Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Sermon, the Pitch, and the Cashbox

12/7/05 - updated with related posts below

I confess. I've been counting down the days until the release of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Friday evening I'll be joining a large group from my church to view the film. While at the theater I'll try to put all the marketing hype surrounding the production out of my mind so as not to ruin my enjoyment. As David Wayne notes in his musing about the promotional fervor, "Just as Aslan is on the move in Narnia, so the servants of Mammon are on the move in our world seeking to make us evangelicals their servants." Like David, I too thought back to Tim Challies' question of just how crassly the church is being used to market the new Narnia film as I've witnessed all the hype.

When I read at Reformation 21 that according to the Philadelphia Inquirer Walt Disney Pictures is sponsoring a promotional sermon contest whose winner will be given $1,000, I was shocked. I couldn't believe that Disney would go so far as to sponsor a contest designed to get pastors to give verbal trailers from the pulpit. It just didn't seem like good business sense. Such an offensive move could alienate members of the very audience Disney is banking on to make the film a success.

After a little searching I found what at first appeared to clear Disney of such crass publicity seeking. The "Narnia Sermon Sweepstakes" is sponsored by
SermonCentral.com which claims to be the world's largest sermon research site. In addition to $1,000, the grand prize winner will receive a trip for two to London and Oxford, England to walk where Lewis walked and worshiped. All a pastor has to do to enter the competition is submit a qualifying Narnia-related sermon transcript or outline. Apparently it's not necessary that the sermon actually have been preached but the odds are good that if a pastor has expended the time and effort to compose such a message, it will get preached. And those entries that are eventually posted on SermonCentral's site will probably be preached in some form or another from numerous pulpits. The Inquirer claims that Disney is using hired agencies to promote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in churches. Among them is Outreach Media Inc. which, according to the article, hosts the sermon contest. At first, I thought this was an error having read at SermonCentral.com that it was sponsoring the contest. However, when I visited SermonCentral's page for potential advertisers, I learned that it is an arm of Outreach Media and thus it appears that the sermon contest is indeed another Disney marketing strategy.

Outreach Media Inc. affirms Christian orthodoxy and states its vision as follows: "To create a network of churches and ministries working together to love and serve people with the goal of inviting every person in America to a local Bible believing church and, ultimately, into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." I'm sure there are sincere believers at Outreach who are eager to promote the Narnia film because they are persuaded that it has the potential to turn minds toward contemplation of the gospel. However, given their being in Disney's employ, the decision to run a sermon sweepstakes is a matter of very poor judgment. It may lead some to conclude that the folks at Outreach have succumbed to the craving for Turkish Delight.


Christianity Today asks, "Did Disney Pay for Your Sermon?" and likewise questions "the propriety of offering financial incentives for pastors to preach on a commercial product, even if it is Narnia."

Paul C. at Theospeak.net has a few questions of his own: "What's next, pastors wearing suits emblazoned with sponsor's logos like a NASCAR driver? Maybe cash strapped churches could sell commercial breaks during services to help raise funds?"


Milton Stanley said...

Outstanding post, Keith. I linked to it this morning at my blog. Peace.

Kerry Doyal said...

I wants me a NASCAR outfit with sponsers!

Keith, I was not up on this... wish now I was still ignorant of this . . . so sad.