Beyond Hollywood: Developing strategic partnerships for Christ

By Phil Hotsenpiller

Yorba Linda Friends Church sees the entertainment business as a mission field ripe for harvest.

By now I’m relatively familiar with Hollywood. Entertainment’s hub and hometown is just up the I-5 freeway from Friends Church in Orange County, CA where I serve as teaching pastor. In October of 2010 my wife Tammy and I began to minister to a group of Christian entertainment professionals.

Since founding their group, {l.a.}god, they have been able to disciple an ever-growing collection of people united in filling a void where they saw a “lack of much needed mentorship and protection from the hazards of the entertainment industry.” Out of {l.a.}god’s mass of talent was born a Christian music label, {l.a.}godMusic, whose namesake band released their debut album Shake the Earth in November 2011.

Within 24 hours the album jumped into the top-25 on iTunes’ Christian genre chart. When successful, professional session and touring musicians take up the challenge to live out their faith in the midst of

Hollywood, a small mission is born. When those same musicians write worship songs and now desire to play in churches or other Christian venues, it becomes a transformational ministry. You’re probably asking yourself, “How on earth does this affect me and my church?”

Mission field
A missional church is one that identifies a need, sees an opportunity and launches a strategy to affect culture for Christ. Probably the most influential industry in the world today is the entertainment industry — it is a mission field ripe for harvest.

But it’s also a stronghold and will not be influenced by the faint of heart or those who don’t understand the culture. That poses a challenge, as I don’t work in the entertainment industry: I am a pastor and that is my calling. Rather, Tammy and I partner with people who know Hollywood’s nuances and share a desire to advance Christ’s kingdom.

{l.a.}god and its offshoot music label are examples of what can happen when churches begin to seek out and implement strategic partnerships. This can be with the wealth of creative talent that is present, but often untapped, amongst their attendees or via other partnerships outside of their own membership. The early church was noted for its willingness to take risks and partner with believers in other cities and regions: all with the ultimate goal of advancing his kingdom. We would be wise to follow their example.

Strategic partnerships involve identifying and mobilizing individuals with unique gifts that can manifest themselves for Christ through myriad media and collaborative projects. Every church has a “hidden” opportunity waiting to be discovered. Those opportunities may require that we form alliances outside of our denominations and comfort zones, but the Holy Spirit is always birthing wonderful new ideas and dreams of what is possible with God. It behooves us all to seek the leadership of the Spirit to discern the right cultural fit for our unique congregations.

Congregation did film
Take some of the projects at Friends Church. Recently it completed post-production on a film, Not Today. Making a movie. Being a church. They don’t really seem to go together and yet a few churches have started breaking out and making films.

What resulted was a movie that utilized people within the church (Brent Martz, producer; Jon Van Dyke, writer/director) placed in a strategic partnership with people from without (Mark Clayman, executive producer). It took the church being able to say, “Let’s partner up with people from outside ourselves to make this project happen.” Friends actively sought out and partnered with like-minded individuals who weren’t members and the result was a film that not only entertains, but also reflects Christ’s love and how it can be shown in the context of India’s Dalits.

The film looks at the social realities of the caste system in India and their implications for the people who live under them: not in an airy, theoretical way but in a gritty, in-your-face manner. Now there is a product that raises both social and spiritual awareness. And it wasn’t just people who were “in the know” who got involved around the church — many non-industry churchgoers acted as extras, runners, assistants and donated various props and locales to make the film happen.

Suddenly there’s a product that raises both social and spiritual awareness and incorporates members from the church both with specific talents and who just want to be a part of the project. In the end, all of this culminates in a cinematic ministry for Christ that allows the entire church body to be involved and is driven by strategic partnerships.

Another way Friends Church implemented strategic partnerships was music. Singer/songwriter Caitlin Crosby released a single recently entitled “FLAWZ.” The music video for the song features various people being interviewed about their flaws while Caitlin sings about God’s love in spite of our humanity.

Using music strategically
When Caitlin came to speak at the church about the song as part of a message series, she played it live.

Afterwards, she asked the entire congregation to write their flaws on sheets of paper provided and hold them up for a picture. They did. What resulted was a beautiful moment of vulnerability and togetherness.

The congregation wasn’t necessarily involved in the artistry, but they were a part of its movement.

Friends Church partnered with Caitlin and made that moment — a moment where everyone stepped out and came together as the body of Christ, flaws and all. No small feat at a place like Friends with more than 4,000 weekly attendees.

Friends Church may be a bit of an anomaly – it’s admittedly huge – but at the same time there’s no telling how much of a wealth of talent is in the pews every Sunday until you look.

It would be impossible for me, {l.a.}god, or Friends Church to do any of what’s been done by themselves.

It’s the strategic partnerships we’ve sought out and fostered, with a lot of prayer and faith to boot, which have made any of it possible. Until a church is willing to step out, look around and give partnering outside itself a shot, there can only be conjecture as to how far its ministry can reach.

Phil Hotsenpiller is lead pastor at Yorba Linda Friends Church, Yorba Linda, CA. Contributing to this article was freelance writer Andrew Young.


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