For the 90-minute service, The People’s Church (thepeopleschurch.org) has brought in two Southern California pastors to help church leaders address this often taboo topic. To ensure this message gets to people outside the church who might be struggling with sexual addiction, the church has spent the last several weeks promoting this Sunday morning service to its local community. It seems to have worked, as camera crews from two local TV stations are there to cover the event billed as “PornSunday.“
The two words, “porn“ and “Sunday,“ aren’t often linked to each other, and neither are “XXX“ and “church.“ But over the past three years, West Coast pastors Mike Foster, 33, and Craig Gross, 29, have linked all of those words together with their Web site and national ministry, XXXchurch.com. They founded the ministry in 2002 for the purpose of talking about pornography and sexual addiction in a relevant way, offering practical tools to anyone struggling with sexual addiction and letting people know that Christ offers a better, more abundant way to live.“
We understand this issue and the people involved in it,“ Gross says. “Instead of telling people they’re going to hell if they don’t repent—they won’t listen to that—it’s time we talk about something real here.“
XXXchurch is also about resourcing the local church to talk about pornography: “People have been waiting for years for the Church to step up and address this issue,“ Gross adds.
Since January 2005, a number of churches have stepped up, bringing in Foster and Gross for a PornSunday event similar to The People’s Church’s recent service. And the speaking requests continue to pour in—so many that the two pastors can’t keep up with the demand. Rather than turn down opportunities, they came up with the idea for a National PornSunday (pornsunday.com). They’re asking churches across the country (and world) to plan a PornSunday event on Oct. 9.
To date, more than 50 churches nationwide (17 different states), as well as the United Kingdom’s Community Church in Southampton, have signed up to be part of the collective voice in the fall. Foster and Gross are hoping to enlist 200 churches by October.
PORN TALK ON SUNDAY?
Integral to the PornSunday story is an upcoming documentary that chronicles XXXchurch’s birth and journey into the world of pornography. Just 14 days after launching their ministry, Foster and Gross were contacted by Bill Day, an independent secular filmmaker who had read a story about them in the Los Angeles Times. Day and his partner—filmmakers more interested in the people they report on than their message—saw an interesting story line in XXXchurch. What began as an expected 10- to 20-minute film became a full-length documentary called “Missionary Positions.“
The R-rated (there’s also a PG-13 version) film follows the two pastors as they travel to the red light district of Amsterdam, pornography rehabilitation facilities in Kentucky, porn trade shows in Las Vegas and pornographic sets in Hollywood. Currently, the film is set for limited release in theaters n ationwide on Oct. 14. In all of this, though, there never was a plan to show the film in churches.
That all changed in January 2005. Rob Bell, teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich. (mhbcmi.org), invited Gross and Foster to address his congregation. Up to this point, the XXXchurch founders had primarily talked to church crowds at Saturday events called “Porn and Pancakes.“
“Three years ago when we started, no one was going to give us a pulpit on Sunday morning to talk about porn and sexual addiction,“ Gross says.
But Bell did just that. In the weeks leading up to Jan. 23, he prepared his congregation for the PornSunday message and gave specific instructions that children should not attend the movie screening on Sunday evening. More than 12,000 people (in three services) turned out on Sunday morning, and more than 5,500 returned that night to see the film. The evening ended with a standing ovation for Gross and Foster.
“Rob told us it was one of the best Sundays at Mars Hill— a defining moment for the church,“ Gross says, recalling a conversation with Bell after the event.
The People’s Church followed Bell’s cue and didn’t allow anyone under 17 to attend the screening without a parent or guardian. In an interview with local newspaper The Tennessean prior to the event, Senior Pastor Rick White said that he had screened it before bringing it to his church.
“This film is not soft-core porn,“ he said. “I have a 15-year-old daughter, and I plan to have her here with me because I want her to know what the dangers are.“
PORNSUNDAY ON OUTREACH
What happens when churches start talking about real-life issues and invite their community to be part of the conversation?
Motivated by the Mars Hill event, other churches began asking that question. Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, Mich., was one of the next PornSunday venues. The church leveraged the event for outreach, as it invited its com-munity and kicked off its “Bondage“ sermon series on addiction with “Porn Weekend.“ The church even posted the invitation on local billboards: “PORN WEEKEND April 2–3 www.westwinds.org.“
Westwinds hoped that the billboards would inspire curiosity and draw people to the Web site, explains John Voelz, teaching pastor and worship arts stylist. The signs accomplished that and more as they attracted media attention and community controversy. The weekend also attracted unchurched couples and families, some of whom have stayed at Westwinds since then.
“We [the leadership team] sensed God urging us to take an authentic, gut-level approach to recognizing these strongholds and, perhaps more importantly, letting people know about the victory and freedom Jesus offers,“ Voelz says.
Responding to the number of requests they received from people both inside and outside the church after Porn Weekend, the church organized five support/accountability groups for men called “The Man Show“ and two groups for women.
Porn Weekend at Mecklenburg Community Church (mecklenburg.org) in Charlotte, N.C., saw the same results. As part of a new sermon series, “A Church Talks Sex,“ Mecklenburg promoted the event to its community and local media. The advance publicity drew a record-setting attendance for the church—second only to Easter weekend.
Soul Sanctuary in Winnipeg, Manitoba (soulsanctuary.ca), Canada, also invited its community to PornSunday on May 29. After taking his congregation through a Song of Solomon message series, Pastor Gerry Michalski began to see doors open, he says. The time seemed right to invite Foster and Gross to address the church—and the community. Soul Sanctuary advertised PornSunday in local theaters and tried to advertise on radio but couldn’t get stations, even Christian ones, to pick up the ads, Michalski says. On the day of the event, about 100 people in the crowd of 400 were visitors.
“We’re still seeing people who watched the movie come forward for help,“ he says. “You can’t watch that documentary and not talk about it.“
Still, Michalski knew people wouldn’t be ready to talk about any personal issues that night. So in June, Soul Sanctuary followed up, offering three small groups called “Deal With It,“ one for older men, one for younger men and one for women. The documentary, he says, has “planted seeds that have opened doors for us.“
COPING WITH THE CONTROVERSY
While PornSunday may be a necessary and valuable tool in the life of a church and its outreach efforts, the potential controversy—both inside and outside sanctuary walls—is real, as just about every church that’s already hosted the event has discovered.
Says The People’s Church’s Executive Pastor Dick Wells: “If you’re going to get involved in this, you need to spend some time praying and planning because you will get phone calls and questions.“
Mars Hill received several phone calls from members concerned about how PornSunday would work. Event organizers worked hard to walk people through their questions, says Shauna Niequist, the church’s creative director. “By Sunday, they felt aware of why we were doing what we were doing.“
Admittedly, PornSunday was a risk, says Soul Sanctuary’s Michalski. “I was scared to death. This was an event that was going to blow up in our face or help us ride the wave.“
Michalski did overhear people questioning the event and the Web site XXXchurch.com.
“Someone told me that the XXXchurch Web site sure has some outrageous stuff on it to get people to talk about porn,“ he recalls. “But I have to repeat what one man who walked into our church for the first time because we were talking about the issue said: ‘The Web site may be outrageous, but what porn has done to me is even more so.’ He saw our PornSunday ad in a movie theater, and a friend invited him the next week.“
Foster asks the question: “Church should be about doing life with each other. Shouldn’t the church be a place where we talk about this?
“To me, fear is a tool of the enemy that he uses to really limit what God wants to do. It seems like we’ve stopped taking risks, stopped taking chances to get out there and reach people.“
Gross adds: “I think the church is losing its influence on the culture today. If we don’t catch up with the times and deal with topics in relevant ways, we’re in serious trouble. XXXchurch is a bold, aggressive approach, but we live in a time when that’s needed. The Church has sat around and waited for people to come to their buildings. That’s not how Jesus operated. He went to people speaking their language.“
PORNSUNDAY AT YOUR CHURCH
What does a PornSunday service look like? It’s simple, say Foster and Gross. The morning services become the launch pad to start the conversation; the evening screening of the film “Missionary Positions“ documenting the birth and journey of XXXchurch continues the dialog.
To equip churches who sign up to host the Oct. 9 event, XXXchurch will provide a PornSunday kit, containing a five-minute welcome DVD from Foster and Gross, a “Missionary Positions“ DVD, plus a 72-page manual and 25 resources, including books from New Life Ministries, the Celebrate Recovery Kit and DVDs to help pastors prepare the message.
Churches that have already hosted the event stress the importance of a list of resource materials and counselors.
“Had we not been prepared with where to send people for help, we could have been in a lot of trouble,“ says Voelz, of Westwinds Community Church. “Many of the addictions, fetishes and strongholds we encountered that day were way beyond anything our lay leaders and pastors felt comfortable helping with.“
At Mars Hill, Sunday morning attendees received a business sized-card with the XXXchurch.com site URL on it, contact information for a local Christian counseling center and small group meeting information. That night, the church hosted three groups for men and women addicted to porn and for women living with someone with a pornography addiction. The church continues to offer ongoing support groups.
INTO A RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST
For Foster and Gross, XXXchurch and PornSunday aren’t just about waging a war against pornography. Ultimately, the two pastors hope to see people trust Christ over porn. They talk about their friend Jimmy, a pornographer who has spent the last 15 years shooting porn. “Porn has affected all of my relationships,“ Jimmy told them. “I wish I could delete the images in my head like the files on my computer.“
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