The pros and cons of Hollywood marketing more movies at Christians.

Films have been a popular subject on Out of Ur. That might seem odd for a blog devoted to issues facing church leaders. But in recent years films have become a testing ground for evangelical engagement with popular culture - a topic ripe with implications for our philosophy of ministry and approach to mission.

Our colleagues at Christianity Today Movies have a thought provoking article about the lucrative niche market for Christian films. Some of Hollywood's evangelical insiders gathered for a conference in Los Angeles recently to discuss the trend, and CT's Jeffery Overstreet was there. His full report can be read on the CT Movies site, but we've included a few excerpts below.

It is a complicated, difficult, exciting time for Christians involved in movies, TV, and digital media. As Hollywood rushes to capitalize on money to be made in the "faith market," each of the panel's experts has been caught up in the action.
The panelists agreed that Christians must overcome many challenges in order to make faith an acceptable topic in American art and entertainment again. But how should Christians go about that? And are these new "faith-based entertainment" divisions at major studios going to help us?

Some envision the Christian film industry following the trend of Christian music - an industry whose products are largely produced by Christians, for Christians.

Even if Christian filmmakers produce powerful movies, they face difficult choices about how to proceed. Should they allow their projects to be swept up by the new faith-based media divisions and marketed primarily to churchgoers? Or do they want to fight for a mainstream spotlight alongside Hollywood's heavy hitters?
The idea of marketing "faith-based" entertainment specifically to Christians has inspired a wave of new "niche market" ideas, many of which were discussed by conference guests. Some even spoke about the possibility of a new movie theater chain: separate cinemas for Christians, built within churches.

This would represent an interesting shift for Hollywood. Up to now big-budget productions have been marketed through churches as an outreach tool. Films like The Passion of the Christ, Narnia, and even The DaVinci Code were pushed on pastors with the promise that the church could leverage the film to advance its own mission to spread the good news. But films developed strictly for Christians - do we need that? Apparently we do.

"We live in a world of niche content," says Cooke. "We have outdoors channels, gay channels, women's channels, men's channels, sports channels, movie channels. There's no reason in the world that the Christian audience should not be a niche market. If people feel called to make stuff for an explicitly Christian audience, I say 'Go for it.'"
McKay sees value in entertainment designed specifically for the churchgoing audience. "There's still a market to write movies that only Christians will enjoy. And what's wrong with that? Christians need entertainment, too."

Read the rest of "Christians as a 'Niche' Market?" here, and share your thoughts with us.

May 01, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 10 comments


May 24, 2007  1:38pm

Interesting discussion. I think the "Christian Niche Market" is inevitable, not because it's good, but because that's the way the world works. Does that mean this market has a monopoly on "Christian" films? I certainly hope not. Just as there are mainstream and indie secular films, I expect we'll see these two categories in Christian films. But truly, what constitutes a Christian film? Not just absence of the objectionable(as someone already said above)but also the presence of a Gospel message...there IS an answer and He is Jesus, won't you taste Him? I for one, don't believe that this necessarily entails a Kincaid-style depiction of reality, nor does it have to swing to Quentin Tarrantino. It is even more interesting to watch so-called secular films and still hear God's voice in them. I'm reminded of God using Nebuchadnezzar as His messenger. I wonder if Mr. Tarrantino would object to God hi-jacking his movies?

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Darren King

May 07, 2007  2:48pm

Someone wrote: "I'm still not convinced that art for art's sake is scriptural." I am frequently surprised by the things people expect to find mentioned directly in scripture. Did you want a specific reference to Paul taking some time off from his Missions work to draw a pretty picture? There is no direct mention of what you deem, "art for art's sake". However, it is clear from scripture- as well as from the canvas of the natural world, that our God is very pro-creative. His artistic flare is on display all around us. Just take a look outside your window. God did not make an efficient world; He made a spectacular one, with marks of extravagant beauty everywhere you look. As an extension to our call to image our creator, it makes perfect sense to me that "art for art's sake", or "creation for the sake of beauty" is very much part of God's intention for us.

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Rob Dunbar

May 05, 2007  11:58am

I do think real-life struggle can be shown without garbage imagery and language, because after all most classic American films did so once upon a time (as in Citizen Kane, Key Largo, and others). "Pushing the envelope" need not mean "shock value"–if the envelope you wish to push is the spiritual rather than cultural norm. On the other hand, valuing a film because it doesn't say anything bad is not the same as valuing a film because it does say something profound. Imagine a pastor saying: "Listen to my sermons because they're safe for the whole family." Is this all we want from sermons, music, or film?

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May 04, 2007  2:56pm

I'm still not convinced that art for art's sake is scriptural. It is appealing but to search scriptures to justify our own preferences is a bit dangerous. Using art to subvert the world, I think is scriptural. That however, does not mean we need Christian movie theatres or we should have a specific Christian genre of movies. Actually, I've led a sunday school series for our young adults that focused on movies. I got a lot of my material from the ChristianityToday movie bible studies. We watched Collateral and explored how Tom Cruise's character is an example of the devil in his rationalization of evil. We watched Pride and Prejudice and compared some of that story with Naaman's story in the OT. With all this said, I wish I were in Michigan to take a peek at what is going on at Calvin College.

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May 04, 2007  10:27am

My fear, is that in the larger Christian community there is little tolerance to allow creative Christian artists to really express the Truth were it can be found. This is why so many Christian artists have to excise themselves from the Christian subculture, express Truth as they know it, and take heat from Christians (if anyone ever catches wind that these artists would dare to believe they are Christians) for their heretical views. All to share the Gospel. You remember, the One that was a scandal, not a bumper sticker.

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Geoff Baggett

May 03, 2007  4:39pm

When I hear words like "Christian Media" or "Christian entertainment," I have automatic images of gold furniture, bad hairdos, and telethons. Sadly, that's about as entertaining as most of our "Christian media" gets. It makes people laugh. Personally, I have grown tired of being marketed to. Somehow, I wound up on the "FOX Faith" mailing list, and receive weekly boxes full of their movie promos. Now it seems that each "controversial" movie comes with an accompanying strategy and tool kit from Even the "Christian" companies want to make money off of us. I'm sick of it. (Remember that big "non-event" called The DaVinci Code?) I will point out one exception. "Facing the Giants" was immensely cheesy and predictable. But it was still a great movie.

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May 02, 2007  3:15pm

I wholeheartedly echo the concerns in the first two comments. It's one thing to avoid polluting your brain with gratuitous images of sin; it's quite another to refuse all stimulus except that which pretends the fall never happened (like Kinkaid's visions of Eden-cum-English countryside). When we opt for the latter, we witness to the world that our faith has little to do with the universal, existential themes concerning humankind (as subversion inc.'s post points out) and a great deal to do with the homogenized self-help program described in point 3 of Darren's post. No wonder we look like Pharisees redux to so many non-Christians today. What concerns me most, however, is the Pharisaism inherent to any Christian niche market: like the Pharisees of Christ's day, we seem to be understanding our religious identity based on what we consume. When a group of people can be relied upon to buy stuff marketed in a certain way, they tacitly acknowledge that their distinctive identity lies in the distinctiveness of their consumption. That's what a niche market is: a group of predictable consumers. Contrary to Cooke's comment in the article ("There's no reason in the world that the Christian audience should not be a niche market"), there is every reason in the world that we should not diminish the body of Christ to the status of every other "buy-to-be" identity group. To do so: 1) testifies to the world that we are indeed what they think we are: one among many spiritual commodities on offer, no more or less distinctive or significant than any other group of predictable niche consumers ("Christians," "soccer moms," "football fanatics," "sci-fi enthusiasts," or "outdoorsy yuppies"...what's the difference?); 2) gives control of Christian identity to a market that cares not a whit for the honor of God or for those aspects of discipleship that don't move merchandise (forgiveness, non-retaliation, poverty, suffering)—though the prosperity "gospel" will doubtlessly flourish; 3) creates in our church bodies the understanding that discipleship is—like every other consumer identity—about buying into a certain cultural market; 3) diminishes the uniqueness of the church, Christ's body, and so dishonors God. –– Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age, Seabury Press, May 2007

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Hugh Griffiths

May 02, 2007  3:04pm

Niche market! It makes me want to wince - the thought of yet more commercial exploitation of the Christian faith. This appears to be another way in which faith can be polarised away from society and contained with a subculture. I guess I don't really have a problem with money being directed towards specifically Christian projects - after all we have the best stories and many heroes of faith worth documenting. However, I would hate to see Christianity's salt and light become merely a marketeer's separate customer segment or sales demographic.

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subversion inc.

May 02, 2007  12:04pm

one of the most troubling thoughts that this brings to mind is the idea that there are plenty of major market (and indy) films coming out that cover the exact same themes that a "Christian" film might cover, only they do it with an increased amount of freedom due to the absence of a mandate to justify the Christian label. Every year we have films that speak of justice, righteousness, forgiveness, redemption, spirituality, grace, truth, hope, need, fear, etc. To me, perhaps there is more of a need to be aware of these themes than to create pathways of "ordained cinematic content" that would try and express the very same message. I realize that there are moral sensibilities that keep this from happening, as many people have made the decision to avoid certain types of images that often accompany mainstream films that contain the above themes. I appreciate and respect that, but I'm not sure that the answer is to try and make films minus the objectionable (sex, language, violence). Perhaps I'm missing the point–is the objective to make non-objectionable films with the same images/ideas/threads as mainstream films or is it to create films with clearly evangelical answers to the themes that often are not "cleaned up" in mainstream films? I think this gets to the heart of the last comment's "grey area" idea. peace

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Darren King

May 02, 2007  11:40am

I am frequently (almost always actually) shocked by the low quality of movies dubbed "Christian films". I'm not speaking of technical quality (though that sometimes lacks as well) as much as I am referring to a lack of strong story-telling paired with compelling characterization. Put simply, I find that "Christian films" very often paint a picture of reality, and of people, that is just not realistic. Perhaps the gravest error of all involves the distinct absence of the grey areas of life in these films. Which only begs the question: who exactly are we fooling when we paint a picture of reality that has so little in common with the one we actually live in? At best, this is wishful thinking. At worst, it is mind-numbing indoctrination. Lastly, let me say that I think the idea of having a "Christian only" theatre chain is a horrible idea- for several reasons: 1.) It will only increase the tendency to "edit out" grey areas in depicting the real world. 2.) It creates an "us versus them" mentality that is not helpful, nor true to the mission given to us by Jesus. 3.) It will tend to homogenize the types of scripts that are considered to carry "the Christian message"; much like Christian radio has turned the gospel into a one-dimensional version depicting the Kingdom of God as a personal, private, dualistic, "forever-insurance" program.

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