What Ministry Resources Are Available For “I Can Only Imagine”, “Paul”, and “God’s Not Dead 3”?

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Last weekend, the movie industry was collectively stunned when the Erwin Brother’s I Can Only Imagine sold $17 million dollars worth of seats (which roughly equals $1.5 billion in concessions) on a $7 million dollar budget, the 4th best opening for a faith-based film ever.

This weekend, Affirm Films’ new Christian-themed film, Paul, Apostle of Christ, will open, followed Easter weekend by Pure Flix’s third film in the God’s Not Dead franchise, God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. That’s three major Christian-made films opening across the nation in a two week period, films that have been made both as cinematic experiences as well as ministry opportunities.

This is one of the things that sets the so-called “faith-based film” genre apart from most other genres – the idea that the films are meant to be more than just entertainment, but entertainment with spiritual ramifications: an opportunity to learn about the Christian faith in a non-threatening, neutral environment for those outside the faith, or a chance for spiritual growth for people who are already followers of Jesus Christ.

To illustrate what I mean by this, on the website for I Can Only Imagine, we’re told, “A gripping reminder of the power of forgiveness, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE beautifully illustrates that no one is ever too far from God’s love—or from an eternal home in Heaven.” Paul, Apostle of Christ has a page on it’s website where James Faulkner, who plays Paul in the film, reads portions of Scripture as a tool for Christians observing the season of Lent. The makers of God’s Not Dead 3: Light in the Darkness sayGOD’S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN DARKNESS is a powerful reminder that in all circumstances, we are called to be a light for Jesus to a world in desperate need of hope.”

And so Christian-made filmmakers will often develop ministry tools to encourage churches and individuals to take the film as more than just entertainment. This can be interpreted in at least three ways: one, that the filmmakers are genuinely wanting their films to make a spiritual impression on audiences; two, that the filmmakers recognize that ministry resources are another revenue stream and an encouragement to sell bulk tickets to entire churches; and three, a combination of the two.

The second option might seem cynical, but it can’t be disputed that filmmaking – even Christian-made filmmaking – is big business. It’s especially indisputable now that we are living in a time where three modestly budgeted Christian-made films featuring well known actors are being released in thousands of cinemas across the country in two weeks. These films represent hundreds of filmmaking professionals, thousands of hours of work, millions of dollars of investment, and so it makes sense that many decisions connected to these films are directly related to the potential big payoffs that will hopefully accompany them. But at the same time, they are also legitimate means for opening discussions about spiritual and theological issues, and this is where the ministry tools come into play.

What about the three movies being released now? What sorts of ministry resources are they offering? Are they giving away ministry resources, charging for them, or both?

cityonahillOn the I Can Only Imagine website, we are directed to a page that links to a few different things. The first is a link to City on a Hill’s website where the majority of ministry resources are offered, including: a small group study ($39.99); a journal ($14.99); a leader’s guide ($14.99); a church campaign kit ($79.99); and others. Back on the movie’s website, you can also purchase Bart Millard’s autobiography, A MercyMe album, an I Can Only Imagine children’s book, and a host of other things including a bunch of framed art.

The website doesn’t list any free ministry resources other than some free downloadables such as video clips and web banners.

paulA trip to the Paul, Apostle of Christ website finds a much smaller resource operation going on, with more resources being given away. Like I Can Only Imagine, Paul‘s website offers a few free downloadable social media items, but they also offer a couple of ministry resources including a reasonably comprehensive discussion guide and a more concise church leader packet, all available as free downloads.

Interestingly, you’ll find no church campaign kits advertised on the Paul website, but I did some digging around and found out that Outreach is selling one for $49.95.

Our final stop on the Christian-made movie tour takes us to Pure Flix’s God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness webpage and the first thing that struck me when visiting this website was that you can tell that Pure Flix has done this before.

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The main clue is the way they handle the campaign kit. It’s not just a simple Bible study or sermon guide selling from $49.45 to $79.99. Rather, it’s a kit to help your church buy out a theater and hold a premiere event experience complete with optional red carpet (extra $199) and backdrop for photos (extra $370 for a 9’8″x 7’2″ Jumbo Sleeve Banner). How much for this experience? Roughly $2,500. This is being billed as an experience where your church or organization would need to purchase at least 250 seats – essentially buying out the theater – and the cost would include many of the same things you get in a typical campaign kit.

Interestingly – and this is what sets Pure Flix apart from the other companies – you cannot purchase a church campaign kit without the theater buyout.

Here is a video they include explaining their strategy:

So your church’s options are two (A) buy out the theater and give away the tickets or (B) buy out the theater and charge your church members and guests to attend. Either way, Pure Flix is passing the costs down the line and insuring that they will sell out theaters. Is it a good ministry model? A good movie business model? Both?

Interestingly, on Pure Flix’s “premiere partner” FAQ page, they have this question and answer:

 

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Unpacking that God’s Not Dead 3 Teaser

godsnotdead2In a recent post, I examined the cases that were listed at the end of God’s Not Dead 2 to see how well they applied to the fictional case presented in the film. My conclusion was that they did not. Click here to read that post, if you are interested.

In response to my post, a blog guest named Gail commented:

As to the teaser at the end of the movie–did you know that ministers in Houston, TX fought against the ruling that they were supposed to bring their sermons into City Hall to make sure they were not preaching against homosexuality–there is legal precedent to stand on here after all.

To clarify what Gail means, God’s Not Dead 2 ended with an ominous post-credits scene, in which we see Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) being taken away by police because he had been subpoenaed by the government to turn in his sermons.

This scene was included as an obvious Marvel-esque teaser to what would be coming next in the God’s Not Dead Cinematic Universe (GNDCU).

I was familiar with that case in Houston, and I remember being outraged when it happened. After all, you imagine some cold war communist government demanding sermons from churches, but not America. However, I hadn’t really done much reading about it in quite a while. So, inspired by Gail’s comment, I went and did some digging.

My digging produced three interesting things about that situation as it relates to the God’s Not Dead movies, and in particular – to the teased situation for God’s Not Dead 3.

First, in that situation in Houston, the subpoenas were issued as a part of the discovery process because some Christians had filed a lawsuit against the city of Houston. They’d filed the suit to try and halt some legislation with which they disagreed. The pastors, while not a part of the lawsuit, were intimately involved in the issue at the core of the lawsuit. You can read about that here.

Second, when overwhelming support came down for the pastors from the right and the left, the mayor bowed to the pressure and withdrew the subpoenas. The subpoenas had stepped over important boundaries, and the mayor admitted it.

Then the pastors sued the mayor for subpoenaing them in the first place, but the suit that was ultimately dismissed by a federal district judge.

Third, and this one is the kicker: many liberal groups – including the ACLU – came down on the side of the pastors. In fact, during the heat of this, the ACLU issued a statement in support of the pastors which said, among things:

“The government should never engage in fishing expeditions into the inner workings of a church, and any request for information must be carefully tailored to seek only what is relevant to the dispute.”

Do you think God’s Not Dead 3 will be based on any of that reality?

Will they change the story to show that Pastor Dave’s sermons were subpoenaed because Christians had sued the government, and not because someone was suing Christians?

Will they truly rip the story from the headlines and have the charges dropped when everyone realizes that subpoenaing a pastor for his sermons is a massive overstepping of civil liberties and legal boundaries?

And the big $60,000,000 question – will the same filmmakers who made the ACLU the black-hearted villains of GND2 have the courage to have the ACLU supporting the civil rights of Pastor Dave in GND3 – as they do in real life?

Only time will tell, I suppose. But to be honest, I’m not hopeful.