Once in a while religious filmmakers can find themselves drawn into a discussion about Evangelical films versus what I call “Discipleship” films, which are films targeted at people who already have a relationship with Jesus. I have already written about this, and I fall firmly into the “do what God has called you to do” camp. If you feel strongly that films should be evangelical, go produce them.
But, if you are wondering about making a Discipleship film, let me give you 4 reasons to produce that film:
1. Your Primary Audience is Christians. Let’s be honest, unless you have Christian Bale as Moses and a biblical-epic-scale budget and effects, most of the people who see your film are going to already be Christians. “God’s Not Dead” did OK at the box office, but as an evangelical film I think it struck home with people questioning their existing faith more than any atheist who got suckered into watching it by their religious friends. The majority of people attending a religious movie screening will already be believers. Why not focus on growing those folks?
2. People in the church desperately need discipleship. While there are exceptions, generally half of the people who go to a given church are not involved in a small group Bible study. They get all of their teaching from the weekend service. Any pastor will tell you that’s not enough. Far too many people in the pew have much too little knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches, and what it truly means to live their lives according to those teachings.
Teaching truth through story was one of Jesus’ favorite methods. Do you think it is easier for someone to tell you the 3rd point of last week’s sermon or the plot of the last movie they saw? We can attract a Christian audience and teach them something that they can hang onto in the process.
3. The two kinds don’t have to be exclusive. A Discipleship film can have an evangelical element, just as a movie with a strong evangelical message can teach biblical truth to the viewer. Take for instance a movie set in biblical times. A movie on the life of Christ is obviously both a discipleship tool and a depiction of the Gospel message.
4. Movies may not be the best evangelism tool. OK, now I’ve made someone mad. I’m not saying the Holy Spirit can’t use a movie to lead someone into relationship with Christ. He has, he can, he will. What I am saying is that the percentage of faithful that asked Jesus into their hearts because of a movie versus because of a friend talking to them is pretty skewed. Personal evangelism is going to win out every time over mass evangelistic efforts. (I’m talking about Western Culture here.) One reason is that on screen conversions scenes feel really fake. And weird. It’s super hard to capture a scene like this in a way that feels natural. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but a Discipleship picture will probably reach its goal much more effectively than an Evangelical one.
If you are set on using film primarily as an evangelical tool, do it. At some point I will probably write an Evangelical script. Right now most of my work seems to fall into the Discipleship camp. I’m passionate about helping believers develop a biblical worldview. If you are trying to decide what kind of film to make, give the Discipleship movie a shot.