Monday, October 24, 2005


Separation of Church and....Theater?

It's been an interesting news year for Sony Pictures. First, the studio bought MGM/UA (and its two biggest franchises -- James Bond and Rocky). Then, it rejected a new comedy from Albert Brooks (Brooks claiming the studio found the word Muslim in the title potentially offensive; the studio claiming that the film simply wasn't funny). Next, the studio reved up its new franchises, announcing a new blond-haired James Bond for Casino Royale and a sixth Rocky film -- Rocky Balboa. Now comes word, that last week, Sony Pictures opened the new film Left Behind: World at War in 3,200 churches across the United States, but not one commercial theater. Newspaper reports cited that the studio recognized the growing trend towards large churches with professional-quality projection and sound systems. Hmmm. It's interesting that another Sony division, Sony Electronics, has been working diligently for years to place its projectors and sound systems in these same churches. Another reason Sony chose to go the church route, according to the report, was a huge jump in church attendance from just 25 years ago. Back then, fewer than 50 churches in the United States attracted more than 2,000 people each week. Today, more than 1,200 churches can claim attendance of 2,000 or more people weekly. Still, the move by Sony Pictures seems oddly calculated to help it's sister division gain access to more churches and sell more equipment. (Of course, the divisions of Sony have never been known to be that synergistic, so maybe I'm wrong.) It could simply be a marketing gimmick -- any blip in the normal routine of things gets coverage. (Witness this posting!) The film, starring Oscar-winner Lou Gossett, Jr., is an end-of-the-world rapture story, complete with an anti-Christ. (The Omen films and Stephen King's The Stand were similar stories that never played in churches.) However, the power of a church-going audience has proven itself to be formidable. In 2004, the faithful were responsible, in large part, for The Passion of the Christ grossing nearly $700 million worldwide and going on to becoming one of the top ten money-makers of all time. So, should concession stands be set up in the vestibules? Perhaps, instead of homilies and preaching, ministers could offer their congregation a movie review during services.

This is just like "Survivor." People don't realize the power they have until they get pushed against the wall. When faced with almost certain expulsion from the island, those who seemingly are playing survivor at the will and whim of some "super player" will rally, take charge and turn the game.

The same is true for churches. They have existed following the popular culture with cute christian "knock offs." It is not until now, when the Christian church is facing a loss in membership unless they become more hip and up to date. Even small churches are going Karaoke and using screens with words and music instead of traditional hymals. It makes perfect sense that when the church is faced with being the one voted off the island ( in terms of people's time and money) they will seek to get back control and turn the tables. What better way then to engage people in the popular culture that they so love.
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