Disillusionment with church is a growing epidemic among today's younger generations. According to a LifeWay study, 70% of percent of young Christians fail to stick with their faith or connect with a church after high school. Even more disconcerting is the fact that only 20 percent of those who left the church had planned on doing so while in high school. For most, the decision was not considered far in advance.
In response to this disturbing trend, Flannel, a non-profit film production agency based in Michigan, has discovered how to use the power of film to share the Gospel in new and creative ways, specifically targeting the media-based, YouTube generation.
"When Flannel started around 15 years ago, we really were uncertain at first where that was gonna lead, what that was gonna look like," Flannel director Steve Carr told the Gospel Herald. "And some friends actually introduced us to some folks at MTV of all places. And through aa discussion with MTV, we learned that, with surveys they had done with their audience, one of the top issues in life was spirituality--around 60%. But, if you asked them the same questions, and didn't use "spirituality" but use "Christianity," the percentage was just 2%. And that just kinda hurt. So the vision became, 'How do we reach this audience?"'
"We decided that a great way to do that was through film," Carr continued. "And our films use beautiful cinematography combined with great music; we attempt to do them with excellence that it just draws you in as a viewer; it's something you wanna watch. and you kinda get sucked into just because it's great and it's beautiful. Our mission is to tell the world the way of Jesus in new and creative ways, and we do that through the phenomenal power of film."
After the massive success of their NOOMA video series with pastor Rob Bell in the early 2000's, Flannel teamed up with Southern California Pastor Francis Chan for the BASIC series, an in-depth look at the person of God, following Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the four "to-do's" of the church as highlighted in the Bible.
"BASIC began around a time when we were ready to launch something new, and trying to figure out who to work with," Carr recalled. "We actually had an extensive criteria of what we were looking for in a person.We ultimately decided, after much searching, that the number one item on our list was an individual who lives what they're talking about. In other words, someone authentic. When we set that as a top criteria, somebody said to me, 'Oh, you're talking about Francis Chan.'
According to Carr, the BASIC series "just kind of evolved" after a series of discussion with Chan, who at the time was leading a successful megachurch he founded in Simi Valley, Calif. and had just released his bestselling book, Crazy Love.
"When we first got together, we talked to Francis really about his life and about his heart, and asked him what he felt God wanted him to talk about. We asked him, if he had just one message, what would it be about? He told us had been thinking about, or rather, rethinking "how we do church."
Carr recalled, "People would be driving for two or three hours just to hear him speak...And that would be flattering for most pastors, but Francis kind of looked at it, and thought, 'that's nice, I hope it's worthwhile that they come, but that's not church. What do they do when they go home? They come here once a week."'
The "BASIC" series, which the Flannel director said is specifically targeted towards teens and young adults, is essentially Chan's personal reflection on what church is and a reflection of what was on his heart.
"With the BASIC Series, we visually take Francis' message to a different place, and we take our viewers back to church--in the sense of first century church that's explained in Scripture," explained Carr. "How do we live together as brothers and sisters, with the same goal of following Jesus and reflecting that to the world?"
Since its release, the BASIC series has resonated with millions of people around the world; from youth groups and Bible studies to tribal groups in Botswana.
"We're really pleased with how it's being used," Carr told the Gospel Herald. "And obviously we don't take credit for it; Francis is not just an amazing speaker, but he is, in every sense of the word, the real deal. To me, that's what makes his teaching work and so powerful, because he lives it every day, and so does his entire family. And it's just so inspirational to know him and see him do that."
Flannel's next project is a series aimed at college age people; unofficially titled "God on Campus." The nine-part, documentary-style series will be filmed at nine different campuses around the U.S., including Harvard and Yale. According to Carr, "God on Campus" will focus on the the Christian history of the colleges and at some amazing stories that took place on different campuses.
"For many young people, there is this sense that once you graduate high school you graduate from church--you don't have to do that anymore., the Flannel director explained.
"This is a look at how God is involved in all of our work, so whether you're studying science, or the arts, or business or whatever it is, God is in that and part of it. It's something to be embraced. It's not the notion that we have to wear Christianity on our sleeves and all become preachers or missionaries...But when we embrace the fact that God is in whatever our chosen field is, that is actually a very powerful thing. So it's not something to be embarrassed about, shy about, silent about, in our daily lives on campus, it should be something that does the opposite, should motivate us, because it's a beautiful thing."