Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Church as Theatre

As I drift about the web, it tracks me, as algorithms and data accrue to my browsing patterns.  The net knows me, and knows my interests, and so works feverishly to show me things I might want to buy.

Here!  Look at this car you just read about!  Here!  A self-publishing shop that'll charge you money to produce books you can produce for free!  Buy!  Shiny!  Ooo!  Ooooh!

Because I'm a pastor who writes, reads and blogs about faith, the daily pitch includes faith-products.  I'm routinely encouraged to click through to the products and services pitched out there by AmeriChrist, Inc. and its corporate partners.  Yesterday, I clicked through on one of them, as I encountered an faith-focused-ad from Regal theaters.

Movie theaters are increasingly the place to go when you're starting up a church, or when your gathering grows large enough to justify renting a space.  They're also struggling a bit, as the giant screens and surround sound systems that stream video into our homes take a big bite out of their margins.

So it makes sense, it does, for theater chains to actively market to church folks.

Convenient!  Centrally located!  Optimal for your purposes!  So chirruped the landing page, which then asked me to pony up more personal contact information in exchange for permission to proceed.  Hah.  You know enough about me already, I think.

I bailed, routed around, and hit the corporate site of Regal Entertainment Group.  Among other things, the main page touted the tenth anniversary re-release of the first Saw movie, along with the rollout of new extra-large King-sized recliner-chairs.  Kick back in the lap of luxurious comfort, whilst you watch a graphic portrayal of human beings being creatively tortured to death for your amusement!

And the next day, you can show up to praise Jesus from the very same comfy chair!  With cupholders!

I did a search on the site, and hopped URLs, going from "theatres backslash recliners" to "theatres backslash theatre-church," and there it was.

The marketing was all about magnifying your message, convenience, and being a comfortable and familiar environment.  It's culturally relevant!  And there's a huuuuuuuuge screen.  Huge.  So big.

But what caught my eye was the quote from a satisfied customer/pastor.
"The medieval church told the gospel story in pictures via stained glass.  Today, we tell our story on the big screen.  It's the perfect postmodern stained glass--a memorable and exciting medium that demonstrates the gospel story."
Now, I love cinema, and film as a medium.

But to call it "stained glass?"  That stuck with me, because as much as I also love the look of stained glass, I remember the purpose of it in the dark ages of pre-Enlightenment Europe.  It was pretty, of course, a splash of beauty and light in an often grim and difficult world.  It's art in its own right.

But the primary use of stained glass, when Christianity was passing through that period, was to give the most rudimentary grasp of Bible stories to a completely illiterate populace.  As a medium for narrative, stained glass told stories in a time when Christians were incapable of processing primary information for themselves.

What they were fed, instead, was just enough to keep them complacent to the powers that used the message of Jesus to reinforce their own authority.

It seemed, as an analogy, perhaps more nuanced than had been intended.

But at least the chairs are more comfy now, right?


  1. The last three sentences. Brilliant!

  2. I came across your blog post the other week, but because of some travel to a church planting conference in California this past week I’m only just getting around to being able to respond.

    To begin with, Regal Theatre Church currently doesn't use any redirect or targeting banner advertising. Nothing was following you from our end. The banner that you clicked would have been from a website or an e-newsletter that we have chosen to advertise. Our website is which will redirect you to the page you mention in the post.

    Secondly, yes the theatre industry as a whole has some of the challenges that you mention, but Regal has not been struggling (at least not according to the PNL’s and the stock prices). But whether or not that is, or has been, the case; Regal has actively been opening up our facilities to churches for Sunday morning use for over 15 years. We are the only theatre company (that I'm aware of) with an initiative and a dedicated team working with churches to plant, grow, and expand in the theatre.

    I appreciated your perspective and commentary on our marketing and especially the quote we currently have on the website. It’s from Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Washington DC, We work with a lot of different traditions and practices. We were invited a few years back to attend the PCUSA National Evangelism and Church Growth Conference and have attended and sponsored the event. And within that spectrum of styles and traditions, I suspect that we have hosted a number of churches that have a shallow vision and feed “just enough” to keep a “complacency” within the congregants or reinforce their own agenda (health & wealth, social justice, politics, etc.). However, I would say that of the hundreds of churches currently using our theatres most are truly seeking to bring make the Gospel known, bring people back into a community, and make disciples.

    The use of our theatres are sometimes for economical reasons (we’re cheaper than other rental spaces or a 24/7 space) and sometimes only logistical (as some schools are closing their doors to churches); but over the past seven or so years many of our churches are choosing the venue for strategic purposes of evangelism, discipleship, and stewardship of resources.

    Again, appreciate your thoughts and I’ll be thinking more in regards to how we market and will see what other ways we can best tell our story. Thanks.