Interview: 'Theater Church' Pastor on Positive Church Buzz, Creative Inflation

WASHINGTON - Coming out of the first day of the second annual Buzz Conference and a showing of the top ten sermon trailers, sermon illustrations, and other short movie clips produced by churches across the nation, Pastor Mark Batterson of National Community Church found himself amid some Hollywood-caliber creativity.

Less stressed than when hosting last year's first ever Buzz Conference, Batterson drew a sold-out crowd this year with around 260 pastors converging for a casual recline on leather seats inside Union Station's movie theater to hear some of the most innovative church leaders in the nation.

And the pastors were all looking for ways for their churches to create an impacting "buzz" in their communities.

The following are excerpts from Batterson's interview with The Christian Post on Thursday:

CP: What would you say the buzz about the Church is right now - not in the media, but in the America public?

Batterson: I think there are a lot of mixed reviews. Let's be honest with each other, the Church has a little bit of a perception problem and I think part of it is media and part of it's the Church. I think the big issue is the Church is more known for what it's against than what it's for. And I think to change our perception we have to live out the reality of what we believe and I think a couple of the ways we do that is with the spirit of humility which is serving our communities and blessing our communities and just showing the love of Christ .To me it's always about going back to the most basic, simple principles. Jesus told us to love our neighbor. And if you love your neighbor, then you change their perception of who you are.

CP: A Gallup poll recently came out saying Americans' confidence in the Church and organized religion is reaching an all-time low. Why do you think that is?

Batterson: I would say that it's because organized religion is organized and it's religious. And what Jesus was about was inviting people to follow him on a spiritual journey and that's a little different deal. I don't think people are looking for religion. I think they're looking for God. And unfortunately, they can't always find God in religion and so I think the Church has to find ways to incarnate the truth so that people can hear the Good News in a language they understand.

CP: What "category," if you will, does your church fall under?

Batterson: We're a mix; we're sort of one of those emerging churches. I mean we're reaching emerging generations but the funny thing is, I don't really like labels because labels tend to come with stereotypes. Personally, I'm kind of a denominational mut. I come from seven different church backgrounds growing up. But I think the Lord's used that in my life to see that nobody has a corner on the Truth, but each of those expressions are kind of one dimension of who God is and if we could learn from each other and love each other, I think we'd be a lot better off than focusing on our differences.

CP: There was an interesting question posed by YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley. He asked: "How do you stay relevant when people can entertain themselves?" So, how do churches stay relevant when people can entertain themselves?

Batterson: My take is that what we're experiencing in our culture is what I would call 'creative inflation.' So you have incredible entertainment and entertainment that is available in every form imaginable and we entertain ourselves all the time. But then I also see bookstores aren't bookstores anymore; bookstores are bookstores in cafes. Restaurants aren't just restaurants anymore that serve food; restaurants are destinations and they're themed after Hard Rock Café or Planet Hollywood. In a sense, there's so much creative inflation in the culture that we (the Church) are competing for people's time against people that are very creative.

But church ought to be the most creative place on the planet because we have the Spirit of God and I think creativity is a dimension of spirituality. So there's this creative inflation but I think the Church ought to be leading the way. I think that's part of what we experienced in the Buzz Film Festival this [Thursday] afternoon. What you have are videographers and filmmakers who are producing things that I think are Hollywood-quality. And we need to not just criticize what's happening but - I love what Michelangelo said – "criticize by creating." And so we need to engender and cultivate creativity. That's a lot of what The Buzz Conference is about.

CP: It says "For Your Eyes Only" on the conference posters. What does that mean or imply?

Batterson: That's just a take of the spy theme. Of course I'm talking about 10 spy rules that are leadership tactics and kind of learning from the espionage industry how we do leadership as spiritual leaders. One of the themes is 'decoding culture.' Most pastors are pretty good at biblical exegesis but not cultural exegesis. And so, those 10 rules are sort of inspired by Numbers 13 where the spies go into the Promised Land and I think that frames the leadership challenge in the 21st century.

CP: You're going to launch a new church campus soon. And Pastor Craig Groeschel talked about breaking the rules. Could you just talk about your new site and about what rules you're breaking?

Batterson: One of our core values is everything is an experiment. So we feel like if we're not making mistakes, we probably aren't trying enough new things. We'd like to think we're in the research and development part of the Kingdom of God. We like doing R&D. The thing that drives us is that there are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet. And that's that creativity that then finds expression in reaching people. For us, one of the ways we do that is with the multi-site; we're always launching new locations. And the beautiful thing about that is it doesn't allow us to live in the past or become comfortable with where we're at.

CP: Where will the new site be located?

Batterson: The fourth location will be in Northwest D.C. and it's part of our vision of meeting in movie theaters and meeting at metro stops throughout the D.C. area. We have not identified our exact location yet. September 30 is launch day.