Summer movies. We often try to leverage them to reach students, but they come with as many liabilities as they do opportunities.
Can I tell you a personal story?
Years ago, I was watching our teens head out after one of our weekly student ministry gatherings. Attendance that night seemed higher than usual and included some first-time upperclassmen guys who seemed unchurched. I couldn’t pinpoint why we had this surge until I walked by a conversation one of our adult volunteers was having with a few students.
“Sounds great, guys,” he said, “just be sure your moms know we’ll be back late.”
Curious, I asked, “So, where you guys going?”
“After the meeting tonight I’m taking my small group to see a movie,” he answered.
“Oh, gotcha. Those guys aren’t in your small group, though.”
“I know,” he replied. “It turns out that my guys invited a bunch of friends to come with, and so we’re having to do some last minute coordinating.”
This was pretty exciting stuff. It was evangelism 101 in tangible motion. “Nice,” I offered, wanting to celebrate with him. “So that’s why we had so many new faces.”
“Yeah. We’re going to see that new action movie that takes place in the future. It has multiple interesting comparisons to the Christian faith and I thought it’d be a good chance to talk with my guys about how the movie industry presents ideas about life to us through entertainment.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, thinking out loud. “From what I heard and read that movie has all kinds of controversial scenes and violence in it. You can’t take the students to see that!”
Caught off guard, he countered, “What? I already made plans and my guys brought their friends tonight. Besides, you know that the kids will see it anyway.”
I sighed. “That’s no reason to sway them over to it, though. It’s like an endorsement from our ministry because those guys all came here first and are going with you.”
“Tony,” he said, with calm frustration under his voice, “they’re all about to be seniors in the fall and their parents gave them permission to do this. Next year they’ll be out of the youth ministry and having to make decisions like this on their own. This is their last summer together before life gets crazy for them. We even have one of the girls small groups joining us along with their leader. Shouldn’t they at least see a movie like this with Christians like us who will help them process it in a healthy way?”
What do you think about this tension?
My experience is that teenagers don’t care if you know all the latest bands, have seen the hottest movies of the season or if you can play Ultimate Frisbee like a pro. Those things may be tools that can create conversations, but we need to wield them like we would a tool – “measure twice, cut once.”
In simple terms, students want to know that you love them and want to spend time with them (so that they can better understand how God loves them and wants to spend time with them). There are multiple ways to do that, and each requires thinking through what we say or endorse… especially since they are each someone else’s kid under our mentoring.
What do you think about summer movies, whether you’re watching them in a theater or in a living room together?
Do you tend to take the “It’s no big deal” approach or err on the side of only supporting certain films conservatively?
And, even deeper… why do you take that approach?
Let’s help each other out on this. I’d love to hear your comments.