May 29th, 2015.
Circle it on your calendar. No foolin’. Could this be the day that drastically reinvents wide-released faith-based movies for years to come?
Hillsong: Let Hope Rise will debut before Easter this year on the largest screens in North America. Jonathan Bock, Grace Hill Media’s lead producer behind the film, in Worship Leader magazine relates this to be “one of the most unique and innovative new projects to emerge among the recent flurry of films focused on the faith community.”
Bock says the film (directed by Michael John Warren, the man behind Jay-Z’s feature, Fade to Black) is unique, in that “we’re trying to do something that, to my knowledge, has never been attempted before…”
We want to create an active worship experience in movie theaters.
Bock goes on to say, “Of course, we expect to attract Christians, but it’s the potential of reaching a wider movie-going audience that really sets (it) apart.”*
Growing up in the little town of Woodland, Washington, I was raised a ‘Bible-toting-tongue-speaking-chandelier-swingin’-holy-rollin’-dyed-in-the-wool-Pentecostal.’ We would make most black churches proud, with Grandma and my aunts dancing down the aisles and Brother Peas (rest his soul) taking the ‘Jericho Run’ around the sanctuary. Even though the Lord usually did amazing things in the very emotional services, my brothers and I didn’t make it a habit to invite friends – since you never really knew what to expect.
Forget that the bathrooms where right off row seven in the main sanctuary (!). Forget that the latest traveling-singing-family might stop by unannounced. Forget the loud grumbling and growling heard from the elderly Sister Blankenship (rest her soul). Our main concerns were Sister Whitmire’s (on to her reward) 100 decibel, 10 minute prophecies or people ‘falling out under the power’ at our guest’s feet. All usually legitimate, but scary. After the service when we were standing in the sun with an ashen look on our friend’s face, the one positive thing commented on was the worship. Something about it. Our friends felt it.
A more recent experience was similar: we invited one our best friends to church, an unbeliever who had never been to church (especially anything like the large mega-church we plopped her down into). Although she didn’t understand most of what was going on, she was taken by the worship…. “Something during the music tingled my innards…”
When unbelievers are exposed to genuine worship they don’t forget it.
God’s presence was so electrifying during the day of Pentecost’s worship service that it drew the attention of a large crowd – perhaps 5,000? – of the cities’ unbelievers! I’m convinced more people step over into the Kingdom of Light through God’s presence during worship rather than the most articulate sermons. Not only is Elyon in the midst of any group gathered (Matt. 18:19), He’s actually searching for worshippers! (John 4:23).
Now historically, most Hollywood movies that include a church service scene have not been kind. The offenders that come to mind: Elmer Gantry, Leap of Faith, Lottery Ticket, The Blues Brothers (although this scene still sparks something in my spirit with “The Old Landmark’s” dynamic rendering!); and many others that have done little to showcase the real power of His presence.
But a few have…
- Sister Act I & II both contained electrifying moments, especially “I Will Follow Him” and the cover of “Oh, Happy Day“ (the classic Edwin Hawkins Singers 1969 hit) that’s been viewed over 38 million times on a few different YouTube versions
- Whitney Houston in The Preacher’s Wife, belting out “Hold On, Help Is On The Way” and her touching “I Love The Lord”
- Soul Surfer’s opening beach service, showcasing one of CCLI’s perennial top songs, “Blessed Be Your Name” – led by worship leader Carrie Underwood and joined by actors Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt!
- The Fighting Temptations treated us to Shirley Caesar’s inspirational “The Church is in Mourning”
- Who could forget the scene from The Color Purple when the ‘juke joint crowd’ hears the ‘worship crowd’ from a nearby church and are drawn to join the service, all singing Andraé Crouch’s “Maybe God Is Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’”
- Or Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, when a family reconciles during the heartrending song, “Father Can You Hear Me”
All of these are authentically felt moments of worship!
Which brings us back to April 1st. Hillsong has given us some of the most God-inspired, heaven-infused, habitually sung worship songs over the last two decades. Bock also states that “on any given Sunday, more than 50 million people around the world are singing one of their songs in a church service.”* “Friends in High Places,” featured on one of Hillsong’s very first DVDs, was wore out by our two-year-old son – even mimicking Darlene’s clothes, jewelry and microphone. Like most children, he wasn’t just moved by the music but by the God-breathed impact of Jehovah juice!
Could Hillsong: Let Hope Rise be the most dynamic theater event since The Passion of the Christ? Instead of the mostly weak Christian B-movies that have been trotted out in recent years – largely ignored by the unchurched – what will happen when 1,000 curious attendees cram in front of Cinetopia’s 80-foot screen surrounded by Dolby Atmos’ plethora of state-of-the-art speakers?
His Kingdom may just come, indeed!
*Worship Leader magazine, Jan/Feb 2015.
This article originally cited a release date for Let Hope Rise of April 1, 2015. The movie was recently moved to another distributor–from Warner to Relativity Media–and is now scheduled for release on May 29, 2015.