Barna: Evangelical movie-going habits surprisingly high

“The evangelical average is a full movie more than the national adult average, and just shy of the average of 3 films seen by those professing no religion.”

4724 reads

There are 16 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Another reason to be cautious of Evangelical influence upon Fudamental believers.  I wonder what the average is for Fundamentalists?

G. N. Barkman

Easton's picture

I'm trying to remember the last time I saw a movie at a theatre, stood in line, pried open my wallet, inhaled the odor of stale popcorn (I hope that's what that was) and sat down in a still warm chair with sticky arms & a wet cup-holder...

Would've been that new Star Trek movie that came out a few years ago.

Everything else streams in via Roku2 or Apple TV.

Wayne Wilson's picture

I think the movies, whether in a theater, or televised, or streamed, are a way for Evangelicals to delight in the world while maintaining a certain distance.  They can visit all the places they shouldn't go and see all the things they shouldn't see vicariously.  In some ways, the allure is even stronger for them.  There are many brothers and sisters who simply can't say no. 

Dan Burrell's picture

Despite all the cynical postulation above, I have another perspective....

I didn't go to a movie for over 30 years.  It was anathema in our religious circle.  But after I just could NOT stomach another round of Rook (alas, all recreation using playing cards and dice were also verboten), I finally decided to slip into the mystical magical world of the "Movie House" and I'll also confess that I succumbed to the lust of the flesh via a very large (and refillable) bucket of fresh popcorn (extra butter of course).  Two and a  half hours later and having not burst into flames, accidentally viewed porn and not having the dreaded experience of having the rapture occur midway through the "film", I emerged with my friends having laughed our way through a fun flick.  I was hooked.

I don't know that I go more than the national average or not, but if it looks decent and after I check it out on the website, I'll grab a friend, kid or my wife and spend a couple of mindless hours in the theater.  I use the same standards to view movies that I do to watch stuff at home on the TV or via Netflix.  I've walked out of a couple.  I've watched a few with interesting philosophical subplots (like Inception) and had fascinating theological conversations afterwards with good friends.

Why might I or others who are conservative Christians go to the movies more frequently -- I proffer this: I don't go to bars.  I don't hang out smoking cigars with my pals like many now do (rather Spurgeonesquely), I don't go clubbing and dancing, I don't go to concerts, I don't go gambling....bottom line, there's not a lot else to do around town if I want to spend a few hours releasing some stress or relaxing with friends.  Perhaps others have found on those occasional times (and they are fairly rare) when Hollywood puts out a movie that meets our narrow criteria they enjoy the disconnect and because they don't rotate movie viewing with other activities that aren't an option for us, they indeed rise above the national "average".

My experience was also that if you'll include movie rentals and cable channels along with going to the theater, fundamentalists watched just as many movies as did evangelical friends.


Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @

Wayne Wilson's picture


I hope that is the case, but my experience is that many Evangelicals, even big name Evangelicals, are not nearly as careful about what they see as you are.  But I commend you for maintaining high standards, and I practice the same thing myself.  I actually love film as an art form.  But generally, there is very little worth seeing, as you say.

The truth is that some of Hollywood's sleazier fare is very popular with Evangelicals....the latest example probably being Magic Mike among the Evangelical ladies.  And I don't use the term Evangelical in a pejorative sense, just identifying those "Bible Christians" whose churches don't have rules about theater attendance.

I don't support "rules" forbidding film, but I lament the lack of discernment among our brothers and sisters.

Ron Bean's picture

A few of the people I work with claim to be Muslim Fundamentalists. When I learned that, I actually silently questioned their identity when I found they listened to popular music, let their women wear jeans, and went to movies.


"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Dan Burrell's picture


A lot of what you say resonates and is valid.  I think one of the problems with having standards/rules that are extra-Biblical is that they often discourage discernment and thinking.  I certainly fell in that category when I lived in the safety of my "list".

But I am interested in your assessment of the whole of evangelicals and with no desire on my part to play "gotchya", I am interest in knowing what you are using for a source beyond anecdotal reports.  I'm active in a church that is theologically fundamental, but which I'm confident many who wear the label fundamentalist or IFB would consider Evangelical (though we reject both terms and call ourselves non-denominational Bible).  In a church of 800, I know of no one who saw Magic Mike (though I will say that I do hear of people who attend movies that I personally would not attend - like "Lincoln" with the gratuitous cursing).  One woman read "50 Shades of Gray" and was confronted by our elders and church discipline was implemented that resulted in repentance.  So how did you reach the conclusion (which I'm not saying couldn't be the case) that many or most or a significant percentage of Evangelicals would go to movies that are clearly not a matter of a judgment call and would be well beyond the line of propriety?


(And I will openly state that my explanation is purely anecdotal as a possibility and I have no evidence -- just a theory. :-D)


Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @

G. N. Barkman's picture

Christians attending movies is no concern of mine, especially if they are as careful as Dan Burrell in their selections.  I'm sure many Christians who have never watched a movie in a theater have viewed worse fare at home.

What bothers me is preachers who depend heavily upon movie  illustrations in their sermons.  The goal, I'm told, is to be relevant to modern culture; to appeal to modern American interests.

When I listen electronically, I feel left out.  I don't know what the preacher is talking about because I haven't watched the movie.  I think if I was in his congregation I would feel compelled to attend more movies so the sermon illustrations would make sense.  It looks like a case of unintended consequences.  The preacher wants to "connect" with those who go to movies.  Instead, he indirectly pressures people to watch more movies.  Hmmm.  I don't want to be the one induces my people to frequent movies.  There will no doubt be plenty of that without my encouragement.

G. N. Barkman

Wayne Wilson's picture


 My views are not based on any research studies of Evangelical Women and Magic Mike, so in that sense my awareness of the phenomenon is anecdotal, but I have more than a casual interest on this topic of Christians and their entertainment choices.  I've written on it, lectured on it in a variety of settings, churches and locales. I have even taught a few classes on Christianity and Culture, so I do keep my ear to the ground on these issues and hear from people all over on their experience.   (I just heard yesterday from a soldier I've never met asking my opinion on the appropriateness of showing Saving Private Ryan to his potential inductees as an Army recruiter.)  So my information is not casually anecdotal.  There are studies, by the way, that do demonstrate the film diet of Christians is very similar to unbelievers, only Christians add into the mix Christian films.

Anyway, I first noticed Christian ladies fawning over fornication cinema with Titanic. It was a must-see emotional experience.  Many Christian women took their daughters to it to share the experience.  I simply couldn't believe it. (That began my publishing journey).  The next big one I noticed among Evangelical ladies was Moulin Rouge. Again, I heard Christian women talking about it everywhere I went.  Another must-see.  Magic Mike is the most recent, though it takes the explicitness factor to a higher notch of in-your-face gross.  I have heard numerous references to it. It is mentioned along with 50 Shades of Grey by godly women who are trying to warn their sisters off.  Magic Mike was frequently "liked" and added to favorites lists on Facebook --- from professing Christian women.  I saw that myself.  I can tell when there is unusual "buzz" about a film.

I do not mean to pick on the ladies.  It is not a gender issue, though in my more naive days I believed women were better than men on these matters. But it is a leadership issue as well.  I recently queried a well known TGC blogger about his praise of Conan 2011 — a hard R-rated film with lengthy scenes of debauchery.  He thought it was fine, and recommended it.  This is an Evangelical leader.  His foolishness in this area in not at all uncommon among Evangelical leadership. Popular devotional books by Evangelicals are full of movie references — and not wholesome fair.  Franky Schaeffer opened that door to Evangelicals in the 80s, and they walked through it willingly, then Schaeffer left them there and moved on.  Amazing.

Dan, I have long believed that Hollywood in its current debased state is largely upheld by Christian dollars.  This information by Barna supports that.

And Dan, I find it remarkable that your church practiced discipline on a woman reading 50 Shades of Grey. I think such action would be very rare indeed, and I suspect that if that became known, it would be a horror to the larger Evangelical community.  By the way, a film version is in the works, and if it hits the right emotional spot, Evangelical ladies will flock to it. 

Susan R's picture


I'm a little bit in the Barna-Shmarna camp, unsure of what significance to give to these kinds of polls. 

But I've sat at many a women's fellowship in the last 25 years (and I've always been in churches of the uber-conservative spectrum) and listened to 40-somethings have Team Edward/Team Jacob debates- and then get shot down for wanting to talk about something more spiritual or substantive than the fit of Ryan Gosling's blue jeans, or the cost of manicures and lingerie. 

At those same fellowships, women talk about their husband's internet/movie viewing, gaming habits, and the serious amount of money spent on frivolous activities, like equipment for regular Airsoft and paintball battles. $400 for a paintball gun? When your wife and kids are on WIC? 

There is an ambivalence from both genders, not just toward God and His Word, but the idea of growing up already.

Dan Burrell's picture

Wayne....thanks for the thoughtful dialog and response.  Thanks also for not flaming me to ashes as is often the case in interesting discussions.  I truly respect the gracious tone.  Based on your broader explanation (you sound like you might be an academic or in academic at some level), I absolutely assign credibility to your assertion because of your perspective.  Anecdotal evidence is not always wrong simply because it is anecdotal, but I trust it more when it comes from a "knowledgeable expert" as we say in the game of higher ed.

I thought perhaps there might be some survey somewhere that you might be citing.  I remember a couple of decade ago when Barna uncovered findings that the evangelical kids were more likely to watch MTV (this was back when MTV actually had music on it) than their non-religious counterparts.  This was before the internet made everything available.  (Side note: Barna lumps evangelicals and fundamentalists together in his research, so we who would identify with fundamentalism theologically cannot say that we aren't represented at all in the research.)

Beyond this, I think there is both empirical and anecdotal evidence that would indicate that the difference between evangelical and non-religious or other religious behavior is also within a near statistical dead heat in other areas as well including divorce, pornography, etc...  I see other historical differences/standards/delineations falling as well including social drinking, tobacco usage and gambling.  There is also evidence that evangelicals are usually more over-weight than their non-religious counterparts.

While I'm not a hyper-dispensationalist who would say that we are in a "Laiodician age" per se, I do think that labeling American non-protestant/Catholic Christianity in general as largely characteristic of the Lord's condemnations of the church same name in Revelation 3.

Thanks again for the thoughtful and helpful exchange.



Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @

Dan Burrell's picture

In doing research multiple times over the years, I'm consistently appalled at how closely the typical believer "thinks" like the world and embraces the philosophy, if not their doctrine.  One of the greatest hindrances to genuine Christianity today is the explosion of dichotomous thinking/behavior that is pandemic across the Fundy-to-Evangelical spectrum.  We say the right words often, but the behavior and the thinking is quite the opposite.

I used to evaluate faculties and graduates of Christian schools and colleges based on their Worldview.  Rare was the school where either the faculty or the graduates possessed a majority dominant Biblical Worldview.  Even when the curriculum was designed to instruct in Biblical worldview, the vast majority would leave with the Worldview of the Secular Humanist.  The "World" has done an outstanding job of instructing the church in the worldview of the antichrist (1-3 John.)

The Bride of Christ has some 'splaining they'll need to do.



Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @

Marsilius's picture

For the rest of the readers: Wayne is professionally trained in film making. His comments are obviously valuable in this discussion.

Wayne Wilson's picture

Marsilius, thanks for the good word. That was a long time ago, but I do think a lot about these issues because of my background, and I try to stay current. 

Dan, I enjoyed the exchange as well, and always appreciate your thoughts.

In some ways, nothing is less important than movies, but in other ways, they are very important indeed, because they shape the affections of the heart --- for good or ill.  The power of art is very real.

Lee's picture

I've come full circle on this whole movie going thing. In my growing up years it was anathema.  Then came cable and VHS, and my rational side kicked in and I determined that there was no difference from going to the movie house (see, I can speak 60's fundamentalese) than to bring the movie into your home and watch it there.  While I may not be back all the way to anathema, I will admit I'm like Sarah Palin was about Russia with it--"I can see it from my house."


Besides the obvious, that movie going (and the great majority of movie watching) is lousy stewardship of both time and money on its best day; plus the fact that nothing positively spiritual (molding into Christ-likeness) ever happens (okay, I'll throw a bone--rarely happens) as a result of the time and money spent, there are some other issues that I think we tend to ignore.


Contrary to popular belief, I Cor. 8-10 is not promoting the meat offered to idols or sitting at meat in the pagan temple as harmless options for the "strong" believer, but is verifying the conclusions of the Council of Jerusalem from Acts 15 and laying out the parameters for the obedient believer in their implementation. 


I would think that there would be little debate that one of the primary idolatries of our culture is the celebrity worship that permeates all facets of our society.    Since practically every idol has a temple to celebrate it (after all, one of the attributes that determines whether something is actually being worshipped is its corporate nature) would not the theater fill the bill of a temple to the idolatry of celebrity?


In regard to temples, Paul is pretty clear in I Cor. 10:20FF--"But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.  Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and the table of devils."


I think this concept crystallized in my mind a few years back when I questioned a Christian brother about his weekend plans to skip out of church early so that he and his family could catch their desired showing of the first of the Twilight movies. I believe my question went something like this--"You mean you plan for your family to forsake the opportunity for corporate worship with the called out assembly of the Lord's people on the Lord's Day so that you can join the heathen in a pagan setting to celebrate the specific 3 things which both the Jewish and Gentile churches, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28-29), specifically forbade for all believers: idolatry (and vampirism, being occultish, is idolatry); fornication; and the imbibing of blood?" Of course, I was thoroughly ripped for being a legalistic Pharisee and playing the part of the Holy Spirit. 


Point being, not sitting at meat in the idol temple means something to every culture that is idolatrous (and ours most certainly is). The theater, among other similar venues, definitely falls very closely into what meets the criteria of idol temple and temple worship if celebrity is indeed one of our cultural idolatrous practices. Which, in turn, brings us back to I Cor. 10--"...I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils."






Wayne Wilson's picture

Although there is certainly idolatry with regard to celebrities and performers in film, I think I would classify that kind of devotion as idolatry in the broad sense, just as many things can become idols if we give them too much of our devotion and prioritize them above serving the Lord.  In this broad sense, following baseball could become an idol, but I don't think baseball, and honoring favorite athletes, is inherently idolatrous.  I wouldn't call Dodger Stadium a temple of idolatry because some fans make the game an idol.  For many people, sport is recreation and they keep it in perspective. I don't think the Lord objects to that. Scripture doesn't.

In the same way, I'm not sure it's fair to call the "movie house" an idol's temple.  There is a danger of idolatry in the performing arts, and there is a greater moral dimension to theater than baseball, but I don't think we can say plays and film are inherently idolatrous. (Of course, some people, we know all too well, can make idols out of preachers!)

Art certainly has power, and I believe for the most part, Hollywood today uses that power to serve Satanic ends. But I don't think idolatry is inherent in the dramatic arts.  I have certainly had positive spiritual experiences in the "movie house."  We were privileged to see Ben Hur last year on the big screen.  I was most certainly edified.  I also caught the wonderful theatrical version of The Screwtape Letters last year — excellent, uplifting content, and great theater. 

Good men have certainly condemned theater and film over the years. Spurgeon was adamantly anti-theater, just as our Fundamentalist fathers were anti-film.  I have considered their arguments carefully, and I really don't think they hold up biblically or rationally...except for one.  I remain pestered by their claim that Christians are simply too undiscerning to choose entertainment wisely.  Once they start going, the lure and power of theatrical arts will capture them and render them insensible to evil shows.  While some are discerning, like brother Dan above, I am afraid many, far too many, are not.  Is that a problem with film, or a problem with leadership and training?  I want to believe it's the latter.   

It is interesting that the Bible forbids neither sports nor theater.  The Roman culture certainly had them both.  There are clear Scriptures insisting that we practice discernment about what we see and what we think about.  These apply powerfully to visual arts.  Yet the thing itself (whether sport or theater) is not condemned, though Paul easily could have done so.  That makes me think the theater arts can be redeemed, and be a blessing. Maybe the movie house can even be a temple of virtue.