is the purpose of the church, and how should it convey that message? This is clearly something the makers of Church People have thought about and wrestled with. The new film, which opened in limited engagements March 13, starts out as a pretty hilarious send up of mega churches and their gimmicks. But along the way, the film settles into the heart of its message—Is the Gospel enough?
The film centers on Guy Sides (Thor Ramsey), a youth pastor at a thriving mega church who still has a passion for reaching teens but begins to question his methods, and that of his church. It doesn’t get any better when the Senior Pastor, Skip Finney (Michael Monks), decides the church needs to go big for Easter by holding a live crucifixion on Good Friday. This doesn’t sit well with Guy, and becomes even worse when one of his new converts, a high schooler named Blaise (Clancy McCartney), is selected to be the one crucified.
Guy teams up with Skip’s daughter Carla (Erin Cahill), who is equally leery of the crucifixion, and the church’s erratic worship leader Tino (Joey Fatone) to try and change Skip’s mind before it’s too late. The journey is both humorous and poignant, particularly for the faith-based audience for whom it was made.
Ramsey, who co-wrote the film, is an established Christian comedian who perfectly captures some of the pitfalls and foibles of the modern mega church movement. As someone who has worked for a mega church (classified as 1,000 or more worshippers a week) for nearly nine years, I recognized some of the stunts and personalities that come along with the modern evangelical movement. But Ramsey isn’t here to cast derision or scorn, but rather to ask Christians to take a hard look at the church in relation to the Gospel.
Early in the film, Guy reads the passage 1 John 3:16 to his kids. The passage reads, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (NIV) That is an idea that carries throughout the film as Guy asks Skip and others, including the audience, why the Gospel and Jesus’ sacrifice isn’t enough to hold our attention and inspire us. He then follows that inspiration in a third act that flips the script on the comedy and offers something deeply stirring.
Christian films are tricky, and many aren’t great. When you find one that is well made, able to tell a compelling message as part of a film with compelling story and characters, it’s exciting. Even better is finding one that shows Christians can have a sense of humor and laugh at our own foibles and eccentricities. That’s what I loved most about Church People, a film with plenty of humor and even more heart.
Ramsey is great in the lead role, and the supporting cast is strong, too. Cahill, Monks and Fatone all add to the humor here. One of the secret weapons is Stephen Baldwin, who plays a supporting role that at first comes off as odd but, by the end, is perhaps the most endearing in the film.
If you’re looking for a laugh and a faith-based film with heart, Church People knocks it out of the park.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a proud member of the Drive-In Podcast Network.