As faith-based films continue to have box office success, such as the $40 million earned by "I Can Only Imagine," Christians who work in the entertainment industry tell The Christian Post that movies might be the future method of spreading the Gospel.
Sharing the Gospel message through faith-based films is proving to be popular, and some pastors and ministries are using it to help them reach people for Christ.
In 2014, The Christian Post reported that media and filmmaking experts in Los Angeles had invited pastors to attend the 168 Film Festival where they were encouraged to become participants rather than combatants of the Hollywood entertainment industry, especially since faith-based films have been performing well at the box office.
During a panel discussion at the festival, the event's founder and executive director John David Ware urged pastors to engage more with those in the movie business, including in the early stages of the creative process, to help facilitate quality films coming to theaters.
"The spirit of God can use all kinds of movies," Pastor Grady Williams of Powerhouse Christian Fellowship in Irvine, California, said after the festival. "If we (as pastors) can amplify that which is good then we can see it. We cannot ever supersede the work of the Spirit. I just rejoice today that there is so much salt and light in Hollywood and in the entertainment industry."
To find out more about what Christians working in Hollywood think is the future impact of faith-based films on advancing the Gospel, The Christian Post interviewed the Erwin brothers, the Kendrick brother, actor Jim Caviezel, and others who work and follow the industry.
The Erwin Brothers
The Erwin brothers film "I Can Only Imagine" brought in $17.1 million at the domestic box office during its opening weekend, ranking third overall behind "Tomb Raider" and "Black Panther." Pastors rented entire movie theaters to host viewings of the redemption story and ministries are still using the film as an outreach tool.
"I heard T.D. Jakes say that Jesus was a storyteller, so if He'd been around today He'd be a filmmaker. Make sense to me," filmmaker Jon Erwin ("Woodlawn," "Mom's Night Out") told CP when asked if he thought movies could be the future of ministry.
"The right story can change your life. As Christians, it's always been about the power of our stories and the power of what God has done in our life.
"I think a film is an incredibly powerful way to tell a story, Jesus told incredible stories, so I want to be a part of it as well."
Hollywood actor Jim Caviezel ("Passion of Christ") plays a lead role in the recently released film, "Paul, Apostle of Christ," and says he feels called to make Christian films that will be instrumental in sharing Jesus Christ with the world.
"Someday, when I'm gone, this will be passed on. Film will live forever," Caviezel said of his role in the biblical film during the National Religious Broadcaster convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
"Now, it doesn't mean they like it in the time you made it. And I'm reminded of that every time I see 'It's a Wonderful Life.' It was lost, no one ever saw it [then] and now all of a sudden every Christmas [it's a hit]."
Another Christian film created by FamilyLife and co-executive produced by the Kendrick Brothers ("War Room" and "Fireproof") titled "Like Arrows," hit theaters in the spring and is about biblical parenting.
Filmmaker and actor Alex Kendrick chimed in on the topic of movies and the future of ministry.
"I do think we are heading that way more so than ever before. There is power in a story and if it's well told, if it resonates with the heart of the person viewing it, then I think they're more likely to apply the truth and the biblical principles in it," Kendrick told CP at NRB. "So we'll continue to make movies.
"I see in this arena more and more young people coming and skillfully telling stories with a lot of power to it. I'm excited about that, I'm excited about the future and using this avenue to reach the masses."
FamilyLife's co-executive producer Bob Lepine also shared his thoughts on the positive and negative effects of a future in which the Gospel is shared through the medium of entertainment.
"I think storytelling has the ability to touch people at a place that teaching doesn't touch them," he said. "The danger in that is if all you do is tell stories then you will move people emotionally but then they won't know what to do."
"What we wanted to do [with 'Like Arrows'] was use this emotional hook as a way to say, 'Now that you feel the issue, let us point you to where you can get practical, biblical help for what you are doing. We wanted to touch the heart first and then point to the head and say, 'Let us help you on your journey as a parent with practical wisdom.' I think those two need to work together," he continued.
"You can have a great film that people walk away from emotionally moved, but if you don't have something behind that to help them anchor that feeling in truth, then there's an issue."
Lepine's concerns are warranted given that while movie attendance for Christian films seems to be on the rise, many are seeing a decline in church attendance.
Skye Jethani, author of What's Wrong With Religion, discussed the issue of declining church attendance during an interview with Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, last year. Jethani attributed this problem, in part, due to the availability of sermons on the radio, TV and the internet.
Andrew Barber, a journalist and English teacher at the Stony Brook School in Long Island, New York, wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition in 2014 in which he shared his reservations on why using faith-based films to minister to people could be a bad thing.
"There are currently two primary problems with Christian films: (1) they are either inherently dishonest and/or (2) they are primarily concerned with what C. S. Lewis called 'egoistic castle-building.'"
"Lewis was speaking about readers, but it works for filmgoers as well. They are so compelled and so desirous for the reality of this world to be true that "[they] have no objection to monstrous psychology and preposterous coincidence," he added. "If we use these Christian films as a vessel for our biggest propositional truths, we are just caving to our culture's unfortunate trend of doing its most important discourse through entertainment."
Centricity Music artist Jordan Feliz represents the millennial generation and believes people should use all forms of media to share the Gospel.
The singer has quickly become one of Christian music's beloved new artists and with the release of his anticipated sophomore album Future gave his perspective on the matter.
"I think that the future of ministry is just the fact that every single day we have the entire world at our fingertips. We can communicate with people in different walks of life, different roles, you can interact with anyone these days," Feliz said.
"I think there is something that's really dangerous about it as well. But on a ministry level we can do something really powerful with it. The fact that someone can post a YouTube video with a message of hope and talk about Jesus, and it can be shared millions of times and millions, potentially billions, of people could view it and see it and hear the truth about Jesus, I think that's pretty amazing!"
There's really no telling what the future of spreading the Gospel will look like just yet, but Hollywood is certainly being saturated with Christian films.
The Christian films "God's Not Dead: Light in Darkness," "Paul, Apostle of Christ" and "I Can Only Imagine" are simultaneously climbing the box office charts.