Movie Review: Church People (SPOILERS)

This is a new one for me, but I need the catharsis of writing this review. Church People is a Christian movie about a conflict between a senior pastor and a youth pastor over methodology. Are we going to use gimmicks to reach people, or are we going to get back to the simple gospel?

As a former Baptist of a revivalistic stripe and a current Presbyterian, this premise piqued my interest. It’s very common for people like me to react against revivalism, but there are many different paths. Some, like me, just become more Protestant (and I obviously think this is the right thing to do). Others convert to Romanism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Still others leave the faith altogether, preferring various forms of paganism. What is Church People’s solution? Um..revivalism?

The Film Per Se

To start off, you should know that this is basically a Hallmark movie for Christians. (In fact, the lead actress has been in like fifteen Hallmark/Lifetime movies.) Nothing wrong with that. Some people like that kind of movie. That’s why they make so many of them.

At the same time, there’s definitely a formula. This movie is more focused on the male love interest, but you could easily flip things around and tell the story from Carla’s perspective. It would beat-by-beat be on par with a Hallmark Christmas movie. Girl moves back to hometown, meets down-to-earth hunky guy, gets tangled up in the family business plus hunky guy is actually kind of complicated, everything works out in the end. You may not know the details, but nothing is really that surprising. The twist here is that the family business is actually a megachurch.

But now we’re getting to my real pet peeves. First, what’s up with the random hidden daughter storyline? That whole thing is a prime example of bad storytelling. A side plot is one thing, but this was like a whole second story shoved in the middle of a movie about something else. It felt like they just added that angle to fill time, and it only contributed to already bad pacing.

Also, was Carla a student in Guy’s youth group? Because that’s really what it seems like. They never really come out and say it, but I can’t make sense of their relationship otherwise. And if that’s the case, why isn’t that the relationship complication? Of course, that kind of relationship might be fine, especially removed by what it apparently many years, but you can’t just tease it without addressing it.

To the writers of Church People, Anton Chekhov would like a word with you.

The Message

By far, my biggest issue with this movie is that it completely whiffed on its main point. The whole premise is that the senior pastor is too into gimmicks, and the youth pastor is resistant. That’s a premise with a lot of potential. Gimmicks are the bread and butter of megachurch evangelicalism. Don’t believe me? Check out Protestia on Twitter.

So in Church People, the main character’s whole shtick is that he just wants to get back to the gospel. So what does that look like? The ordinary means of grace, right? The Word and sacraments, right? Nope, it’s just a slightly toned down gimmick.

The movie ends with everyone hanging their personal items on a cross to show how committed they are. First of all, where’s the gospel in that? The gospel isn’t about giving up stuff. That may very well be a consequence of the gospel, but we should really talk about the imputed righteousness of Christ first. No one here mentioned sin or redemption. Instead, it was all about personal fulfillment and self-actualization. Second, the cross thing is just another gimmick! Sure, there weren’t any pyrotechnics or blood, but can’t everyone see the connection between these things? Once you start nailing your shirt to a cross, you’re just ten years away from having BMX riders on the chancel.

At some point, I’ll write more about this, but megachurch evangelicalism is just a recapitulation of medieval Roman Catholicism. The gospel is obscured by superstition in some of the very same ways. The answer to gimmicky Christianity is not Protestantized indulgences; the answer is the gospel offered by Word and Sacrament according to the precepts of God.


All around, I think this movie sits in the C+ range. It’s on the good side of mediocre. I recommend watching it on Sunday afternoon. You may get something to reflect on viz. church life. You may also fall asleep, and that’s okay too. The Lord’s Day is a great time for a nap.