Popcorn and Jesus: Church of God Congregations Seize Cultural Moment with Cinema
By Carl Stagner
In the weeks since what has become known as the Asbury Outpouring, increasing interest in matters of faith has inspired churches everywhere to refocus on the divine. Church of God congregations are among those experiencing renewed desire to draw close to Christ, to repent, to reconcile, and simply to dwell in the presence of God. Discussion among pastors and analysts demonstrate a common thread of observation: multiple factors have come together at precisely the right time, providentially producing pockets of revival and spiritual awakening. One of several suggested factors is the timely release of the groundbreaking feature film, Jesus Revolution, which director Jon Erwin admitted he’d wanted to film since 2015. One Midwest church’s recent response to the major motion picture is the story of only one of several Church of God congregations seizing the cultural moment with cinema.
Jamie Conkling serves as minister of worship arts at Decatur Church of God in northeastern Indiana. Pastor Jamie had already seen Jesus Revolution twice at the theater and couldn’t help but wonder, What if? He and the church’s lead pastor, Brent Doster, discussed the merits of the movie if made easily accessible to the congregation and surrounding community.
“We sensed that we’re living in a time that might parallel” the story in the film, Jamie explains. “So, God gave this opportunity for us to reach out to the churched and unchurched alike with this movie.”
Of course, it couldn’t hurt that the owners of the local cinema are a part of the Decatur congregation!
“I noticed they were ending the showing of Jesus Revolution that weekend,” Jamie recalls. “After contacting the owners of the theaters, they were able to get permission from Lionsgate to have a one-night showing.”
Thanks to generous, anonymous donors in the congregation, the movie was free to the church and community. Tickets could be secured on a first-come, first-served basis, and advertising didn’t begin until the day before the event to minimize adverse economic impact on the theater owners. Then, when the evening came, a second theater had to be opened up for overflow!
“I think about 30 to 40 percent of our church attended!” Jamie exclaims. “The remaining people were from the community. The theater was almost 80 percent full by 6:00 PM, and that’s when the theater was to open.”
Those who haven’t seen the film are sure to be surprised by the transparent, gritty reality played out from scene to scene—all with a redeeming thread of hope. Depicting historical events surrounding the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jesus Revolution chronicles, in compelling drama, the intertwining stories of major players in the earliest days of this American awakening. In the United States, the film has far exceeded box office expectations, causing theaters from coast to coast to extend the movie’s cinematic life. If you’ve missed the window to see the film in your area, be sure to rent or purchase Jesus Revolution when it becomes available in digital, DVD, and Blu-Ray format. Watch movie clips and learn more here.
“Those people were really seeking God and wanted to find Jesus,” Jamie reflects. “I think people gravitate to real stories on film. They are looking for that truth, and I think this is how you get the truth to them. Also, you had people who lived that time. This has opened up their eyes and reminded them of a wonderful, powerful time in their own lives. I think some of them actually had forgotten, and needed to be reminded, of what God can still do—not just in the 60s and 70s! I would recommend people seeing this just to encourage them as they walk their faith journey. It also will help them see what church should be and what their role should be.”
Jamie continues, “I think this movie also shows that we have slowly reversed the roles of what our job is and what God’s job is. We have made God’s job to bring people to our church so we can save them, instead of us bringing people to his church and watching him save and deliver them.”
Other Church of God congregations planned similar movie outings over the past several weeks. Like Decatur Church of God, these Jesus people are eager to capture some of that spiritual fervor fueling intrigue and hopeful curiosity of yet another Jesus revolution.
Learn more about Jesus Revolution, watch the trailer, and find a theater still playing the film at www.JesusRevolution.movie. Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) ) collage: Decatur Church of God film screening (left); Jesus Revolution ad (right).