“Stories are equipment for living. We go to the movies because we hope to find in someone else’s story something that will help us understand our own. We go to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality.” Robert McKee, screenwriting teacher.
“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was in his heart.” Matthew 13:19 (NIV)
“MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL” (Matthew 28:19)
At four-thirty in the afternoon on a Saturday, a man wanders into a church. He has no idea why he is there. If he stuck to his usual pattern, he would be starting on his first beer, getting ready for another long night out at the bar; but as crowded as his usual weekend hangout usually is, he has found that lately he feels lonely in the smoky room. Numbing himself with alcohol doesn’t have the appeal it once did, and it has been taking increasing amounts to do the job. On his way to the bar, he passed a church with a large sign that read: COME AS YOU ARE. The people depicted on the giant poster were smiling… so were the dozens of others streaming toward the modern-looking building. For some unknown reason he was compelled to pull into the parking lot. He’s never been to church, has no religious beliefs, doesn’t understand “Bible” talk, but lately he’s been wondering if there was something more to life than work, TV, the bar scene, and this hollow, empty, desperate feeling. He carries a void within himself so vast that noting seems to fill it…
A woman decides to give church one last chance. She was brought up in a strict, unbending environment where church seemed to function mainly as a device used to scare people into following a set of uncompromising rules. The fire and brimstone of hell was wielded as a weapon toward anyone who didn’t show up regularly, give cash donations, and memorize Bible verses. Laughter was unheard of. The songs were from the sixteenth century. So, apparently, were most of the parishioners. It was torturous to her, yet somehow still oddly compelling because underneath all that guilt and blame she sensed a deeper truth. She tried to find answers by reading the Bible, but had trouble with the antiquated phrasing and complex themes. She understood that somehow the scripture applied to her, but she simply couldn’t connect the outdated lessons to her modern world.
A man shakes her hand, welcoming her warmly, and she enters the sanctuary. This place looks different. Up to date. The music is contemporary. She settles in, a hint of a smile beginning to play across her face. Then the lights come up revealing several odd characters who have found themselves in a ridiculous, yet somehow familiar situation. And the laughter begins…
As Creative Arts Director at a large church in Las Vegas, Nevada, I consider it my job to reach the person that walks into our church who has little or no relationship with God. They have been drawn through our doors for a reason: they are feeling lost, disassociated, and are searching for something to fill empty areas of their life. They may not know why they are in a church, but God does: to form a relationship with Him. I believe the best way to initially reach these seekers is to present Biblical truths in a way that is both relevant and relatable to them. I want to touch their hearts, there and then, and compel them to return again and again because they enjoyed church. I want them to leave with a new understanding and a change in their outlook. I truly believe one of the best ways to do this is through theater.
I started writing, directing, and acting in the modern parables we use to enhance our services in 1996. Since then, the church has grown from hundreds of members to over 6500, becoming the second largest in Nevada, and is still expanding fast.
Why is it developing at this fantastic rate? I believe the answer can be stated in one word:
When a lost person enters a church and watches a service for the first time, hitting them with a bunch of Bible quotes or focusing on some distant time in history that they feel has nothing to do with them may not be the best approach. We want them to be able to relate to what’s going on up there on the stage, to understand how the lesson pertains to them and how it can make a positive change in their life. One way to do that is to introduce the topic of the day through a parable – a simple play that puts the message into modern perspective.
Top church consultant Lyle E. Schaller has sited liberal use of drama as a key tool used by the fastest growing churches, second only to contemporary music. The reason is quite simple: drama engages people’s emotions, thereby touching them in a deep, visceral way.
Frankly, there are a lot of folks who are gun-shy about going to church because they don’t want to be preached at or judged, or because they believe church is an old-fashioned institution stuck forever in the dusty past. Probably the biggest reason people site for not going to church is, “It’s boring.” For the most part, they are absolutely right! As a Church we often spend too much time studying God as if we were in school or at a business seminar. We aim at the head when we should be aiming at the heart.
Theater is a fun, appreciated, effective way to reach people, ease their mind a bit, and engage their hearts. A few laughs will get them to relax, and the contemporary depictions of everyday problems allow them to see that “church people” are, in reality, “normal people” who like to laugh and cry and who have the same difficulties in life that they do. The staff at our church has had numerous instances of people tearfully telling us that we just represented their lives on the stage and how deeply the drama touched them. I can’t tell you how often I have heard it said to me, “I’ve been coming to this church for many years. I don’t remember exactly what the message was about at the first service I attended, but the drama was the one where…!” And then they describe the scene. “Ah, yes,” I say with a smile. “That was a good one.”
If It Was Good Enough For Jesus…
“Then Jesus used stories to teach them many things.” Matthew 13:3 (NCV)
The tradition of theater in the church goes back to Biblical times – parables were one of Jesus’ main methods of teaching. He understood the value of expressing lessons in a way that the audience could relate to and understand. Often newcomers to church listen and watch but they don’t really comprehend how the words correlate with their lives.
Jesus said, “This is why I use stories to teach the people: They see, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:13 NCV)
If this reasoning and method of teaching was good enough for him, it should be good enough for us – he was, after all, the master educator. This time-tested practice of educating through theater can be used to reach your congregation in an entirely new, relevant, contemporary way and catapult your church to the next level. This book is meant as a tool to help you create or further develop your drama ministry. I hope it will give you another way to reach and to teach.
Lee Strobel said, “It’s one thing to talk about God, it’s another to experience God.” Our job is to help people experience God. We do this by engaging the senses, tapping into strong memories, and evoking emotion. If we do our job correctly, people are no longer able to sit and analyze a church service intellectually, because they have been touched in a more basic, gut-level way – with the result of bringing them closer to God.