There’s possibly nothing more American than a trip to the movies. Okay, maybe baseball and apple pie, but not much else. Since the 1920s, Americans have been flocking to movie theaters. And although early movies were created mostly to entertain, today’s movies also uplift, inspire, share the Gospel — and even serve as a form of outreach for your church. If you’ve never tried hosting a community-wide movie night at your church, consider these five reasons why you might want to plan one soon (and why you might need a new movie night banner).
1) It’s a low-pressure way to get people into a church building
Watching a movie at church isn’t the same as attending a Sunday service, but it’s a great first step. Because, honestly, what do many unchurched people fear about going to church? The unknown. If they’ve never been, they don’t know what to expect, and that can feel scary. Will they be judged? Stared at? Asked spiritual questions they don’t know how to answer? Where are the bathrooms? By showing up for something as casual as an evening movie, they can get a sense of what your church is like without all the stress. And when they realize church is actually a friendly, welcoming place with normal people just like them, well, attending a Sunday service might not be as intimidating.
2) It works year-round
Who doesn’t love watching movies outdoors when the weather’s nice? If you have the outdoor space and can get your hands on a projector, projector screen, and some speakers, then you have a beautiful movie night under the stars in the making. People will be happy to bring blankets and lawn chairs, or you can provide them if you have them. And when cooler temps roll around, head inside to an activity room or fellowship hall, or just the sanctuary, where you probably already have everything ready for a movie screening.
3) It’s budget-friendly for moviegoers and churches
Let’s be honest: Going to the movies isn’t the cheap date it used to be, and the high price of tickets and snacks keeps many people away. Back in the ‘40s, a ticket cost just 36 cents, or $2.88 adjusted for inflation. It was a bargain. Now, though, at an average ticket cost of $10 plus another $20-40 for snacks and soft drinks, taking the family to the movies is out of reach for many people. But a movie night at a church can recreate a similar dynamic at a fraction of the cost. You can make the event free and advertise that people should bring a picnic dinner or snacks to enjoy while they watch, or you can head to your local warehouse store and stock up on snacks and drinks, pop some popcorn, and sell it at all cost (which, at warehouse prices, will be dirt cheap for moviegoers). Setting up a fun little concession stand would make the experience feel even more special! And licenses to screen movies are very affordable – and usually provide you an entire year’s worth of viewing so you can show the film to multiple groups. If you already have all the tech equipment on hand, then that’s really all it’ll cost you.
4) It creates a social viewing dynamic
If you’ve ever been to a midnight showing of a new release or attended a viewing party for an annual awards show, then you understand the power of watching something in community. The anticipation and whispers as the lights dim, the collective gasps, laughs and sniffles. That shared human experience transforms a movie and heightens emotions, doesn’t it? Studies have even found that people watching a movie together in a theater sync up their brain activity and exhibit similar emotions simultaneously. That experience is certainly more fun than watching at home alone, on your couch, with day-old, reheated leftovers.
5) It lets you show gospel-themed movies that might not be readily available anywhere else.
There are lots of great, gospel-themed movies (or even “secular” films that still point to God) out there that many people haven’t seen if the film was limited-release or if viewers just don’t have their finger on the pulse of Christian media. Many of those movies aren’t available on the most popular streaming networks, either. But by screening these films at your church, you’re giving your community the rare chance to experience them, and it’s a fantastic, low-pressure way to introduce the gospel. If you think your neighbors might be less likely to show up for one of those films, you could always mix in some family-friendly classics to your lineup (host a movie night series and alternate one Christian film with one classic crowd-pleaser), or offer a double feature one night.
Sometimes, movie producers will release a film for a church-event BEFORE the DVD or streaming services have access. These rare windows for exclusive showings are a perfect time to plan and promote a movie event because the people in your community can’t get the movie at home – it creates a sense of excitement and may draw more visitors to your church. For example, you can show the movie UNPLANNED in your church late this month (July 2019) even thought it won’t be in retail stores until August 13 – this movie is a great opportunity to host a movie night that could have a huge impact.
Ready to host a movie night at your church? Check out these tips for making it successful!