Mark Batterson on Theater-Church Movement, Buzz Conference

WASHINGTON – Dolby surround sound, scenes from Blockbuster hit movies, and a pastor preaching on the silver screen are typical at a National Community Church (NCC) Sunday service.

Mark Batterson, the lead pastor of NCC, sat down with The Christian Post on Friday, May 5, as attendees exited the first annual Buzz Conference to discuss theater churches, the redemption of technology, and the marketplace space for God’s purpose.

CP: Out of all the cities National Community Church (NCC) could be in, why Washington D.C.?

Batterson: I think ultimately everybody needs to discern where God is leading them and for my wife and I, it happened to be Washington, D.C. We really felt a calling to this city. To make a long story short, I was at a seminary in the Chicago area at the time and we packed all our stuff into a 15-foot U-Haul and moved out to D.C. on faith. I hope, Lord willing, we will be here the rest of our lives.

CP: What is a theater-church and would you describe it as a movement? How and when did theater church begin?

Batterson: I think I would describe it as a movement. In fact, four years ago there were three churches meeting Regal movie theaters and Regal tells us four years later there are now 100 churches meeting in their movie theaters. We estimate that there are probably about 250 churches meeting in movie theaters throughout the country and I really think it is a movement, per se.

We had a theater church forum yesterday and about 75 pastors gathered in that setting and it was the first gathering of its kind. It is kind of a historical thing. If I had it my way, we would have church meeting in every movie theater in the country. I think the thing that really resonates with me is that I think God is calling the Church back into market place environment to really compete for His Kingdom. And I think a theater is a great place to do that.

Could you explain the meaning of the conference name, ‘Buzz,’ and how the term originated?

Batterson: ‘Buzz’ has a lot of different definitions, but at its core, Buzz is word of ‘mouth marketing.’ The Gospels and Epistles were not written until the 50’s or 60’s A.D.; it was a word of mouth revolution. Jesus commissioned his disciples – you might call them Buzz agents – and told them to tell others who in turn told others.

To me, Buzz is word of mouth and no one was better at that than Jesus. The spread of the Gospel in the ancient world was unbelievable in the first century and by and large it was buzz or word of mouth.

CP: What about this conference has been successful in your opinion? What aspects do you hope to improve next year?

Batterson: I think that the successful piece is the synergy of like-minded leaders who have a desire to reach the culture. When you get about 300 pastors who really have a passion for reaching people for Christ, the energy and synergy is an amazing thing. So that itself was successful.

The Buzz film festival was unbelievable. The level of creativity that I see within some churches across the country – it competes with MTV and Hollywood. We have this core conviction that the greatest message deserves the greatest marketing and that the Church ought to be the most creative place on the planet. So to me, that Buzz film festival was really successful.

In terms of what we want to improve next time, you learn so many lessons the first time you do something. I think one of the things we want to do is expand the range of our speakers because I did too many sessions. I don’t want to do three sessions (laughs). I’m tired.

The other thing is that we might try to create more of an environment where there is some dialogue. We did have a Q&A panel but it was for a smaller subset. So we might make it a little more interactive next year.


CP: You spoke yesterday about redeeming technology for God’s purpose and named podcasting as an example. What other technology does NCC hope to use or continue to use in the future to convey Biblical messages?

Batterson: Podcasting and blogging to me are two great digital discipling tools. So the podcasting at theaterchurch.com and the BLOG and evotional are huge dimensions of ministry.

CP: During your segment on competitiveness, you mentioned going to some of the largest night clubs in the area and competing. Can you explain more about this?

Batterson: We just love being in market place environment like night clubs, theater, and coffee houses. Those are just great places to go in. When I talk about redeeming space it is basically we will go in and use that space for God’s purpose. The space is used for other purposes during the week- just like how a movie theater shows many movies that we might find morally objectionable- but we redeem that space by trying to use it for His purposes. This is the same with redeeming technology. To me God wants to redeem everyone and everything and that certainly includes night clubs and podcasting.

CP: To the Christians who read this article and are interested in the Buzz Conference but did not come, what would you like to tell them about the Buzz Conference?

Batterson: I would invite them to Buzz ’07, June 28-29 next year. We have a great line-up of speakers. I think this is the beginning of a conversation and the next Buzz conference will be larger in scale using this year’s conference as a platform. So I would extend an invitation to visit buzzconference.com.

I would also like to invite people to carry on the conversation between now and then on evotional on our church’s website. My blog is also a great place to just have dialogue about these issues.