Reaching the Christian Market

After the success of The Passion of The Christ, a number of entertainment studios and producers decided they were missing an entire market. Some created divisions devoted to the “Christian” market and PR firms began to spring up to push “Christian” films out to ministers and their churches. At least one firm set up a campaign in which ministers and other “Christian” leaders were invited to attend a teleconference and hear how the latest Rocky film was related to Christian beliefs and for Sylvester Stallone to talk about his return to his faith, which in the marketers’ minds made it a valid Christian film.

Over the past few years I have heard more than one minister complain that they are tired of being bombarded by movie material that is not related to anything they are discussing from their pulpits.

The industry still doesn’t get it.Take for instance the more recent movie Secretariat, though it has nearly tripled its budget in sales, it has not come close to the total box office and DVD sales of The Blind Side according to The Numbers website. The Hollywood Reporter website discusses Disney’s intention to market Secretariat like The Blind Side was marketed, reaching out to the Christian market. While I enjoyed both movies (I tended to like Secretariat more), there was a major difference that I believe held back sales in the Christian market: while The Blind Side was based on a “Christian” family’s response to a homeless man’s needs, Secretariat was based on a race horse. I can’t help but think that to many in the Christian market horse racing is equated with gambling and a story glorifying gambling, despite all of the movie’s other attributes, does not fit the picture of what some Christians believe they should be embracing. Many never saw the movie because of what they perceived the movie to be about. While The Blind Side may or may not have portrayed what all Christians would have agreed on, it did embrace ideals that many Christians could get on board with.

Sherwood pictures, a ministry of Sherwood Baptist church in Albany, Georgia, creates films specific to the Christian market. Each one focuses on an issue that Christians in particular struggle with, using language and traditional Christian beliefs as the basis of how they approach storytelling. They aren’t preaching to the world, they are talking to the choir. They know who their target audience is and they know what interests that audience and how to reach those people. They have made four films, and though not perfect, and I’ve even heard them criticized as too simplistic, each one has increased in distribution, theatrical releases, and as their audience has grown, so has their budget.

Flywheel dealt with a man struggling to “make the deal” while throwing away his values and then awakening to what really matters in life. Facing the Giants addressed talking the faith versus walking the faith. Fireproof looked at the life of a man who was addicted to pornography at the expense of his marriage and how he step-by-step ended his addiction and struggled to become a better husband, showing the viewer how to impact their own marriage. The steps they used are also available in a manual. Courageous, their most recent film, deals with men being courageous enough to live by Biblical principles and show them how to lead their families by example and through love. These are films written, directed, produced, and acted in by their church members–mostly volunteers. They understand who their audience is and the issues that audience cares about.

The fact is, selling to the Christian market isn’t as much about marketing to an audience as it is about speaking to an audience. In order to reach the Christian market, film makers need to know what that market wants to know about, what matters to them, what issues they face, what honors their beliefs and what ignores what they honor, and just as important, dishonor.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Reaching the Christian Market | The Writer's Compass
  2. patgarcia
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 15:26:10

    Hi Nancy,

    This is so true and I agree. Unfortunately many of the filmakers, developing films for the “Christian Market, have not done any type of specific research. Asking a few pastors is not the answer. The population sample should be widespread and reach inside Christian homes. One of the reasons that the people in Albany are having success is that they are very much aware of what goes on behind the doors of a Christian family when they are not in church with a smiling face.
    Ciao,
    Patricia

    Reply

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