Reaching Todays World with Todays Media
The pattern can be effective, but stifling to a postmodern generation seeking to have a more personal church experience-an experience that reflects the choices they’re accustomed to making because of the increasing influence of media on culture-and in their lives.
So, how is the church supposed to reach the influencers of culture that take all their information from the entertainment industry in bite (or is it byte?) sized pieces? And why do so many artists in today’s society feel abandoned by faith organizations? Some may feel stifled creatively. Perhaps they’ve been told their work is not glorifying or pleasing to God. A sentiment echoed by some creatives is that they don’t feel the church supports their calling to the arts unless the works created are specifically “Christian.” Whatever the case, the church must not simply support artists as storytellers, but become the artists themselves, and through their work tell not just the story of the world, but the story of the One who made it.
A recent Barna Group study on the Baby Bust generation of pastors (aged 20-38) notes that they are more likely than older pastors to use media to share the message of the gospel. According to the study, in a world where image is king and attention spans are declining, research shows that young pastors are more likely to experiment with new approaches to teaching and preaching. Compared with older pastors, Buster pastors are more likely to use drama (32 percent to 21 percent); more likely to show movies, videos and DVDs (30 percent to 21 percent); and more likely to tell stories (28 percent to 13 percent). The study also indicates that young pastors more frequently use art, music and interactive dialogue as part of their efforts to communicate biblical truths. These multi-media and experience-laden forms of communication appeal to younger, often postmodern, people who tend to reject external sources of authority in favor of relying on their own experiences and feelings to interpret reality.
Indeed, many 30-something pastors across the country are using tools such as film, podcasts and music to reach the postmodern generation. We can also look at this movement from a biblical context, specifically through the words found in 1 Corinthians 12:12: The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. Church leaders count artists as a relevant, important part of the body of believers, and use media ministries as an outreach tool to connect with creative people in their communities and beyond.
Churches located in media centers like Los Angeles and New York are exploring the use of media in multiple ways to break down the stereotypes and barriers that exist between the church and the arts. Perhaps the most well known is Mosaic, helmed by Erwin McManus, in Los Angeles.
“We exist within a culture that lives and breathes media. The use of media is not an option in this culture, it’s required,” says Chad Becker, media director at Mosaic. “We want to reach those who are influencing culture; these are people with a tremendous amount of power in that they are shaping the values and morals of the country and the world,” he says. “These people can best be reached within the context of their own culture.”
The church’s audio and video podcasts are overwhelmingly popular. Becker says within a typical week they’ll see more than 15,000 audio downloads and 12,000 video downloads off their website. “We now have seven services in four locations every Sunday in the Los Angeles area,” he says. The evening Chino location is a successful video venue where the message from the previous week is shown via DVD on screen with a live band and artistic elements-a far cry from the way we typically think of “doing church.”
Originally the First Baptist Church of East Los Angeles and then the Church on Brady, Mosaic has always regarded itself as missional, and media has played a role in that mindset, says Becker. “Our first core value is: ‘mission is why the Church exists.’ If we truly believe that, then we must be on mission within the communities where we live. We’re trying to reach people who can relate to media (film, print, design, dance, drama, music) in ways that they can’t relate to a traditional sermon or a lecture,” he says. “We’re constantly experimenting with new ways to cross boundaries in order to break down barriers to the gospel that those who don’t know Christ may have,” says Becker.
Aaron Coe agrees. Founder and lead pastor of The Gallery Church in New York City, Coe is a church planting missionary and believes that using media is integral to reaching the young people in The Gallery’s Chelsea neighborhood and beyond.
One of the core values of the church is using arts and technology as enhancements to display God’s glory. Coe, who has a degree in the recording arts from Middle Tennessee State University, says that because at least one-third of the people in New York City are directly involved in the arts and entertainment industry, there’s a natural need to identify with and understand the industry. The church, established January 2006, is still testing the waters. “We want to be known specifically as a body that supports artists,” says Coe. “We just want to open our door to be available and ask ‘What do you need?'”
Coe feels that there’s a paradigm shift at work-it’s not simply about offering multimedia during the service, but an identification with the broader culture and the need to relate in a way that makes sense to the current generation. Whether in New York, Los Angeles, or points in between, there exists a need to do things differently. “We don’t need a Christian MTV,” says Coe. Instead, he and his staff are trying to transform the lives of the men and women who walk the halls of the entertainment industry in the hopes that Christ’s work in their lives will spill over into their jobs. “We can’t cast stones at what we’re not involved in,” says Coe of the secular media. Instead, he hopes to allow faith to shine through, and allow God to take care of the rest.
Many Americans who don’t attend church get their theology from movies and music. Media is intrinsic to the fabric of society in the information age; it must be harnessed for the purposes of the gospel. Alex Kendrick, associate pastor of media ministries at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, takes this sentiment to heart. “There’s a greater need for churches to get ‘out of the box’ than ever before. We need the church to get involved with the arts, education and many other areas that influence our culture,” he says.
With his brother, associate pastor Stephen Kendrick, Alex uses film as the medium to share the message of the gospel. Their movie “Facing the Giants” is a modern-day David and Goliath story. Made on a shoestring budget of $100,000 with participation of non-professional actors, students and nearly the entire community, the film has grossed over $6 million dollars. The brothers agree that even more than the financial success, the greatest aspect of the film’s reach are the lives being transformed through the film.
“So many people see movies and are influenced by them. If that’s where people are, then that’s where we want to minister,” says Alex who wrote, directed and starred in the film. Alex and Stephen (who co-wrote and produced the film) say it presents a message of hope and encouragement to the masses in theaters across the nation, and will continue to do so throughout the world on DVD. While they have faced some criticism for poor acting and production values, the brothers are firm in their belief that the film is reaching people. They know of at least 800 people who’ve made decisions for Christ after viewing the film. “Audiences are relating to the film because it deals with everyday issues. Fear, failure, insecurity and doubt are things everybody experiences at some point,” says Stephen.
“God’s Word deals with all these issues,” says Stephen. “By giving people a visual example of how they can face their private giants of fear and failure through scripture and prayer, ‘Facing the Giants’ becomes an outreach tool by grabbing people where they are and then walking them over to Jesus.”
Churches large and small are finding ways to impact their communities and the world through various forms of media. Whether it is by reaching out to the arts community and those who work in print, TV or film or by using a form of media to reach the whole world, every church can make an impact and be a catalyst for change in our world.
Kristen Ball is a writer living in New York City.
The above article, “Reaching Today’s World With Today’s Media,” is written by Kristen Ball. The article was excerpted from www.churchcentral.com website, where it was published May of 2010.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.