Christian Retail and the Mixed Multitudes
Thursday of last week, mixed within the usual jumble of magazines and intern resume’s that make up everyday mail, was a postcard for the 2009 International Christian Retail Show. Holding it for a moment, I let my mind drift.
Last year at this time we were blissfully unaware of the sweeping poverty that would soon descend. Our summer interns were learning the fine art of LiveType, our website had a fresh new look and we had just finished wrapping up production on V-translations, a video bible study of sorts which included street interviews, conversations with inmates, and a skit, all showing the destructive nature of lying. “The Truth About Lies”, it was called, and it was a culmination of two years of filming and editing, all out of pocket.
We learned about the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in early June, and by mid month had our reservations, entry fees and plane tickets to Orlando secured. There would be promoters, musicians, and other film makers-tons of great contacts to get our video bible study off of our hard-drives and into sunday school classes worldwide. We had 100 copies made, with full packaging and decoration-90 of which we took with us. As I hobbled into the convention center (I’d broken my foot the first week of July), my co-workers warned me that this wasn’t church, that it was a market place-business. ‘How bad could it be?’ I thought, ‘It’s a Christian show, right?’
Once the doors opened, I understood. There were shirts, books, movies, baskets, tools-anything you could think of, all neatly stamped with crosses or fish symbols. All for sale.
Being difficult for me to carry a bag, I wandered around, chatting up the folks and learning about what they were up to. Some people seemed genuinely interested in our project, though none of them had the authority to make decisions regarding helping us. The ones that did weren’t interested in something as ‘churchy’ as what we had. God was great; Jesus, not so hot. FOX networks were there under the sham of FOXFaith. After briefely discussing film, it was made clear they wanted 90% feel-good, 10% “belief”. “Wow, I haven’t prayed in years. Guess I’ll give it a try.”
We did finally land a meeting with a rep for a major Christian distribution label, though after hemming and hawing, e-mails and voice mails, he told us that if we wanted his help, he’d need payment. The not-so-high-ups were more direct. One distributor told us, and I quote: “If it doesn’t have low-riding cars, and girls in bikinis shaking their butts, no one’s going to buy it.”
We did end up giving every copy away, mostly to non religious promoters. “Wow, my kid would love this.” was a repeated phrase, or, “My home church was wanting to make something like this.” Though we walked away feeling like failures, we were encouraged that maybe we gave others the hope to go out and make video a part of their ministry. Maybe they realized how strong of a medium it is in reaching not only youth, but everyone. Hopefully someone, somewhere, is popping in a copy of V-Trans for their sunday school, and hopefully, some kid is watching it thinking “cool effects-I wonder how they did that…maybe I can do that someday.”