When Church and Cinema Combine: Blurring Boundaries through Media-savvy Evangelicalism

in Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture
Open Access

The use of social media presents new religious groups with opportunities to assert themselves in contrast to established religious institutions. Intersections of church and cinema form a central part of this phenomenon. On one hand, many churches embrace digital media, from Hollywood clips in sermons to sermons delivered entirely via video feed. Similarly and overlapping with this use of media, churches in cinemas have emerged around the world as a new form of Sunday morning worship.

This paper investigates intersections of church and cinema through case studies of two representative congregations. CityChurch, in Würzburg, Germany, is a free evangelical faith community that meets in a downtown Cineplex for Sunday worship. LCBC (Lives Changed by Christ) is one of the largest multi-sited megachurches on the American East Coast. While LCBC’s main campus offers live preaching, sermons are digitally streamed to the rest. Both CityChurch and LCBC exemplify growing numbers of faith communities that rely on popular musical and social media to 1) redefine local and global religious relationships and 2) claim identity as both culturally alternative and spiritually authentic.

By engaging with international flows of worship music, films, and viral internet sensations, new media-centered faith communities like CityChurch and LCBC reconfigure established sacred soundscapes. CityChurch’s use of music and media strategically differentiates the congregation from neighboring traditional forms of German Christianity while strengthening connections to the imagined global evangelical community. LCBC creates what cultural geographer Justin Wilford dubs a “postsuburban sacrality” that carves out meaning from the banality of strip-mall-studded suburban existence. Analyzing the dynamics of music and media in these new worship spaces assumes growing importance as transnational music and media choices play an increasingly a central role in locally differentiating emergent worship communities from historically hegemonic religious neighbors.

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