Saturday, December 31, 2011

Weekend Forecast: 'M:I-4' To Lead Final Weekend of 2011

Audiences looking to catch up on the crush of holiday movies have another chance over New Year's weekend, which officially qualifies as the final weekend of 2011.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol has easily held the top spot for the past eight days, and should manage to maintain a lead over Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and claim first place for the second-straight weekend. Through the end of the four-day holiday frame (Friday-Monday), Ghost Protocol will likely have passed Mission: Impossible III's $134 million total.

Once again, Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks should round out the Top Three on the box office chart. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows passed the $100 million mark on Wednesday, becoming the first December 2011 release to reach this plateau. Despite ongoing solid grosses, though, neither Sherlock nor Alvin have any chance of reaching their predecessors' totals ($209 million and $219.6 million, respectively).

This is a big weekend for both The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and War Horse. Despite a strong campaign and relentless internet buzz, Dragon Tattoo only managed to gross $32.5 million through its first seven days in theaters. For the movie to have any chance of breaking $100 million (and subsequently kick-start sequel talks), it's going to need to turn out adult audiences in droves this weekend.

War Horse, on the other hand, had a great $14.5 million two-day opening on Sunday and Monday before plummeting to the back of the new-release pack on Tuesday and Wednesday. The movie will need to regain significant momentum this weekend and wind up in the Top Five, or else that strong start will be regarded as a fluke.

While there aren't any major new movies, there are a handful of limited releases this weekend. Focus Features' Pariah had a solid $21,824 debut at four locations on Wednesday, and will look to build on that success over the four-day weekend. Riding poor reviews but plenty of Oscar attention for star Meryl Streep, biopic The Iron Lady debuts at four locations on Friday. Finally, well-reviewed Iranian drama A Separation reaches three venues on Friday. While it will probably have a quiet opening, expect Sony Pictures Classics to mount a significant limited expansion following its inevitable Best Foreign Language Academy Award nomination next month.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Best of Christmas - Part 2

6. One Magic Christmas

You’ll have a hard time finding this on cable television or at Wal-Mart or Target. It’s probably one of the least known on my list. But it’s worth the effort to find it. One Magic Christmas takes a tough look at the holidays. Not everything is peachy. In fact, I think many people can relate to this film thanks to the tough economic times we are going through. Mary Steenburgen’s character is dealing with lost dreams and disillusionment during the holidays as her husband is laid off from his job. Sometimes we don’t know what real loss is until we are reminded. One Magic Christmas has the wonderment and magic with a sense of realism that It’s a Wonderful Life offers.

7. Miracle on 34th Street

No way can I leave this one off my list. I’m sure everyone has seen this one. There’s at least three versions available. For my money, I would go with the original 1947 edition. What I find interesting about this film and what I think a lot of people miss is that it is a discussion of the issues of the modern family as the lead character is a single mother struggling to balance career and family. Miracle on 34th Street is based in fantasy in one sense but has a realistic view of life in another sense. The question is how do we balance the two while retaining our childlike ability to dream and to use our imagination to believe that anything is possible?

8. White Christmas

This film is a total joy. Shot in beautiful Technicolor, how can you go wrong with the talent of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney? This is a celebration of all things American. I absolutely love the music of Irving Berlin. The musical numbers are sensational. This film has never looked better because there is a restored Blu-ray edition available. White Christmas is a sentimental journey of song and dance. The plot goes something like this. Two army buddies who have hit it big on Broadway decide to help their former army commander who is danger of losing his Vermont Inn. Of course, along the way, there will be a series of complications and romantic escapades.

9. A Christmas Carol

I don’t know where to start with this one. There has been so many versions of Charles Dicken’s classic over the years, including last year’s offering with Jim Carey and Gary Oldman. I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on whether or not it’s any good. But my favorite version is from 1984 starring George C. Scott. He makes the perfect Scrooge. The film is very authentic and the special effects are not over the top. I know you’ve probably seen it a hundred times, but it’s always worth another viewing at Christmas.

10. A Season for Miracles

This film originally aired in 1999 as part of Hallmark’s Hall of Fame. It has developed a rather loyal following over the years perhaps because it’s been difficult to find on television or at your video store. I think it is one of Hallmark’s better offerings. The story is about an aunt who has to take custody of her niece and nephew because their mother is institutionalized after an attempted drug overdose. She’s afraid they will fall into foster care and flees the situation and finds her way to a small town called Bethlehem that offers an opportunity at redemption and a second chance in life. Patty Duke is on hand as the guardian angel. It’s a wonderful story and a very optimistic one at that.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Best of Christmas - Part 1

This past week, I sat down and watched a couple new Christmas movies on television. It got me to thinking what exactly makes a good Christmas film. Without naming names, the ones I watched would not make my list of the best Christmas movies. Here’s what ingredients work best: you need a sense of wonderment, a magical feel, a movie that makes you feel like a child again. I’m looking for something that restores my faith in mankind that we all have the desire and ability to care for each other. A good Christmas film should instill hope for a better tomorrow.

So what are my top ten movies that capture the essence and the spirit of Christmas?

1. National Lampoons 
Christmas Vacation

This one is my guilty pleasure. I know it’s crude, but it’s ridiculously funny. And we are all guilty at some point in maybe going a little bit overboard with the holidays like Clark Griswold. He’s a good guy, and all he wants to do is the right thing and provide a great Christmas for his family. But as you can imagine, complications arise just as in real life. No big message in this film, just a lot of entertainment value. I make a point to watch this movie every year. It’s like an old friend. Somehow it just gets better with age.

2. The Santa Clause

This one is definitely an original. Of course, it’s been copied countless times. But forget about all of the counterfeits. The Santa Clause has heart and passion. It offers a look at the modern family and the difficulties it presents during the holidays. Not everything in this film is sunshine and happiness. Tim Allen’s character is an absentee father who is self-absorbed in his work. He’s in desperate need of an attitude readjustment. The film is magical, funny, and has all of the right elements. Absolutely a perfect holiday film.

3. It’s a Wonderful Life

How can you go wrong with Jimmy Stewart. This is absolutely a “must see”. Recently, I talked to someone who has never seen this film. How is that possible? This is a story about a man who thinks his life has been a waste until he gets an opportunity to see what life would have been like had he never been born. Sometimes we never know what kind of impact we make on people’s lives and what a positive influence we can have on the people around us. George Bailey discovers that he really does have a wonderful life. This film offers us a timely message that is still relevant today.

4. The Homecoming, A Christmas Story

You don’t often see this one on television. The Homecoming was the pilot for the successful 1970’s series The Waltons. The Homecoming is a celebration of the joys of family and the struggles that we all must endure. Set in rural Virginia during the height of the depression in the 1930s, The Homecoming feels like a warm memory from our childhood past. At times you feel like you are actually there. It’s amazing considering they shot the exteriors in the Grand Teton National Park and the interiors on a sound stage in Los Angeles. They captured the nuances of this historical period from the 1930’s depression in an authentic manner. There is nothing more universal than the desire to be home with your family at Christmas. I think this is a film everyone can relate to.

5. A Christmas Story

Everybody loves this film except my wife. I don’t understand why she dislikes it so much. I love this movie. Who hasn’t wanted a Christmas gift as a child and schemed on how to get it. Ralphie is determined to get a Red Rider carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle at all costs. Obviously, mayhem ensues as a result. A Christmas Story has been made famous because of TBS who airs it continuously 24 hours starting on Christmas Eve. There’s no way you can miss this one. A Christmas Story was released in 1983 and feels like it could have come from the 1940s.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Midnight in Paris

I can’t say I’m a big Woody Allen fan. I can take him or leave him. Over the past few years, his work has become unbalanced to say the least. But when he’s good, he’s very good. In fact, his career has spanned over two generations. The man has been a filmmaking machine. He’s either written, directed, or stared in 41 feature films.

His latest film, Midnight in Paris, is a return to the type of films that helped make Woody Allen a legend. I consider Midnight in Paris to be one of the best films I’ve seen this year. I’m sure it’s going to make every critic’s top ten list for 2011. It’s billed as a romantic comedy, but it is so much more than that. Midnight in Paris weaves both nostalgic and modernistic themes into the story. It’s a commentary about the way humans think about their current reality as well as a desire to escape to a simpler time.

Midnight in Paris is absolutely delightful. It’s magical in every sense of the word. As the title suggests, the film is set in Paris. The city doesn’t serve just as a location but is a principal character in the film. The first 3 ½ minutes of the movie present a postcard montage of the sights and sounds of what makes Paris so irresistible.

Although this is a romantic comedy, the real romance isn’t between boy meets girl but is more about boy meets city. Owen Wilson plays Gil, a hopeless romantic. Although he is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, his life is lacking something to give it more meaning.

Gil travels to Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), along with his future in-laws. He hopes to complete his first novel and maybe even convince Inez that Paris is the perfect place to start their new life together. Inez on the other hand has other plans. She sees the perfect life for both of them back home in Malibu.

Gil and Inez are never quite on the same page. Let’s just say that Gil is going to have a chance to discover his inspiration and find his footing in life. In a fun kind of way and never mean spirited, they seem to disagree on everything. I don’t want to spoil the magic that this film offers so I won’t go into the plot any further.

Owen Wilson may seem an odd choice for the part of Gil; however, in one sense, he’s the perfect Wood Allen prototype. Just like most Woody Allen characters, Owen Wilson brings the right combination of sarcasm, wit, insecurity, and neuroticism.

So is Midnight in Paris a redemptive film? Does it have a message? As I said, it does explore some interesting themes. What was the Golden Age? Why do we think that the past was always better? Like some of us, Gil feels he was born in the wrong age. Somehow, he just doesn’t fit into today’s modern world.

But the real message of Midnight in Paris is learning to live in the reality of our existence, making peace and perhaps understanding there really was no Golden Age. In reality, our Golden Age is what we make of our lives in the present.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol

I normally don’t like doing reviews on big-budget Hollywood blockbuster action movies. There are plenty of other websites and movie reviewers that do that. We usually look at smaller movies or the type of films that fly under the radar screen. But I couldn’t help myself in the case of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. I grew up watching Mission Impossible back in the 1960s and 1970s so I’m definitely a fan. I love the espionage genre. There’s nothing more exciting than pulling a fast one and getting away with the goods. And nobody excels better at that then the Impossible Mission force or IMF.

I was thrilled in 1996 when the series was adapted into theatrical films. The previous three movies have been excellent. The good news is Ghost Protocol is the best of the series yet. This is a sensational film that not only offers spectacular action sequences but, more importantly, also has a solid story with good character development along the way. It’s everything you expect in a thriller and then some.

Did I say the action sequences were spectacular? If you’re scared of heights, you might want to keep your eyes closed during the part where Tom Cruise (who does his own stunts) is climbing the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is over 2,600 feet tall. Ghost Protocol reminds me of James Bond films when they were hitting their stride. It has many similarities to Bond films, such as outlandish and exotic locations, supervilians, unbelievable chase sequences and, of course, a stylish, dark and mysterious leading man.

Tom Cruise is not only solid but exceeds in his portrayal of the lead IMF agent, Ethan Hunt. Over the years, Cruise has had his detractors to say the least. To put it bluntly, the movie critics seem to despise Tom Cruise on a personal level. I just don’t get it. Why the hate? Did he leave them off of their Christmas card list? Tom Cruise is a solid actor. He consistently delivers a good performance. He’s perfect in the role of Ethan Hunt. And he can do several more Mission Impossible movies if he desires. I think it’s going to be the signature role in his career.

Back to the movie. We find Ethan Hunt sitting in a Russian prison. His fellow IMF agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are dispatched to break him out of prison. A code name operant (Cobalt) is trying to acquire secret, Russian active nuclear launch codes. In order to discover the true identity of Cobalt, Ethan Hunt must break into the Kremlin. Of course, things don’t go as planned. A massive explosion rips through the Kremlin, and the IMF team is blamed for the terrorist act. The President of the United States, having no other choice, must disavow the existence of the IMF team by enacting Ghost Protocol. Without support or backup, Hunt and his remaining IMF agents must stop Cobalt, who is bent on acquiring the codes and a nuclear launch control device. His ultimate plan is for a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia, and the only one standing in his way is Ethan Hunt.

That’s the basic plot; however, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way so I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. As with any Mission Impossible story, there will be plenty of disguises, double-crosses, and maybe even a triple cross.

Bottom line: It’s just a fun movie. Yes, there’s plenty of eye candy from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai. As I said Tom Cruise does his own stunts. I don’t know if the guy is courageous or completely out of his mind. But you’ve got to give him credit; he puts everything he has into making a movie. You get his best shot. So if you are looking for a thriller that actually thrills, then I suggest you put this on your Christmas viewing list.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christian Movie Connect Episode 22 - Mark Fincannon

Renowned casting director Mark Fincannon gives Christian Movie Connect followers great audition tips and practical pointers on how to produce a remarkable video audition. He also shares with CMC host Cheryl Ariaz Wicker his thoughts on his role as a Christian in the film industry

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas Story

I don’t know many people who don’t love The Christmas Story. No, I’m not referring to the movie but to the actual birth of Jesus. It’s a remarkable story that’s inspiring and uplifting. Think about it. Two young people, Joseph and his betrothed, pregnant, and future wife, Mary, are forced to travel across the country to the place of Joseph’s lineage for a census commanded by the Roman emperor, Augustus. Because Joseph was a descendent of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem, the place prophesied for centuries as the birthplace of the Savior.

Because there was no room for them in the Inn, they sought refuge in a cave. After the child, Jesus, was born, they lay him in a manger, which is a feeding trough for animals (such humble beginnings, parents of little means, against all odds). They helped bring forth the miracle of miracles. Who wouldn’t love the baby Jesus?

Luke 2: 8 – 14. 8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, goodwill toward men!

I think we’re all on board when it comes to good tidings and great joy. As far as peace on earth and goodwill toward men, who wouldn’t want that? The baby Jesus and the Christmas story offer hope and redemption for mankind. Sounds good. But there is a slight problem to the story. The baby Jesus grew up to be Jesus the man. He brought forth a profound message, a Gospel, a way to live our lives. Did he not? Jesus made it clear that we are our brother’s keeper. He told us to put God first in all things and to put others ahead of our interests. Although we may agree with this message in principle and on a theological and philosophical plain, applying it to our daily lives in a practical manner presents challenges to say the least.

There is a cost to following Jesus, the man. Most of us, including even Christians, have come to a conclusion in one way or another that applying the principles that Jesus taught has an enormous down side when it comes to achieving what one wants in life. Frankly, there’s just no percentage in putting other people first. It’s not that we don’t care about our fellowman or care about our society in general. If you want to get ahead in life or work, you have to think about you first. And that’s the whole problem with Jesus’ message. The Christmas story and the baby Jesus aren’t hard to embrace, but when it comes to Jesus, the man, that’s a whole different matter.

To put it in simple terms, Jesus wants us to be “good hearted” and sensitive to the people around us. When you see a need, you meet it. When something needs to be done, you pitch in. That means you’re going to be unconvinced and, perhaps, taken advantage of from time to time. It’s easy to just adopt the attitude “I just don’t want to be bothered”. Does being good hearted cut it in the world we live in? Most of us don’t want to be run over whether that’s in business or live in general.

So following Jesus and his teachings may very well mean that you won’t get to live in the house that you desire or drive an expensive luxury car, or take the vacations you want or even send your kids to a private, expensive school. So at this time of the year when we think about the Christmas story and the baby Jesus, maybe we can take a look at the bigger picture. Celebrating Jesus is much more than having an excuse for a holiday on December 25. It’s a way of life that must define your existence as a person; otherwise, Christmas means absolutely nothing!

I know it’s easier to think about good tidings, peace on earth and all of that. But good will toward men is going to start with you and with me and how we decide to live our lives. It’s something to think about. The Christmas story is more about Jesus the man than just Jesus the baby.

P. S. Remember that Jesus was born as a man on earth to ultimately give his life as a man to redeem us and reconcile us to God. I think living out his principles is the least we can do in return.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts

The Barna Group team spent much of the last five years exploring the lives of young people who drop out of church. The research provides many insights into the spiritual journeys of teens and young adults. The findings are revealed extensively in a new book called, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith.

The research uncovered five myths and realities about today's young dropouts.

Myth 1: Most people lose their faith when they leave high school.

Reality: There has been considerable attention paid to the so-called loss of faith that happens between high school and early adulthood. Some have estimated this dropout in alarming terms, estimating that a large majority of young Christians will lose their faith. The reality is more nuanced. In general, there are three distinct patterns of loss: prodigals, nomads, and exiles.

One out of nine young people who grow up with a Christian background lose their faith in Christianity—a group described by the research team as prodigals. In essence, prodigals say they have lost their faith after being a Christian at some time in their past.

More commonly, young Christians wander away from the institutional church—a pattern the researchers labeled nomads. Roughly four out of ten young Christians fall into this category. They still call themselves Christians but they are far less active in church than they were during high school. Nomads have become 'lost' to church participation.

Another two out of ten young Christians were categorized as exiles, those who feel lost between the "church culture" and the society they feel called to influence. The sentiments of exiles include feeling that "I want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects with the world I live in," "I want to be a Christian without separating myself from the world around me" and "I feel stuck between the comfortable faith of my parents and the life I believe God wants from me."

Overall, about three out of ten young people who grow up with a Christian background stay faithful to church and to faith throughout their transitions from the teen years through their twenties.

David Kinnaman, who directed the research, concluded: "The reality of the dropout problem is not about a huge exodus of young people from the Christian faith. In fact, it is about the various ways that young people become disconnected in their spiritual journey. Church leaders and parents cannot effectively help the next generation in their spiritual development without understanding these three primary patterns. The conclusion from the research is that most young people with a Christian background are dropping out of conventional church involvement, not losing their faith."

Myth 2: Dropping out of church is just a natural part of young adults' maturation.

Reality: First, this line of reasoning ignores that tens of millions of young Christians never lose their faith or drop out of church. Thus, leaving church or losing faith should not be a foregone conclusion.

Second, leaving church has not always been normative. Evidence exists that during the first half of the 1900s, young adults were not less churched than were older adults. In fact, Boomers appear to be the first American generation that dropped out of church participation in significant numbers when they became young adults. So, in one sense, the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were part of the evolution of the church dropout phenomenon during the rise of youth culture of the 1960s.

In addition to continuing the dropout pattern of previous generations, today's teens and young adults (identified by Barna Group as Mosaics) are spiritually the most eclectic generation the nation has seen. They are also much less likely than prior generations to begin their religious explorations with Christianity. Moreover, their pervasive technology use is deepening the generation gap, allowing Mosaics (often called Millennials of Gen Y) to embrace new ways of learning about and connecting to the world.

Kinnaman commented on this myth: "The significant spiritual and technological changes over the last 50 years make the dropout problem more urgent. Young people are dropping out earlier, staying away longer, and if they come back are less likely to see the church as a long-term part of their life. Today's young adults who drop out of faith are continuing something the Boomers began as a generation of spiritual free agents. Yet, today's dropout phenomenon is a more intractable, complex problem."

Myth 3: College experiences are the key factor that cause people to drop out.

Reality: College certainly plays a role in young Christians' spiritual journeys, but it is not necessarily the 'faith killer' many assume. College experiences, particularly in public universities, can be neutral or even adversarial to faith. However, it is too simplistic to blame college for today's young church dropouts. As evidence, many young Christians dissociate from their church upbringing well before they reach a college environment; in fact, many are emotionally disconnected from church before their 16th birthday.

"The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group." Kinnaman pointed to research findings showing that "only a small minority of young Christians has been taught to think about matters of faith, calling, and culture. Fewer than one out of five have any idea how the Bible ought to inform their scholastic and professional interests. And most lack adult mentors or meaningful friendships with older Christians who can guide them through the inevitable questions that arise during the course of their studies. In other words, the university setting does not usually cause the disconnect; it exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples."

Myth 4: This generation of young Christians is increasingly "biblically illiterate."

Reality: The study examined beliefs across the firm's 28-year history, looking for generational gaps in spiritual beliefs and knowledge. When comparing the faith of young practicing faith Christians (ages 18 to 29) to those of older practicing Christians (ages 30-plus), surprisingly few differences emerged between what the two groups believe. This means that within the Christian community, the theological differences between generations are not as pronounced as might be expected. Young Christians lack biblical knowledge on some matters, but not significantly more so than older Christians.

Instead, the research showed substantial differences among those outside of Christianity. That is, older non-Christians were more familiar than younger non-Christians with Bible stories and Christian theology, even if they did not personally embrace those beliefs.

The Barna president described this as "unexpected, because one often hears how theologically illiterate young Christians are these days. Instead, when it comes to questions of biblical literacy, the broader culture seems to be losing its collective understanding of Christian teachings. In other words, Christianity is no longer 'autopilot' for the nation's youngest citizens.

"Many younger Christians are cognizant that their peers are increasingly unfriendly or indifferent toward Christian beliefs and commitment. As a consequence, young Christians recognize that the nature of sharing one's faith is changing. For example, many young Christians believe they have to be more culturally engaged in order to communicate Christianity to their peers. For younger Christians, matters of orthodoxy are deeply interconnected with questions of how and why the Gospel advances among a post-Christian generation."

Myth 5: Young people will come back to church like they always do.

Reality: Some faith leaders minimize the church dropout problem by assuming that young adults will come back to the church when they get older, especially when they have children. However, previous research conducted by Barna Group raises doubts about this conclusion.

Furthermore, the social changes since 1960 make this generation much less likely to follow the conventional path to having children: Mosaics (often called Millennials or Gen Y) are getting married roughly six years later than did the Boomers; they are having their first child much later in life; and they are eight times more likely than were the youth of the 1960s to come from homes where their own biological parents were never married.

The author of the new Barna book, You Lost Me, Kinnaman asked several questions in response to conventional wisdom: "If this generation is having children later in life, are church leaders simply content to wait longer? And if Mosaics return, will they do so with extra burdens—emotional, financial, spiritual, and relational—from their years apart from Christian community? More to the point, what if Mosaics turn out to be a generation in which most do not return?

"Churches, organizations and families owe this generation more. They should be treated as the intelligent, capable individuals they are—a generation with a God-given destiny. Renewed commitment is required to rethink and realign disciple-making in this new context. Mosaic believers need better, deeper relationships with other adult Christians. They require a more holistic understanding of their vocation and calling in life—how their faith influences what they do with their lives, from Monday through Saturday. And they also need help discerning Jesus' leading in their life, including greater commitment to knowing and living the truth of Scripture."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

Many parents and church leaders wonder how to most effectively cultivate durable faith in the lives of young people. A five-year project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman explores the opportunities and challenges of faith development among teens and young adults within a rapidly shifting culture. The findings of the research are included in a new book by Kinnaman titled You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church.

The research project was comprised of eight national studies, including interviews with teenagers, young adults, parents, youth pastors, and senior pastors. The study of young adults focused on those who were regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.

A few of the defining characteristics of today's teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).

Turning Toward Connection

David Kinnaman, who is the coauthor of the book unChristian, explained that “the problem of young adults dropping out of church life is particularly urgent because most churches work best for ‘traditional’ young adults – those whose life journeys and life questions are normal and conventional. But most young adults no longer follow the typical path of leaving home, getting an education, finding a job, getting married and having kids—all before the age of 30. These life events are being delayed, reordered, and sometimes pushed completely off the radar among today’s young adults.

“Consequently, churches are not prepared to handle the ‘new normal.’ Instead, church leaders are most comfortable working with young, married adults, especially those with children. However, the world for young adults is changing in significant ways, such as their remarkable access to the world and worldviews via technology, their alienation from various institutions, and their skepticism toward external sources of authority, including Christianity and the Bible.”

The research points to two opposite, but equally dangerous responses by faith leaders and parents: either catering to or minimizing the concerns of the next generation. The study suggests some leaders ignore the concerns and issues of teens and twentysomethings because they feel that the disconnection will end when young adults are older and have their own children. Yet, this response misses the dramatic technological, social and spiritual changes that have occurred over the last 25 years and ignores the significant present-day challenges these young adults are facing.

Other churches seem to be taking the opposite corrective action by using all means possible to make their congregation appeal to teens and young adults. However, putting the focus squarely on youth and young adults causes the church to exclude older believers and “builds the church on the preferences of young people and not on the pursuit of God,” Kinnaman said.

Between these extremes, the just-released book You Lost Me points to ways in which the various concerns being raised by young Christians (including church dropouts) could lead to revitalized ministry and deeper connections in families. Kinnaman observed that many churches approach generations in a hierarchical, top-down manner, rather than deploying a true team of believers of all ages. “Cultivating intergenerational relationships is one of the most important ways in which effective faith communities are developing flourishing faith in both young and old. In many churches, this means changing the metaphor from simply passing the baton to the next generation to a more functional, biblical picture of a body – that is, the entire community of faith, across the entire lifespan, working together to fulfill God’s purposes.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

New Barna Study Reports Millennials are Rethinking Christianity

The Christian community is struggling to remain connected with the next generation of teens and young adults. In particular, the church is “losing” many young creatives (like designers, artists, writers, musicians, and actors) as well as young science-minded students (such as medical students, engineers, biologists and mathematicians).

Another key theme from Barna Group’s research in 2011 is the new generation gap hitting the Christian community. Many of today’s congregations are struggling to remain connected with Millennials (a generation that Barna calls Mosaics). The faith journeys of teens and young adults are often challenging for many parents and faith leaders, who often misunderstand how and why young people become disconnected. Barna Group’s Faith That Lasts Project emphasizes the fact that every individual is different and experiences a unique series of events that lead to disconnection. Yet, the research also points to six reasons that young adults leave church as well as five common myths about church dropouts.

In particular, 84% of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit that they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests. For example, young adults who are interested in creative or science-oriented careers often disconnect from their faith or from the church. On the creative side, this includes young musicians, artists, writers, designers, and actors. On the science-oriented side, young engineers, medical students, and science and math majors frequently struggle to see how the Bible relates to their life’s calling.

This is particularly urgent because nearly half of Christian teenagers aspire to careers in science and nearly one-fifth are interested in creative professions. The Barna study showed that faith communities can become more effective in working with the next generation by linking vocation and faith.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Grace Card

Finally! An evangelical Christian movie that delivers the goods. The Grace Card is an excellent, well crafted film that took me by surprise. Over the years, it’s been well documented that most Christian films seldom achieve the production values of typical mainstream Hollywood movies. The Grace Card has broken through the barrier and delivers credible dialogue, a solid story, and polished production values.

Folks, this film looks amazing. It’s been reported that The Grace Card was made with a paltry $200,000 budget by a first-time director, David G. Evans, whose day job is a full-time Optometrist. Evans followed the playbook from the producers who made Fireproof and Courageous. He mixed a professional crew along with volunteers to keep the budget in check; however, he was wise to bring in veteran Hollywood screenwriter Howard Klausner (Space Cowboys) to write the script. Believe me; it made all the difference in the world.

Klausner elevated the material to emphasize the dramatic moments in a realistic and gritty manner, which is necessary to make this story plausible and believable. John Paul Clark, who is the film’s Director of Photography, was masterful in shooting the rugged landscape of Memphis, Tennessee. The aerial shots were also an added bonus. I’m not saying that The Grace Card is perfect by any means. It does have some issues, especially the ending. But, as I said, this is a major step forward in the right direction for Christian films.

The Grace Card tells the story of patrolman Mac McDonald (Michael Joiner), who lost his first-born son in a tragic accident due to a drug deal gone bad. Seventeen years later, Mac is still trying to put his life back together. He has an enormous attitude problem at home and at work and has been repeatedly passed over for promotion. On the home front, his relationship with his teenage son is deteriorating. In fact, all of his relationships are in a state of decay. I’m not sure Mac sees any point in living. He’s merely going through the motions.

Adding to the frustration is his newly appointed partner Sam Wright (Mike Higgenbottom), who is a part-time pastor. Sam is an African American who has just been promoted to Sargeant. Making matters worse, Sam detects a notable racist attitude oozing from Mac.

Sam is struggling with coming to terms with whether or not he wants to be a full-time pastor or a life-time career police officer. But his real struggle is how does he lives out his Christian values and extend grace to someone who clearly dislikes him? Adding a word of wisdom and counsel is the Reverend George Wright played by Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr. who is Sam’s grandfather. Rev. George helps steer Sam onto the right path by sharing a story about Sam’s great, great grandfather.

The Grace Card offers plenty of twists and turns. All of the characters will have to come to terms with the issue of grace and how it is applied. I’m struck with just how good this movie is. The Grace Card makes a case that Christianity is a great concept; however, trying to live it and put it into practical application is another matter. The fact is without grace and freely applying it, it is impossible to live a Christian life. Where do we find the power the power to give grace freely?

The Grace Card is set against the backdrop of inner city Memphis with its racial strife and division. Cleverly, the movie makes a point that instead of playing the race card, perhaps the way we can heal our differences is to play the grace card. As I said earlier, The Grace Card is not perfect by any means. The ending is a bit simplistic and, frankly, not plausible. In the real world, it’s unlikely that everything can be wrapped up into a neat package.

The producers felt the need to write a perfect ending in which everyone find’s forgiveness and redemption. I just wish they would have left a few strings hanging. It’s also sad to say that The Grace Card does follow the typical Christian playbook a well. Yes, we have someone at the altar coming to Jesus. In life, redemption and healing takes time. It’s a process. I just wish the producers could have had a little bit more faith in the audience to understand that grace itself is a process. And, just like growing a plant, you have to add water frequently to make it grow.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Video: In SNL sketch, Jesus tells Tebow to ‘take it down a notch’

In case the morning talk show profiles, CNN updates and frequent monologue jokes weren't enough to demonstrate the cultural zeitgeist of Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos quarterback was the subject of a sketch on this weekend's episode of "Saturday Night Live." Taran Killam played the wide-eyed Tebow, Andy Samberg was kicking hero Matt Prater and Jason Sudekis played the man responsible for Denver's second-half success, who advises the Broncos to take care of the game themselves instead of having Him come in and bail them out every fourth quarter.

And such is the power of Tebow that Matt Prater, a placekicker heretofore with barely known outside the immediate Prater family, got a shout out on the country's most famous comedy program.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Is Congress Prepared To Deregulate Television?

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) apparently think so based on the cable- and satellite-friendly bill they submitted today called the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act. It would end retransmission consent — the rules that require pay TV providers to negotiate deals with local broadcasters to carry their programming. It doesn’t stop there: The proposal also would end restrictions that enable syndicators to sell shows exclusively into different markets. And it would scrap rules that bar cable companies from importing network programming from out-of-market stations when they can’t strike deals with local broadcasters.

DeMint used the trendy magic words — “job creation” — to support the bill. To promote innovation, he says, “we need to stop issuing new regulations and instead remove and modernize rules written to address the last century’s business and regulatory models.” DirecTV agrees, saying that the proposal would “eliminate byzantine regulations that shackle innovation, competition and consumer choice.”

But when it comes to wielding political clout, the bill’s supporters probably are no match for the National Association of Broadcasters which says it “respectfully” opposes the legislation. “Current law ensures access to quality local news, entertainment, sports and life-saving weather warnings. The proposed changes to the Communications Act strike at the core of free market negotiations and broadcast localism, thereby threatening a community-based information and entertainment medium that serves tens of millions of Americans each day.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where Are You?

I know you’re out there. I’m just not sure where you are. God has given me a vision for media and how we can use it effectively for global outreach. And I’m convinced I’m not the only one who has been given this vision. Yes, you are out there somewhere. You feel the same way that I do. You know there is something terribly wrong with the world. You probably feel the Church has been ineffective in reflecting the true nature of Christ. You know media is a problem, but you also feel that somehow it’s the solution. You’re not sure how to express or articulate how you feel. And when you talk to people about these issues, they seem to look at you as if you are speaking a foreign language. You just don’t have the words or haven’t connected the dots to make it seem sensible and reasonable.

Whether you work in the media and entertainment industry or in some other occupation, it really doesn’t matter. If God’s given you a vision for media, He’s given you the vision. We need each other. I need you, and you need me. I want to provide you with the resources, information and knowledge that I’ve accumulated for the past 25 years in my search for the truth and on my quest to fulfill my calling as a media missionary.

My part is to build Media Missionary School, both a physical and virtual place of ministry, and to inspire others to duplicate it. I need your help to continue to do what I am doing, so that I can help you to fulfill the mission and the calling that God has given you. So we need each other. That’s the bottom line. So where are you?

Do you want to change culture? Do you want to change the world? Then the first step is to develop visual storytellers for global outreach. That means that we will need to raise up, equip, train, and support media missionaries to the mainstream media and entertainment industry. In order for that to happen, we will need to develop the messenger and the message And none of this happens unless we can educate the Body of Christ on issues of media, faith and culture. That’s why we need each other.

God may very well be calling you to play a part in this mission. First he may call you to actually work in the media as a media missionary. Or he can be calling you to work at the local church as a conduit to inspire, mentor and raise up media missionaries. I want to help you to fulfill your calling and the vision God has put on your heart.

One thing is for sure—that nagging or impression from God will not go away. You may not have all the answers, or perhaps none of this completely makes sense. But I’m sure you are part of the puzzle and have part of the solution. I hope to help you to fill in the missing pieces.

We are not called to serve on an island. That’s why we need each other to fulfill our destiny and calling. One of the reasons that Christianity has hit the wall is because we are all doing our own thing. We are one Body with many parts, and each has a function to fulfill. My part is to empower you, inspire you, and give you practical information and knowledge that will allow you to fulfill your purpose. Together, we can serve as one to fulfill the Great Commission through the use of media and entertainment to evangelize the entire globe.

Where are you? You most certainly are out there. I am praying that God will connect us. With his help we can find each other and put the pieces together.

Here’s how you can find me:

Harold Hay, President and Founder
Media Missionary School and Flannelgraph Ministries

Phone: 859-918-6220.