A couple of years ago I helped lead a movie discussion group. Here is the criteria I had to help choose and discuss movies.
The Movie will attract varied audiences (Christian, non-Christian, men, women, etc…)
A varied audience is critical to keep the move group from growing stagnant; therefore a variety of genres should be presented (action, romance, comedy, fun movies, thoughtful movies, and so on…).
Also the common movie person sees a film that has good visuals/special effects (especially the guys) or a favorite actor/ actress/ director, or the relationships (especially the women).
Even thought a sub-goal of the movie night is to open people eyes to different mediums/ styles and films, the best draws come from movies that are from recent releases to about 5 years ago. (This is the “I wanted to go see that movie but didn’t, but now here’s my chance” approach) However it may be good to place some classic, independent, or other not so watched films in the selection for the semester
The films overall must be fun to watch, this is hard to define (at least what fun is), but this movie time is a time of communal fellowship, we watch the movie as a group and it is the group that emphasizes the experience. So a quick look at the group could help define what type of movies to pick. If the group is mostly people who are dating, find a movie that would appeal to the couples, if the group is mostly single…, if the group is young…, etc…
People who come to the group (both new and repeat) come for a reason; they know the purpose behind the event is outreach (I don’t doubt their intelligence) so the movie must have meaningful content. The people who are searching for the hope that we have should not be turned away because we play the same type of movie week after week. It is helpful to have a sheet that people can write movie suggestions on.
There is a fine line that is hard to walk across: The movie must not be too preachy (no one likes to be attacked, the best way to help someone along is by disciplining them. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But so this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15)), being too preachy will lead to a “lecturing to the choir” situation; our main goal is outreach as well as some growth. Preaching to the Choir does neither of these. On the other side the movie should not be wishy-washy or just escapism which leads to the same problem.
The Movie is a good Christian witness
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 (emphasis mine)
People scrutinize us, they want to know what gives us have hope in such a hopeless world. All the choices we make are being evaluated by people and by God; we are accountable for our actions and our choices. It would be very unfortunate to “lose” someone due to a regrettable movie choice. A movie must fit the criteria from Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – If anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about these things” Hollywood is notorious for manufacturing products contrary to this, but there are many gems out there.
There are at least 3 groups of people who have come or will come to the movie nights (or other ministries)
- Non-Christians who are seeking – this group is one of our major targets, and I have heard comments from this group who say that they want to know Christ but do not want to become Christians. The only reason I think they might say this is due to the stereotype of Christians be legalists. So in some cases it might be prudent not to “draw the line” politically, or in belief structures. I agree there are times to stand up for what we believe in, but if they come in we must make them feel welcome or they will not return. Persecution strengthens people, this is an outreach ministry and if this gets labeled as “A place where you get preached at” then it will be harder to reach out. Our goal here is to build relationships that cause people to grow in the knowledge of the Lord, not to “try to convert” them (I use convert as the non-Christians use it) “Those who oppose him [the Lord’s servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” 2 Timothy 2:25 (emphasis mine)
- Christians who seek to fellowship and grow – This group is the core, they are also witnessing by their actions. Remind them of the command in 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24 “Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” and in Romans 14: 13 “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” We as a ministry (this we includes both the leaders and attendees) are here to make friends and to reach out to new people not just stay in comfortable groups.
- Non-Christians who are looking for ways to discredit us- At some point or another we will be attacked, let us make movie choices as well as personal choices that glorify God. 1 Peter 3: 16 (the pervious verse is up a page) “… keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
The Movie has obvious discussion possibilities
In a movie, the viewers follow the path of the protagonist. The questions posed to the group should follow that course. However the questions serve as question anchors not at the conversation itself, if the group wants to discuss a certain point let them. A movie choice must have sympathetic characters (or characters we would like to emulate or that learn a lesson), or the reverse (as in an anti-hero) if the consequences of the characters choices are going to be discussed. The goal is to have a diverse discussion, so it would be a good idea to choose a movie with complex issues (not divisive) so that their will be different opinions expressed in the discussion. A maxim to have is “He who asserts must prove”
There are two difficult groups:
– (1) The shy ones: These people are generally the new ones, and even though they don’t share that often they might want to. Or have very good ideas that will go contrary than what the consensus of the group is, and don’t want to disrupt or stick out. They are not comfortable yet.
-movie: choose a movie that will challenge all to open up in a discussion that requires different outlooks, if we choose movies that just preach the same message over and over, new people will stop coming.
-question set: when writing/ choosing questions to ask, the questions should be phrased in a way that welcomes all types of answers. Without putting the people in the spotlight, everyone should share or feel that they had input in the discussion.
– (2) The ones with quick answers: These people are too comfortable in their knowledge that they have, they could be either Christian or non-Christian, nevertheless they are still people and should be treated with respect and not singled out (unless in a one-on-one-confrontation). These people are prone to stating a quick pat answer that “trumps” all other points of view. They are too comfortable. Outsiders view the stereotypical Christian as one who does not think, let’s not prove them right.
-movie: choose a movie that disputes the “pat” answers that have worked for them in the past. Create a situation of a “personal iconoclast”.
-question set: when writing/ choosing questions to ask, be sure to foresee possible “pat” answers, and have follow-up questions. Our goal is to have an atmosphere that welcomes new people to come and not “lose your brain at the door”.
The questions combined with the movie should be like the metaphor Kierkegaard gives (paraphrased): “An evangelist is like a person who hides behind a bush, and when his friend walks by, he sneaks up behind him and gives him a kick in the backside. Then, he dives behind the bush again. His friend turns around and sees no one and then continues walking. But as he walks, he is no longer walking along semiconscious. He is startled, scratching his head, looking around, and wondering, “Who was that? What’s going on here? Am I being watched?” His whole mind and curiosity are awakened”