Christian comedian Thor Ramsey loves the Church. In fact, he's spent much of his career poking fun at the stereotypes people have about Christians and the Church while still pointing people to the truth found in the Gospel.
“You can only satirize something you love, and we love the Church,” he said in an interview with The Christian Post. “We love the Church because we love Jesus.”
But over the years, he began noticing a disturbing trend among the Body of Christ: Churches, many of them large, were increasingly relying on gimmicks — and not the Gospel — to bring people to Christ.
“A friend of mine came to me one day and said, ‘Have you heard what's happening at this big, gigantic mega-church? They're actually having a crucifixion on Good Friday,’” Ramsey recalled.
“And I'm like, ‘No way.’ And it turned out to be false. They were actually doing a Passion play, but the advertising looked like the way he interpreted it. And here's the thing, he believed it. The state of the Church is to the point that we’d actually buy this, that someone would actually do this, because so many crazy things have been done in the name of reaching people for the Gospel.”
So Ramsey decided to do what he does best: Tackle a serious topic and put it in a lighthearted setting to both entertain — and perhaps educate — viewers.
Ramsey’s new family-friendly comedy “Church People” follows “America's youth pastor,” Guy Sides (Ramsey), who realizes he’s stuck in the megachurch marketing machine and wants to find his passion again.
However, when Guy attempts to get back to the heart of ministry, he is thrust into the throes of dissuading Skip, the church’s tie-dye-wearing hip pastor, from performing a strange and potentially blasphemous stunt — “an actual crucifixion” — for the upcoming Easter service.
Determined to boost his audience, the pastor is convinced he needs “something bigger” than the resurrection to draw a crowd.
Meanwhile, Guy is grappling with his own personal problems and is challenged to show both himself — and others — grace in the face of difficult circumstances.
"'Church People’ exposes the wacky heights some people will go in the evangelical subculture while revealing God’s out-of-this-world grace through a poignantly redemptive climax,” reads the film's description.
Starring Stephen Baldwin and Ramsey, with special appearances by Donald Faison, Joey Fatone, Billy Baldwin and Chynna Phillips, “Church People” will be released via Fathom Events on March 13, 14 and 15.
Ramsey stressed that “Church People” “is not mean by any stretch of the imagination” — in fact, he didn’t even want to make the film unless he was positive it would “glorify God.”
But the film, he said, addresses the pitfalls of the entertainment-driven church. It gently reminds audiences that though “we want to reach people with the Gospel, and we want to be inviting, and we want to do things to grab their attention, we sometimes do that to the point where we actually overshadow the Gospel itself," he said.
Watch Thor Ramsey and Christopher Shaw discuss "Church People"
Though statistics show that just four out of 100 teens hold a true biblical worldview, marking the “least biblically minded” generation in history, the problem of how to reach the next generation with the Gospel, Ramsey pointed out, is not a new one.
“People have not changed. People need the Gospel,” he said. “Now, I'm not against strategies. I think strategies might change from generation to generation. But our strategies can't overtake the reality that people haven't changed. What they need is the Gospel. Jesus is the Gospel. So we give them Jesus.”
“Christians should be people of the truth,” he said, later adding: “When it comes to the preaching itself of the Word, you don’t have to break down barriers, you're preaching the truth. The Holy Spirit will break down barriers. So just use the truth.”
“Church People” is directed by Christopher Shaw, who began collaborating with Ramsey on the project beginning in 2010. He told CP the duo created a proof of concept trailer that caught the attention of Baldwin, a veteran in both the faith-based and secular movie industries.
Though funding took some time, “My Pillow” creator Mike Lindell — who makes an appearance in the film — offered his assistance. From there, filmmakers were able to compile a star-studded cast, including Faison, best known for his role in the comedy-drama "Scrubs," Fatone of 'N Sync fame, Baldwin, and others.
Over a decade after Ramsey first conceived of “Church People,” the film finally became a reality.
“God created comedy,” Shaw said. “Comedy breaks down walls, and when there is a poignant message or some kind of truth that you're trying to get across, comedy helps break the ice to get that message in there.”
When it comes to “faith-based films,” Ramsey encouraged other filmmakers to focus first and foremost on “telling a good story” with “interesting characters” rather than beating audiences over the head with a moral message. The Holy Spirit, he reiterated, is the One who will break down barriers.
“Set out to tell a good story,” he said. “Just set out to be entertaining, but don't try to use the movie as a ministry vehicle — and I have my own personal convictions on this — because I think God can use things to point people places, but the ministry vehicle God uses is always the same. God uses people to give the message of Jesus, and that's how people's lives are changed.”
Shaw agreed: “I hope that people laugh. I hope that people also see the poignancy that is demonstrated in the film and the grace that is demonstrated in the film.”