different?

Perhaps the closest thing to Disney's sermo-mercials in recent years has been the sponsoring of a worship concert by Chevrolet in 2002 that involved displaying trucks and SUVs in church foyers. Steve Bets, a marketing manager for the auto maker, explained Chevy's motivation:

"Sponsoring the Come Together and Worship Tour provides Chevrolet and local Chevy dealers an opportunity to reach our target consumers, particularly families....This is a ground-breaking marketing effort for Chevrolet. With Contemporary Christian Music growing exponentially compared to every other genre of music for the past two years, Chevrolet recognizes the marketing potential with this tour."

The obvious question is how far will it go? Where do we, as church leaders entrusted with the ministry of the Gospel, draw the line? When do we become guilty of serving both God and money (or the corporations seeking to make it)? Maybe your next baptism service could be sponsored by Evian? Perhaps Nintendo can take out advertising space in your children's ministry newsletter, or maybe you're content with just having a Mouse on your shoulder while you preach.

December 06, 2005

Displaying 1–10 of 25 comments

MJ Peck

May 03, 2006  5:35pm

Who the heck cares if the churches want to promote a good clean film!? It is not only their choice but also not that bad a thing at all. Winning money or a trip to England for it is, but if any and all churches want to promote a movie without a single swear word, nude/sex scene, dead body and/or body parts, homosexual kiss, or worst in it I say More Power To Them!! Do you think it is better to let people who's children can't go to church learn about love and sacrifice and decency through other TV? Like Friends or Buffy The Vampire Slayer or South Park? I don't know about you but I want clean TV, I want Clean Movies and if I can only get it by letting the movie makers make their money it still sounds good to me. Don't you get it? This is the first step, If the money makers see that there is a large market for clean good films they will make MORE! This equals Less swearing, less nudity, less violence, less gore, and more hope, more decency, more honor, more real heroes in movies and some day regular TV too. All they need is to see how many of us don't want the crap in entertainment. So YES we should be promoting Narnia and all other films like it. Above all the religious talk remember this, It is a story and not meant to take a place in scripture. If people see a similarity between the fictional life of Aslan and the real life of Jesus it is because the writer of these books loved Jesus and wanted all children to learn at least a part of what he was and is without their anti-religion parents trying to stop them.

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Jason Jeannette

March 18, 2006  2:23pm

I've been recently going through the book of Amos, and it's been grieving me over the state of our country... this post compounds matters and worries me more.

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Toni Maturo

January 12, 2006  5:31pm

How can anyone talk about this without unerstanding scripture? How can you change God into a Lion, accept "white" witchcraft in a sermon, corrupt salvation into "good works" by evil beings, etc..... Read Romans 1 and forget Narnia. Where are we drawing a line? Is there a line, anymore?

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Robert O'Neil

January 10, 2006  11:10am

Do you have a better idea of how to connect secular society with the Church? Jesus went into the houses of tax collectors and sinners to break bread with them and His very presence saved some of them. I think this is a great oppertunity to take an evil industry's attempt to rake in profit's and expose them to people of faith. The influence of the Church on society needs to be stronger than the influence of society on the Church. What needs to be preached is; we have an oppertunity to get people of all or no faith aquanted with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. What has been thought to be evil by the Church can be turned into good through the Grace of God! Don't let this oppertunity fall by the wayside, this is our chance to reach the lost.

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December 20, 2005  10:50pm

What if God chose to use Disney for His glory as a way to exalt His Son? "the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, maybe?"

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Laurie Gunderson

December 13, 2005  4:38pm

Sure, people are making money off 40 Days and The Passion and Narnia, but why is that bad? The result of their work is that people understand more about Christianity. In fact, I really hope Christian books and films continue to make tons of money–because then the best and brightest will continue to find new and creative ways to promote Christianity to the masses. Maybe they'll do a better job fulfilling the Great Commission than our dying mainline churches have been doing in the last 40 years. Churches should be taking marketing lessons. We do lame things like give away coffee mugs (or cookies, bread, pens, or whatever) to our visitors, as a bribe, hoping that our visitors will return and eventually become due-paying church members. But what do coffee mugs have to do with expanding a visitor's understanding of the gospel? What if instead we gave away a DVD of The Passion to visitors? What if we gave each visitor a movie ticket to Narnia? That would get folks not only in through the church doors, but also expose them to what these movies and/or books have to offer as well. And, really, we ought to turn the magnifying glass in on ourselves if we are to get serious about the evils of consumerism. At least here in Midwestern suburbia, churches are spending millions and millions of dollars on building projects. I don't think its that we are outgrowing our worship spaces so much as that we are trying to meet suburbanites' expectations of "nice" so they will be "comfortable" and somehow more "receptive" to the gospel. Isn't this just blatantly pandering to people's consumeristic tendencies too? Aren't there better, more effective ways of spending our churches' money in our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission? We ought to consider those things before we get too overly concerned about whether money is being made in the process of promoting Christian films and books that may actually do a better job reaching unchurched people and changing their lives than we in the church do.

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Nathan Woodward

December 12, 2005  1:35pm

I think this isn't an easy issue. I'm not a separtist–I believe the church has to engage the culture surrounding it, not withdraw from it. Yet we do trust in Jesus' teaching that no one can serve both God and money. How do you engage a culture that serves money, while still serving God? I take a pretty conservative line on it, though I'm willing to work with and among Christians who don't have the same scruples that I do. For example, a church I once attended operated its own Christian bookstore. They didn't price-gouge, they didn't operate it for a profit to support the church (though many older architecturally interesting churches around the world DO have profit-making bookstores or gift-shops). But I was still uncomfortable with selling merchandise in church. The church I currently work in (yes, I am paid) often holds fund-raisers for different ministries, usually simple things like dinners or craft fairs. I'm still uneasy about this, because of how it promotes a commerce-based mentality–we have to sell enough dinners to cover our costs. I believe the healthiest scenario is a church that gives generously to support ministries, that gives generously to those in need, that collects and spends money for spiritual, not material reasons. Though it may not be a reality in very many churches, I believe it is something to which we should aspire.

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Richi Tatum

December 09, 2005  3:18pm

Tim, great research, and good job finding the real connection. I stand corrected and chastened. Maybe that'll make a good sermon illustration... (grin) Rich.

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Peter Roger

December 09, 2005  2:16pm sponsored the contest. However, SermonCentral is an arm of Outreach Media and thus it appears that the sermon contest is indeed a Disney marketing strategy. Outreach has been hired by Disney for the promotion of the movie.

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tim dunbar

December 09, 2005  9:39am

Tim, well researched and written. The motive marketing stuff turns my stomach. It states a sad fact - Christians have a capacity for consuming that rivals that of the world which we are supposed to be in and not of.

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