It seems whichever medium you turn to — from films to podcasts to apps to television series — faith-based content is moving into the mainstream and climbing the charts. Ironically, this is happening at a time when polling shows faith and religiosity declining in the U.S.
The numbers tell the story.
Take “The Chosen,” for example, a multi-season series following the life of Jesus and his followers. It’s one of the highest grossing crowd-funded entertainment projects of all time, bringing in $10 million dollars from donors. And, so far, an estimated 100 million people worldwide have seen Seasons 1 and 2, with total views topping more than 440 million.
Then there’s “Jesus Revolution,” a film released earlier this year about Christian pastor Greg Laurie starring actor Kelsey Grammer. It was a box office success, grossing more than $50 million dollars.
There’s also the Catholic meditation and prayer app “Hallow” that made history on Ash Wednesday by landing at the number #3 spot on the App Store. The Hallow app has connected literally millions of people in prayer, Scripture, and meditation, and has facilitated more than 175 million prayers worldwide.
The “Bible in a Year” podcast features priest Mike Schmitz reading and discussing Scripture. Schmitz launched the podcast in January 2021 and within 48 hours skyrocketed to the number one slot on Apple Podcasts. Schmitz managed to amass half a billion views and has consistently ranked #1 in Apple Podcast subgroups.
The question is why is faith-based programming gaining traction now?
One obvious, surface-level reason is that it’s simply good content. And that hasn’t always been the case. Some of the current offerings are pulling more secular viewers because it’s competitive in quality with other content out there.
There’s also a large untapped audience of hundreds of millions of American Christians who want this content, and haven’t had many options, at least not from Hollywood, the former gatekeeper of content creation. Today, independent production houses are cropping up outside of Hollywood and they’re focusing on faith-based content.
But there may also be aspects of our cultural moment that are drawing more interest for this content.
Fr. Mike, host of the wildly popular “Bible in a Year” podcast, believes the state of our culture really has a lot of people searching for answers right now.
“We’ve lost a biblical worldview. …There’s this sense and this hunger in people that says, not only do I want to understand life, I want to understand reality, but also I want to understand what God has to say about this.”
When asked about the type of faith-based content people are craving and clinging to, including his own podcast, Fr. Schmitz said, “So there’s a certain level of excellence being brought to this content. At the same time, I think that there’s also a level of rawness or authenticity.”
Emphasizing the demand for raw Biblical stories and other scripture, Fr. Mike said he’s had podcasts before this and none of them had close to the reach as “Bible in a Year.”
It’s been decades since a faith-based film went mainstream. Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” broke all sorts of records when it was released back in 2004.
Daily Wire reporter Megan Basham spoke to the film’s director and co-writer Mel Gibson about what made “The Passion” so special.
“Why did it resonate? Well, it was a pretty powerful story. I was just trying to be as true to the gospel as I could, yet, interpret them with my eye and through the eyes of art that I’ve witnessed over the years, some music and everything else,” said Gibson.
“I think it was a very potent story and seen from an aspect that I don’t think anyone ever saw before, was the degree of suffering. And the willingness to do that, which is, again, total humility. It worked on that level because I think it gave people a new understanding of what they’re involved in when they go to worship or when they think about God.”
Alex Jones, the co-founder and CEO of the “Hallow” app, is amazed at the feedback he’s received from people who use the app.
“We get these notes from people who are really lost, people who’ve been addicted, abused, who are struggling or suicidal. …and they write to us and say, Hey, you know, God changed my life through this.”
Jones found that people turning to prayer was most pronounced during the pandemic.
“I think we’re all really hungry for it, and we’re all in deep need of it,” Jones said. “And I think COVID showed us that. With the depth of pain, anger, frustration, loneliness, depression, anxiety, grief — we can kind of distract ourselves from God in our normal day-to-day life when nothing crazy happens — but in those kinds of moments, you just realize how deep of a need you have, and the only thing that can really fill it is faith and God.”
He added that new-age approaches to handling grief and adversity are falling short. Jones talked about a friend who recently experienced the loss of a child when his wife had a stillborn son.
“They had to give birth and then bury their son the same day,” the CEO recalled. “And there’s just nothing … that can speak to that deep of a wound. All of that seems silly when you’re talking about someone who lost their kid or when you’re talking about someone who’s been struggling with addiction for 10 years. Only God can speak to the depth of that.”
While religious content is witnessing a boom, it’s still true that the U.S. is more secular than ever. A recent poll from The Wall Street Journal showed that just 39% of Americans say their religious faith is important to them, – that’s down from 62% back in 1998, the first time the poll was conducted.
When asked where he thought our nation was headed spiritually, Father Mike responded, “I really do think these are signs of hope, these are signs that God’s not done. He’s not done with our culture. He’s not done with our country. He’s not done with us. And, yeah, that gives me a lot of hope.”