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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Eighteen percent increase in Bible engagement from movies

The Week reports:
Christianity survives and spreads by the recital of its central stories. And Hollywood — with a podium bigger and a microphone louder than perhaps any others in the world — is now retelling and spreading these narratives. This very naturally — even if unintentionally — increases engagement with the Bible itself.
Hollywood is finding success with Christian Bible movies.

Perhaps audiences have been responding to a growing threat of religious extremism, but for some reason, Hollywood is finding its stride with Christian themed movies.

Secular Hollywood is producing faith based films. As a result, "The Week" is reporting how Hollywood is unwittingly promoting the Christian faith

In fact, 2014 was dubbed Hollywood's "year of the Bible" because more Biblical blockbusters were released in the last 12 months than in the previous 12 years combined. And because religious audiences continue to buy tickets for these films, movie audiences can expect to see more spirituality and sacred scripture movies on the silver screen.

Faith-based entertainment is even driving interest in the Bible. Following the release of History Channel's wildly popular mini-series The Bible, a survey reported 18 percent of adults nationwide have an increase in Bible engagement. Among those who experienced an increase, 25 percent said the mini-series or religious media conversations had an influence on their interest.

YouVersion's Bible App for smartphones experienced an increases in traffic following various faith films' releases. 

After Noah opened, the app experienced a 300 percent increase in views of the Noah narrative in Genesis. During the debut of Exodus, the app experienced increases in opens of the first 14 chapters of Exodus, which feature the story of Moses and the liberation of the Jews. 

Some chapters were up as much as 33 percent, compared to the previous weekend (before the films). The app also saw increases in Bible engagement following the opening weekends of Son of God and Heaven is for Real.

Why the correlation between faith films and renewed interest in faith? Entertainment pundits say it's about the compelling stories (and money).

A preeminent Christian thinker of the 20th century, Richard Niebuhr, wrote, "The preaching of the early church was not an argument for the existence of God nor an admonition to follow the dictates of some common human conscience.... It was primarily a simple recital of the great events connected with the historical appearance of Jesus Christ and a confession of what had happened to the community of disciples."

As studios promote their films to religious audiences, marketing firms, specializing in this arena, have popped up. These firms often sell bulk tickets to churches and ministries, who in turn use the films as opportunities to evangelize non-Christians who may not attend a religious service but might show up for a free movie. Religious marketing firms often produce movie-themed sermon outlines and graphics for churches in hopes of generating interest in the film, while boosting church attendance.

Let's be clear: Movie studios are not consciously trying to evangelize moviegoers or promote religious practice. Often — in the cases of Exodus director Ridley Scott and Noah director Darren Aronofsky — they don't even believe the stories they're telling. Instead, Hollywood's greatest driving factor is lucrative business

Cumulatively, 2014's faith films raked in hundreds of millions in domestic ticket sales. Frankly, Hollywood is concerned about the almighty dollar, not Almighty God.

Nevertheless, films are more than mere moneymakers. Rather, they are also cultural touchstones, with the power to shape our collective consciousness. Movies can stoke society's passions, provoking us to ask questions we previously overlooked. They can elevate discourse and help.

Movies can define the meaning of who we are and what we do. Hollywood's choice to probe religious matters at the movie theater is not culturally neutral, regardless of Hollywood's intent.

For now, the arrangement seems to be satisfying Christians and the secular business capitalist. Christians are benefiting from the amplification of their most cherished stories and increased interest in their sacred scriptures. 

Meanwhile, Hollywood is making a mint of money off audiences who are willing to pay to see spiritual stories on the big screen. "The Week" asks, as time passes, if the Christian-business partnership will compromise the core values of both parties, or become a match made in heaven?

A more pragmatic correlation might be made between the rise in Islamic extremism and interest in Christian theme movies. During times of crises, as in the face of terrorist threats, people tend to seek security by returning to their cultural roots.

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