How to host a campus outreach

Films and Faith

Movies are powerful pieces of communication that speak to our emotions and intellect. We often spend time talking about movies after we see them, but what if we intentionally looked for ways to bridge these conversations to spiritual topics?

Christians should approach every film we watch as an opportunity to talk about faith and spirituality," says Mark Bogertman, "because it is!”

Spiritual Themes

Thanks to a wide range of themes, movies can be springboards into spiritual conversations of all kinds.

Any movie, if watched with spiritual eyes, can have transcendent themes and also warnings," says Kevin Nalty. "War movies remind us of what heroism looks like, what it means to walk and sacrifice for your brothers, but also the war shows us how dark and brutal human nature is. Love stories speak to our desire to be loved and yet how often we sacrifice real intimacy and unconditional love for sexual gratification. Dramas remind us that life is messy and yet we have a God who is willing to enter that mess. Comedies can touch on insecurities, but also joys."

Sacrifice/Unconditional Love

"Forrest Gump is about unconditional love and a bunch of other good stuff about fate." - Brock Elstro

Also: Iron Giant, Moulin Rouge, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, Hercules, Lord of the Rings, The Mission

Sin/Disobedience

"World War Z shows that 1) Sin isn't bad choices, it's a disease that dehumanizes all of us. 2) Brad Pitt (Christ figure) saves humanity not by force, but by entering into the problem, purposefully becoming diseased himself, then giving his blood as antidote to conquer death and restore humanity. 3) The cure to our disease is taking in Christ, who has conquered death." - Jordan Kologe

Also: Finding Nemo

Salvation

"In I Am Legend, the main character literally gives his blood to save the remnant of the human population." - Nathan Bixler

"Superman is a 33-year-old man from another world who comes to save the planet from total destruction." - Nathan Bixler

Also: Schindler's List, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Restoration

"Dead Man Walking deals with forgiveness and grace." - Russel Johnston

Also: The Lion King, The Dark Knight Rises

Redemption

"Gran Torino is easily one of the clearest pictures of redemption I've ever seen in a non-explicitly-Christian movie." - Ian Edward Caveny

Also: The Shawshank Redemption, Crazy Heart, The Wrestler

Truth/Perception

"Like Rapunzel in Tangled, we live entangled in deception, in a tower of falsehood. But we also yearn for truth. Deep inside stirs a longing for more. Just as Rapunzel knew that the light of floating lanterns would somehow show her the truth, we also need to be exposed to the light. When we see that light—in the one who gave his life for us—the villain's power over us is lost. We're finally free." - Laura Li-Barbour

"The Dark Knight brings up ethical questions of whether perceived truth that looks perfect (Harvey Dent) or actual truth that is flawed (Two Face) is better. It's an easy transition to the question of what truth is and exploring how Jesus fits into truth." - Bryce Bachelder

Also: Big Fish, The Usual Suspects, A Few Good Men, any movie with dreams/alternate realities

Community/Intimacy

"Lars & The Real Girl shows healing through relationship and community." - Audrey Chau

Other staff recommendations: Fight Club, Cast Away

Grace

"Movies are rarely about people being treated better than they deserve. In fact, characters are almost always treated getting what they deserve or worse, for things they have or have not done. We often think God views us like this too, that we deserve to be dealt with harshly because of our actions. While true—because we don't meet the standard God has set for us—it's not the end of the story. Watch Chocolat, and ask your friends what they think God might think about their actions, and how he'd treat them. It's a great opportunity to share about God's grace, his unmerited favor...and don't forget to eat some chocolate too." - Stephanie Macek

Other staff recommendations: Crash, Les Miserables

Justice

"Hunchback of Notre Dame makes you ask what is your personal responsibility to fight injustice." - Laura Li-Barbour

Also: The Help, 12 Years A Slave

Belief

"Book of Eli, though violent, is a great film about the power of belief, and the power of the Bible! The villain knew that possessing that book could bring him immeasurable power." - Courtney Letkewicz

Purpose

"Wreck-It Ralph has a lot to say about our purpose and who we are made to be. It talks about Ralph's discontentment with how he is 'programmed' as a character, but the many deeper layers that unfold as we get to know him throughout the movie. There's also the theme of 'evil' coming to take over other games (through King Candy/Turbo character) and the need for the rightful "heir" to bring peace to the kingdom. " - Julie Golingan

Also: The Matrix, Gladiator, Amazing Grace, Chariots of Fire, Pay It Forward, Wall-E

Questions to Ask

Although your ultimate desire is to bring the discussion around to Jesus, the key is not to jump straight in. Instead, bridge the gap between the movie's theme and Jesus by starting out with general questions like:

  1. In one sentence, what was this movie about? What was its theme?
  2. What was your favorite scene and why?
  3. With which character did you most identify and why?

Transition to the spiritual angle of the movie by asking one or more of the following questions that most fit the movie:

  1. What did you notice about that character's response to [conflict, drama, joy, forgiveness, pain, etc.]?
  2. What does the movie seem to be saying about:
    • God?
    • Truth?
    • The difference between the natural and the supernatural?
    • Moral authority?
    • People and their relationships?
    • Evil?
    • The solution to mankind's problems?

There may or may not have been an obvious link to Jesus in the movie; either way, try to flush out Jesus' character and how he might have approached the theme or situation. You can do this In your own answers to the questions, if the other people haven't yet. For example, if the movie has a hero figure, you can share how Jesus is the ultimate hero (he is perfect, he conquered death). You might even bring up a story from scripture, if it relates; this could make way for you to invite them to do a GIG on that passage later.

Movie Outreaches of Any Size

Your chapter can host a movie night as a simple outreach event. For a larger crowd, reserve a comfortable room on campus, deck it out with pillows and blankets to sprawl on the floor, project the screen on a blank wall, provide great snacks, and pray for God to open doors for meaningful conversations.

Smaller gatherings can work too. For instance, Stephanie Macek has a movie club with her friends that meets consistently.

"We get together, someone picks the movie, and then usually has questions prepared about the movie and leads us in a discussion of sorts," Stephanie says. "We've set this culture up over a period of time."

This should almost go without saying, but you can, of course, invite a friend or two to go to a movie any time. And, without even having watched a movie together that day, you can talk about favorite films any time.

"Ask your non-Christian friend what their favorite movie is, then look for spiritual themes in it," says Willie Krischke. "I find that people are far more willing to discuss a movie they love than one they've just seen."

Have other film recommendations or tips for hosting a movie night? Tell us in a comment below.