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Christian Music Industry is Dying, Will Film Follow?

April 21, 2009 by  
Filed under /Editorials, /Headlines

by S. David Acuff

I think it’s time we checked in with the CCM industry because as I’ve stated in ourChristian Film Wakeup Call – as it goes with the Christian music industry, so it will be with the Christian film industry.  It’s just that they are 20 years up the road from us along the journey.

But before I do that, I wanted to clarify one thing that separates Wired4Film from other Christian Filmmaking sites: We are not promoting the Christian Film Industry.

Gasp!  I know, let me explain.

Bob Briner is the author of a seminal piece of writing that is one of the first books any Christian Professional needs to read called Roaring Lambs.  It is simply a call to action for the Christian Community and explains how to be Salt and Light in the Secular world.  In it he chides us:

“We have created a phenomenal subculture with our own media, entertainment, educational system, and political hierarchy so that we have the sense that we’re doing a lot.  But what we’ve really done is created a ghetto that is easily dismissed by the rest of society.”

Today, there are some well intentioned voices out there calling Christian filmmakers to arms to build a Christian Film Media Empire or “Replacement Industry” which will in the end serve to broaden the Christian ghetto that Briner speaks of.  

Wired4Film is not about funneling filmmakers into the Christian Film industry.

Wired4Film is a movement to create paths out of the “ghetto” or what Phil Cooke calls the “Christian Bubble” and into the marketplace to be that salt and light that Christ has called us to be.  

To acknowledge that we are wired for a purpose: Filmmaking.  And that purpose is not to preach to the choir.  As Jesus said in Matthew 9:12, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  So it’s not to preach to the secular world either.  It’s to heal them and tend to them and make them whole.

In early 2007, during Fox’s “On The Lot” series, this convo was overheard (and recorded) in a chatroom:

Member #1:  Hope you enjoy [my film]!  And let me know what you think.  I am a Christian Film  maker from Liberty University

Member #2: what is a christian filmmaker?

Member #3: If it’s anything like Christian Rock, it’s a film maker that sucks.

I don’t know about you, but I had to laugh at that one.  Because I know exactly where Member #3 — who went by the screen name “bocephus” — was coming from.

So is Christian Film going to be the answer to our cinematic woes?  Or will it be part of the problem?  Well, here is where we look to the Christian Music Industry. 

Currently, I’m in the process of reviewing Phil Cooke’s book,The Last Televangelist: Why the next generation could care less about religious media  – I haven’t finished it, but even so, it’s already on my top 5 list of books along with Bob Briner’s that Christian Filmmakers need to grab hold of, read, and fully comprehend.

Here is an excerpt called “What About Christian Music?”:

In the July/Aug 2008 issue of Collide Magazine, Scott McClellan wrote a feature story based on music producer Charlie Peacock’s assessment that the Christian music industry is dying.  According to Peacock, the five most important issues are:

1) The major labels aren’t in danger of going under anytime soon, but they’ll be forced to depend on dwindling revenue from their song catalogues

2) The term CCM, or Contemporary Christian Music, will go away.

3)  Christian music that matters won’t have any affiliation with the Christian Music industry but instead will be written, recorded and released in the mainstream.

4) Worship music serves a purpose within the church, which guarantees its survival

5) The big names from CCM’s glory days (Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, etc.) will survive but many artists from the last decade will be left looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find their place in the world.

While, as McClellan states, the charges aren’t exactly blasphemy, they did set off quite the controversy within the industry.

David Sessions, editor of Patrol, an online music and media magazine (patrolmag.com) agreed: “The best thing that can happen is for people to forget entirely that they once specified whether their music was ‘Christian’ or ‘mainstream.’ That divide has been the single most damaging idea to Christianity in the modern world.”

Peacock echoed that indictment: “Anyone who has studied CCM knows that it’s front-loaded with a very specious strategy that is, the creation of a youth-oriented music to counteract the undesirable youth-oriented music of the culture at large. [That strategy] probably looked righteous in the beginning but proved very flawed.”

If it didn’t work for Christian Music, why would it ever work for Christian Film?  This section continues…

McClellan covers both sides of the issue, but the article does point to a deep divide in the world of Christian Music.  Should it continue to exist as a niche industry?  Should Christians move more into mainstream music?  Can the business model hold up – should it?

In a feature story in Christianity Today magazine on the issue, music marketing consultant Mark Joseph points out:

“…Think of it this way: Would a plumber advertise himself as a ‘Christian plumber’ if he wanted to serve both believers and non-believers?  Perhaps, but then many non-Christians with clogged toilets might not hire him because of that designation.  But if he simply presents himself as a “plumber” — still intending to do a great job and prepared to discuss his faith with any interested clients — he’s likely to get more business, earn a better living, and interact with more non-believers.  Using ‘Christian’ as an adjective – whether you’re a plumber or a musician – is little more than a weapon, used to beat back people who might otherwise be interested in the service or product offered, but upon hearing that it is ‘Christian’ are no longer interested.”

Recently I was editing at the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (which was awesome by the way in their respect for high-end production value) and overhead some people giving kudos to the FIREPROOF filmmakers because their entire film crew was made up of Christians.  

Someone else agreed that that was the way to go, especially on Spiritually sensitive shoots, but I don’t buy that.  For one, I don’t buy that God is limited to only working through Christians.  It simply isn’t so.  And I’ve been on many many shoots of a spiritual nature and brought along non-Christian production members who were deeply moved by the experience and thanked me later for including them.

See, I thought that’s what our job was…not to insulate from the world, but to connect with them.  To me, that’s what “love your neighbor” is all about.  Bringing them on set to see Christ being modeled.  

Welcome to our industry where “show it, don’t tell it” is the golden rule!

I’m gonna be honest…if I need an amazing Director of Photography, I’m looking for one that can handle the job.  It’s important that the personalities mesh, but I’m not concerned if he or she is a Christian or Buddhist or Atheist.  If they are a professional they’ll do a bang-up job.  And if I’ve bathed the shoot in prayer before hand, that person will catch a glimpse of Christ somewhere along the way.   

So, let’s take a good hard look at Charlie Peacock’s CCM assessment, because it is the writing on the wall for the Christian Film Replacement Industry as well.

We’ve been warned.

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Comments

6 Responses to “Christian Music Industry is Dying, Will Film Follow?”
  1. camthecameraman says:

    I have always been of the opinion that we are called to “make disciples” not “make media”. Now while I understand the importance of being an influencer of culture and engaging in the world we live, ultimately Christ told us to “make disciples” therefore everything we do, in ministry and life needs to be honouring of Christ “great commandment”.

    Is this program going to “make disciples” or “entertain disciples” becomes an interesting dilemma. What if during the process of making the program we “made disciples” by bringing the unsaved or recently saved or searching for the production journey. Surely then whether the programs entertains, challenges, disciples we can say we have “made disciples” during the production process thus honouring Christs command to us and making media that changes a generation.

    I once said to a producer who I was working with on a production that I didnt care if his show was unsccessful or even aired, shocked he asked why. I pointed out that during the production process the non-christian students that I worked on the shoot were challenged about matters of faith and as such the production was already a success, we had begun “making disciples” in the production phase.

  2. lonerangerone says:

    One of my professors at Calvin College, William David Romanowski – who became friends with Briner just before he died – used this example…

    Which would you rather go to:

    A mechanic who had a fish in the phonebook ad, but he treated you just like any other mechanic – even slightly unethically perhaps, because “that’s how everyone works”

    or

    A mechanic who does excellent, far above average work for a fair price and makes sure that everything his customer needs is taken care of, and when asked why he does such quality work, has a door opened to share the Gospel of Jesus as the source of his committment to excellence.

    Charlie’s right and there’s no reason for there to even be a Christian film industry – there really isn’t much of one anyways, the notables really just Cloud 10, Namesake and the Kendrick’s (Fireproof, Facing the Giants).

    Besides, look at Phil Cooke and Ralph Winter and the Biola Media folks – there are plenty of folks entrenched in positions of influence in the “real” industry – we don’t need to populate yet another ghetto.

  3. AngelaCinema says:

    First, I think it’s interesting that you’re not a fan of the Christian ghetto (for film or music), but you have advertising from the ghetto on the site…

    We have to be careful of general statements applied to a wide range of people. There are hundreds of Christian filmmakers out there – perhaps a better way to describe them is as filmmakers who are Christians. Yes, there are many who’ve gotten on the bandwagon and think they need to be the next Sherwood Pictures, but maybe their calling is to that paradigm.

    If we applied the line of reasoning to some other profession – like say, pastors – then would we say we shouldn’t have pastors because they only preach to the church? Are evangelists then elevated because they go outside of the church? Or are missionaries at the top of the hierarchy because they go to unchurched places?

    Everyone has their calling, and sometimes it’s specifically to minister to the church. Others are called to go outside to the world. To put a stamp on everyone and say they must all do something & be something is to negate the amazing creativity of God who made us all unique.

    Do those who call themselves “Christian filmmakers” need to produce high-quality professional work? Yes! Should those who feel called to use only volunteers from their church strive for greater excellence in their work? Yes. But to say that what they do isn’t valid? Or shouldn’t be done? I don’t think we can do that.

    Phil & BMC are for those who can work within the industry – not everyone can do that. I’ve interviewed countless people who are working in Hollywood that say it’s not for everyone, so we shouldn’t try to force anyone into that mold.

  4. @camthecameraman – agreed. We’re commanded to make disciples, love our neighbors as ourselves, etc. But, beyond that each of us was specifically hard-wired for a task or purpose on this planet. And that came from before we were knit together in the womb…God knew us. I’ll blog about it more soon b/c it’s a central theme to this site, but I’m not saying anyone is called to media above anything else, but there are a select group that are wired to make movies. Just as some are called to teach, some are called to Medicine or sports or Politics (God bless ‘em!)

    @AngelaCinema – welcome to the site! And, yes, we are definitely equal opportunity advertisers, you cheeky monkey. We’d even throw on a banner ad for ChristianCinema.com! (No, srsly, call us ;)

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