Sermons hit online video streaming service

LOS ANGELES — Alongside programs like Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, Netflix now offers another type of content: sermons.

“I believe if Jesus were on planet Earth today in the flesh he’d be on Netflix,” said Ed Young of Grapevine, Texas, one of the first pastors to have his sermons on the online video streaming service.

Young spearheaded the effort to get Christian talks onto Netflix. He said he believes, like Jesus, he should find ways to appeal to the masses. It’s that attitude that makes the partnership with Netflix an unsurprising, if unprecedented, convergence of evangelical faith and popular media.

“It fits with patterns that are long-established,” said Stewart M. Hoover, director of the Center for Media, Religion and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Hoover pointed out that evangelical churches have been quick to adapt to radio, then television and other tech-nologies as they have developed.

Young’s Fellowship Church is no exception. Young has penned more than a dozen books; he has had television programs on the E! network and other cable channels; he hosts iTunes podcasts and offers video content on YouTube and Roku.

“Jesus said that we should become fishers of men. If I’m going to catch the most fish, I’ve got to put a lot of hooks in the water,” Young said of his many media projects. “But I’m most excited about Netflix right now.”

Young’s Fifty Shades of THEY Netflix series includes five episodes. The pastor paces a colorfully lit stage, offering jocular interpretations of Christian teachings to an audience of hundreds.

The three other Netflix pioneers have series with similar formats. In #DeathToSelfie, young, T-shirt-clad pastor Steven Furtick talks about identity.

Georgia pastor Andy Stanley addresses working through challenges in StartingOver. And in Winning Life’s Battles, tel- evangelist Joyce Meyer preaches to a massive auditorium.

“More and more people are cutting the cord,” said Paul Huse, executive director of marketing for Joyce Meyer Ministries. “Even though we’re on six or seven cable networks, more people are moving away from that and we want to be where they can still access us.”

Netflix did not provide many guidelines in terms of content for the episodes but did ask that the programs avoid product promotion or invitations for viewers to make donations, Huse said.

The move to Netflix made sense for the pastors, but for Netflix it’s a logical fit too, said Tom Nunan, lecturer at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and longtime Hollywood producer.

“Most people perceive Netflix as a competitor to HBO or Showtime,” Nunan said, pointing to the original edgy, adult content that has earned the platform industry-wide recognition,” said Nunan. “But in many ways, Netflix is the opposite of traditional networks, which target specific niche audiences. Netflix is trying to be all things to all people.”

Nunan added that the entertainment industry has profited from religious content since the days of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

“Spirituality, generally speaking, is very good business,” he added.

Netflix representatives issued a statement saying, “Titles are continuously being added to the service to meet the diverse tastes of our more than 75 million members around the world.” NFJ

By Katherine Davis-Young, Religion News Service