Over half (59 percent) of evangelical leaders say that they frequently or occasionally incorporate movie illustrations in preaching or public speaking, according to the January/February Evangelical Leaders Survey. Around 41 percent rarely or never use cultural references from Hollywood.

“In a world in which people are constantly consuming media, it can be incredibly impactful to pull in a movie illustration that helps connect with the audience,” said Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). “Movies have the power to bring abstract concepts to life and connect with people on a different level. In my own life, God used conversation in a parking lot after watching Star Wars to plant the seeds of the gospel in my heart.”

Jim Lyon, general director of Church of God Ministries, refers to movies to share concepts and themes understood by multiple generations. “Vocabulary and reference points of the Star Wars films are often employed. Darth Vader, Death Star, ‘a disturbance in the force’ and Yoda have biblical parallels that are easy to grasp,” he said.

Some other leaders noted examples they use, including:

  • “The Count of Monte Cristo” to illustrate forgiveness;
  • “Forest Gump” to highlight how Old Testament prophets were always present in pivotal moments in history;
  • “The Greatest Showman” to illustrate the value and promise of social outcasts; and
  • “Sister Act” to show transformation through leadership investment in community.

Jay Forseth, general superintendent of The Evangelical Church, said that “The Chosen” series has been helpful in illustrating characteristics of the disciples in particular (e.g., Peter’s impulsiveness and Matthew’s transformation).

“When considering pop culture references, leaders should consider the audience and take care to only use examples that won’t exclude groups of people who many are not familiar with the reference. It’s wise to review examples and illustrations with a diverse group of people before using,” Kim added.

Steve Moore, president of nexleader, said that utilizing movie clips can be effective, but he is less inclined to use them “unless the clip is a very clear amplifier for a key point in the talk.”

The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.