Marketing Narnia: Is the Church Being Used?

The following is by Abram Book, Leadership editorial resident, who reported the nationwide Narnia promotion campaign that rolled out last month in Wheaton, Illinois, now the home of C.S. Lewis's wardrobe. OK, one of several such wardrobes. This one has a solid wood back, we're told, behind the fur coats.

The marketing machine for the big C.S. Lewis Narnia movie is just getting cranked up, and they're using all the tactics that made The Passion of the Christ a blockbuster. But as sample marketing materials for use in churches and as preacher's magazines with Narnia covers arrive in our office mailbox, and as attenders at the Catalyst conference for church leaders were treated to Narnia previews and promo tools, we have to wonder, Is the church being used? Or more precisely, How crassly is the church being used?

After a promotional stop that brought C.S. Lewis's stepson and a slew of marketers to the platform of a nearby church in October, I asked Quentin Schultze, professor of communication at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, whether the church's cooperation with Hollywood in movie marketing is a trend.

"I don't think there is any particular trend toward religious movies or even toward Christian themes in movies," Schultze responded. "Just take a look at the current lineup in most theaters. A couple of movies do not make a trend in an industry that cranks out hundreds of them annually. Moreover, both of these types of religious films (The Passion and Narnia) have been addressed before, although not necessarily with the same styles or budgets."

Maybe. Maybe not.

Two movies may not make a trend, but the church's teaming with the Walt Disney Company in promotion of Narnia certainly represents a shift in thinking, and a growing acceptance of Hollywood by church leaders. Until recently, Disney was the subject of a boycott by Southern Baptists and other conservative groups for their perceived perversion of family values. Now that the moguls and marketers have discovered the power of the Christian community to boost their box office, they will no doubt want to make the most of the alliance.

One recent example, related by colleagues in my office, was the promotion of Cinderella Man at a convention of Christian journalists this spring. The film had some religious elements (the trailers showed people praying for the boxing contender), but moviegoers reported Cinderella Man had a really foul mouth, objectionable to many Christians, and to say the movie had Christian themes was a stretch.

November 03, 2005

Displaying 1–10 of 21 comments

Jerm

December 15, 2005  4:45pm

Regardless of whether the Church is being used for hollywood marketing or not...Christ is still being preached through the metaphors presented in Narnia. My pastor did an excellent sermon on this subject. Every story (almost) has a force of good and a force of evil. The good always wins out, and the hero of the story reigns supreme. This isn't only a Hollywood story, it is a story that God has planted in each of our hearts. We, as sinful creatures, are under the power of Satan, we are in need of a hero (Jesus). This story has been around for eternity, it is nothing new!!!

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David Terpstra

November 30, 2005  11:27pm

I may be wrong, but I would guess that Christian books will make more this year than Christian movies. Booksellers hardly need to promote their wares at all and we sell their stuff all over town, and even in some of our church buildings. I just saw the Narnia movie today and it is excellent. It is true to the book and I can't wait until my kids are old enough to appreciate it. The movie was backed by a Christian with some cash and a desire to put out movies worth watching. He needed to team up with Disney, mostly for distribution purposes (as did Pixar with their movies until after this summer). After this movie the same production company will relase a movie on William Wilberforce that will come out next year and is in production right now. Don't let the medium of movies cloud your judgment. Hollywood owns MOST movies but not all. Let's use our discernement to point our congregations to excellent resources, both written and on screen.

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Keith

November 12, 2005  10:09am

How ridiculous is this entire conversation! Regardless of what Hollywood does (and they're going to do what they do!) we, the church and its leaders have the responsibility to decide if and how we will respond. What does it matter, the motivation of the film industry, if the resulting resource is useful to the church in its enterprise?!?! Will you examine the tithes and offerings of your people to determine that none of it comes from sources that hold views or take actions that are contrary to the beliefs of your church? How far will you take it...to the parent company of the immediate employer...to the holding company...to all subsidiaries...to individual leaders of the corporation? You see how ridiculous this whole thing can get? Choose what is right for your church, for your community. Promote the movie or not but be prepared to address the needs of those whose lives may be touched by it and who may be seeking a deeper understanding of the message behind it. How awful it would be for a seeker to show up in a Christian church asking about the message behind the story only to be told, "Oh, we don't support that movie because Disney (or "Hollywood") was involved with it!"

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Jack

November 09, 2005  12:10am

The church that we are privileged to pastor must be in worse shape than most of the others who consider these types of approaches to ministry. Don't get me wrong, I am all for going out on a limb once in a while to get folks attention, and I love C. S. lewis. But to order the ministry to a congregation around the opening of a movie seems way out of line to me. The folks who enter our doors on Sunday need more than a "flick and a coke" to get them through the struggle of the week. Maybe I should consider relocation? I think hollywood is laughing all the way to the bank.

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Andrew

November 08, 2005  4:17pm

Best way I can see to respond is to discuss the whole ball of wax. Don't market for them to the church but discuss with your church their attmepts to market. During our contemporary service (which is interactive in style) we discussed the material they sent for Cinderella Man. As we talked about it we brought out the flaw in the marketing was that they were relying on a "pull yourself up from your bootstraps" mentality as essentially Christian. We were able to differentiate that with a discussion about reliance upon Christ versus reliance upon ourselves. (The best part about it was Ron Howard making a pro-Christian Church pitch of the movie while The Divinci Code was the movie next in line for him.) Thus, we were able to appreciate Hollywood Marketing's attmepts while trying to understand a biblical worldview. This kind of promotion is neither good nor bad, but it is a great chance for discussion about what the world thinks of the church how we can faithfully respond. Let them try to capitalize on a "trend" and let us be wise as serpents, gentle as doves.

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Brint Keyes

November 08, 2005  3:22pm

I attended one of the larger promos that was assembled for pastors in the Atlanta area, and I have to admit to some really mixed feelings about it. There was one pastor on the (for lack of a better term) marketing team, as well as Douglas Gresham, CSL's stepson. At the risk of sounding judgmental, these were my observations: When the pastor spoke, he seemed sincere, if not terribly moving. Gresham was an outstanding speaker and unabashed Christian, who received one of the only two standing ovations of the two-hour event after his 15 or so minutes. Of the remaining time (aside from the 15-minute exclusive promo reel), roughly the first half was spent explaining the history and partnership behind the production, plus some "behind-the-scene" looks and interviews with the director, CGI techs, etc. We also were treated to a live appearance by Steven Curtis Chapman, who performed "unplugged" two of the songs he wrote for the soundtrack. All of this was interesting & engaging (Gresham, Chapman & the movie especially!) – some parts more so than others. After the showing of the promo reel, however, I felt very much part of a captive audience as the hosts took us on a tour of the veritable cornucopia of marketing mechanisms (website, downloads, paraphernalia, promotional events, etc.) that were "available" to us. And I remember my own internal struggle throughout this part of the presentation: Are we just being used by Hollywood, with a few token Christians thrown in to help sweeten the pot? Or is this a legitimate, faithful and sensible way, given today's culture, for the Church to engage with and take advantage of the various tools for outreach? Of course, the answer is "both" – I think. Much as I'd like it to be black-and-white, one-or-the-other, I suspect the truth is that it's all mixed up together. I can't deny the power of LWW in my life and the lives of so many others, nor dismiss its potential (in what, in the judgment of so many people, is really an excellent movie and very faithful adaptation of the book for the screen) to reach for Christ so many who have heretofore resisted the "direct approach." Simultaneously, neither can I deny the staggeringly mind-numbing sums of money that are being spent in service to the film (and, inevitably, in support of the American movie industry, with whose undeniably profligate lifestyle I have long been uncomfortable, its occasional redemptive and helpful messages notwithstanding). When I spoke this morning with our Director of Children's Ministry (who also attended the promotion) about any plans to take advantage of the marketing tools, or arrange a "group outing," she explained that, as impressed as she was with the movie and its possibilities in God's hands, our schedule for December (its release date is Dec 8) is already chock-full with long-planned church events. She couldn't see how she could realistically add one more event to the calendar. When I said that maybe folks could just make plans on their own to go see the movie together, she agreed that that was probably the best path, practically speaking. And I'm thinking that that's the best path for me, too. It certainly seems to me to have tremendous promise as a movie, and I'm planning to take our 6-year-old daughter (who loved the first two books of the Narnia series) and some of her friends to see it (but I, and Gresham, recommend no younger – some scenes are pretty intense). As for the door-hangers, websites, promotions, sweepstakes, etc. – I think I'll just let them be. I've never needed anything more than an occasional popcorn and a coke to enjoy a movie – and I can't see why that would change now.

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W.A.

November 08, 2005  3:02pm

When will we (Christians) be satisfied? If we're not criticizing or boycotting Hollywood for the lack of stories promoting strong character, faith and morals, we're criticizing them for marketing the content of films we can affirm? It's no wonder Hollywood seems so indifferent to the church. When you've got a lion figure as the hero in a capitalist society, how can you not expect the marketing gurus to go gaga? Bottomline for me: A great story written by one of the greatest Christian thinkers is coming to the big screen! With the exception of the soundtrack I probably won't purchase one novelty item. However, the movie has and will provide a launchpad for further conversation and dialogue with people I know who are skeptical about the church and Christians, as well as those who are curious and desire to know more. Conversations with non-Christians about Christ? That is indeed a "benefit to the church". Most of the marketing I've seen has come from the "Christian" marketing firm (OR) that handled PR for the Passion film. Maybe seeking a response to their marketing efforts and motives would be good. My mailbox is always full of their marketing magazines. We're promoting the movie, but we don't need "Christianized" trinkets to do it. Now will it be so bad if there's an Aslan plush at the Disney store next to Mickey Mouse? It may not be "Bible Man" but it's certainly a step in the right direction. At least it's not a Teletubby! I pray for more Christians to enter secular film, media and entertainment as well as those who are already having an influence in the industry. They've got a tough calling. They need our prayers and support.

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FellowPilgrim

November 08, 2005  1:26pm

There's actually quite a little crop of movies this fall/winter all very much hoping to follow the "Passion" model of marketing to churches first: * the latest (unfortunate) offering in the "Left Behind" movie series did church premiers first just last month (and also got a deeply merciful, soft film review from CT); * "The End of the Spear" to be released in theaters 01/06 on the 50th anniv of the deaths of Jim Elliot and four other missionaries is also doing serious marketing to churches, in which they specifically ask about a church's involvement in "Passion" marketing; and, the latest * "The Second Chance" directed and co-written by Steve Taylor and starring Michael W. Smith to be released in theaters in 02/06

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Steve

November 08, 2005  11:01am

As eager as Christians are to see a few decent, uplifting movies, we need to be careful about letting our pulpits be exploited. Think about it, if Chris Tomlin or Max Lucado sent you a packet and asked you to promote his new album/book in your next sermon series – would you fall for it? I contend that Christian-themed movies can be successful even without using the pulpit as a marketing tool. Eventually Hollywood will figure out that believers watch ball games on TV and read newspapers and magazines, and they can use those traditional outlets to let us know whenever they make a movie we'll like.

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Eric

November 07, 2005  10:49pm

If we all agree that ALL Truth comes from God, then can we also agree that we (as followers of Jesus) should not only affirm Truth where ever it might be, but also ID it and support it as a God-thing? Is this what's happening?

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