The message of movies

Do you communicate with others?

You may be saying something life-changing. But if no one’s listening, you’re just talking to yourself.

Robert K. Johnston wrote “Using Movies in Worship,” a short article that appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of Fuller Seminary’s Theology, News and Notes. In it, he makes some powerful observations about how people receive communication and how movies speak clearly into people’s understanding.

“Sociologists sometimes speak of people taking in information by “grazing.” That is, we often listen or observe with half-interest until something captures our attention. Then, we hone in for a brief period before again putting our mind on “cruise control,” Johnston writes. “This is how most of us listen to speeches (and sermons!) today.”

In movies, he adds:

“We are simply being entertained until we are riveted by one scene. Afterwards, we will remember the movie by that particularly funny or gripping moment. The rest often becomes a blur in our minds.”

“Robert Towne, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Chinatown, commented: “A movie, I think, is really only four or five moments between two people. The rest of it exists to give those moements their impact and resonance.”

Most sermons – most lessons – have one main point. The rest of it is a journey to get to that point. It’s how we get there that makes it memorable and enjoyable.

Sometimes pastors and communicators fail to consider the natural flow of what we are teach. Life moves naturally from intensity to rest and back again. Teaching and communication should do the same thing. We should use emotion and logic to weave stories and points together in a way that entertains and informs. Lessons should flow in a way that raises questions and then answers them (or challenges the listener to find the answer). It’s a shame when we brush away the mystery, excitement and challenge of scripture with cold logic and reasoned points. Logic has a place, but it should never be the whole argument.

In Andy Stanley’s recent book, Communicating for Change, he says that people’s attention spans aren’t usually the issue in communication at church. They can sit through a three-hour movie numerous times. It engages them. Time flies when we are engaged by what we are seeing.

That’s the power of story. That’s the power of conviction. That’s something movies and television – the stories of today – have mastered. How can we use the same principles to communicate timeless truth?

2 responses to “The message of movies”

  1. Incredible book… just finished it. I did a quick scan of on-line sermons from churches throughout the country. Average length was almost 50 minutes. ugh. ~ Ben Arment

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