Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Night at the movies


I read a New York Times article titled “Secular Hollywood Quietly Courts the Faithful,” by Brooks Barnes, in that paper’s Dec. 26 edition. It explored the news that movie theater attendance is slightly down from its 2009 high, even though the general U.S. population is growing.

The article caught my attention because church attendance also is declining. I read it seeking what I might learn.

The movie industry has identified changes in society and is pointing to them as reasons for the decline in attendance/tickets sold, according to the Times article. The Motion Picture Association of America asserts that “cheaper and more convenient in-home entertainment options are threatening the grip that multiplexes have long had on young adults.” As proof of that hypothesis, the association states, “The number of frequent moviegoers ages 12 to 24 has fallen for three consecutive years.”

Hollywood is under pressure to reverse that trend. The industry is developing strategies to address the issue.

One of the strategies targets young people who are interested in prayer!

The Times article quoted a statistic to support that aim: “Churches may seem like an unusual path toward young people, but 41 percent of millennials engage in some form of daily prayer, according to a 2010 Pew Research paper.”

It is interesting to me that the article identified Hollywood’s most-desired audience — young people — and went on to name prayer as a specific behavior that a large part of that population engages in on a regular basis.

A second strategy articulated in the article suggested that studios build upon what they have learned about the religious population. The industry has “newly realized that religious Americans, if approached on their own terms, can be captured for movies that would, at first glance, seem to be an unusual fit.”

Over the holidays, my wife and I made our annual trip to the movies and saw “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” I was interested to see how many prayers, blessings, and spiritual references were made in that film.

A third movie industry strategy identifies a next step in reaching a potential audience. Hollywood executives have evaluated the traditional method of placing advertisements in Christian publications and have found a more effective way to communicate to millennials today, the article explained.

Now they are focused on locating church leaders, providing discussion guides, and facilitating discussions.

Elizabeth Gabler, the president of Fox 2000, said in a statement, “Corby and Marshall help to locate these important faith audiences and leaders who are hungry for aspirational content without feeling like they are going to church.”

As the Church, we can learn something from these strategies.

• First, identify a specific target audience and identify what is important to the people in that group.

• Second, build an experience that builds on what has been learned about the audience.

• Third, replace ineffective advertising strategies that speak “at” an audience with a communication strategy that speaks “with” an audience.

Prayer, learning, and small-group conversations are tools many churches know well.

What is your strategy for reaching people for Christ and the Church this year?

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