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‘The Thorn’: A Case Study in Using the Arts To Spread the Gospel

the thorn
Photo courtesy of The Thorn

Evangelism and Christian outreach can occur in many formats and settings. But the experiences of John and Sarah Bolin, creators of “The Thorn,” prove that the performing arts offer unique opportunities for sharing the salvation message. Their brainchild, which began as a youth group presentation, has blossomed into a 25-year project and thousands of commitments for Christ. 

This spring, “The Thorn” ventures into 12 Broadway-quality performing arts centers throughout America. It also will debut on the big screen, with a movie airing nationwide March 6 and 7. Amid all this success, the goal of The Thorn” remains the same: to share Jesus’ love and the good news of his resurrection.

‘The Thorn’: Visually Conveying God’s Supernatural Power

ChurchLeaders recently spoke to John Bolin, CEO of Bridgehouse Media, about using the arts to share the Gospel. The producer and author, who has a background in marketing and creative arts, describes how the concept for “The Thorn” originated in the mid-’90s. 

Back then, the Bolins served as youth pastors at New Life, a megachurch in Colorado Springs. The student ministry program had grown to about 1,000 kids, but the struggles of one particular teen alarmed the couple. 

One Wednesday evening, a 16-year-old girl rolled up her sleeves and admitted she’d been cutting herself. John Bolin remembers telling her she didn’t need to inflict pain like that because “Jesus did it for you.” That spurred the youth pastor, who wasn’t a natural at preaching, to develop a visual message that communicated the Gospel and the “power of the supernatural.”

Although the production values of the first iteration of “The Thorn” left much to be desired, God blessed and grew the outreach. For a decade, Bolin staged the live-action show about Jesus’ Passion each spring at New Life. The quality and attendance both grew, and on performance nights cars lined up outside the church’s parking lot for a quarter-mile or more.

Soon requests came in for special appearances of “The Thorn” at churches throughout America. And when the Bolins briefly relocated to South Carolina, they ran two productions simultaneously. Because that wasn’t sustainable, the idea of a tour was born. The couple sensed God calling them to focus on three main areas: the page, the stage, and the screen.

John Bolin: All Artists ‘Bear the Image of the Creator’

Bolin also credits a Cirque du Soleil show for opening his eyes to the power of visual storytelling. In Las Vegas, he attended “O,” which incorporates water, hydraulics, music, movement, and costumes—but no words. “Imagine what we could do with the Gospel!” thought Bolin, recalling that emotionally moving performance.

Through open casting calls for “The Thorn,” many non-Christian performers have been introduced to the Gospel and have started following Jesus. Some arrive to rehearsals in tears, saying they had no idea a Christ-honoring show like this existed. After an intense two weeks of practice, the cast hits the road and the tour begins.

“Even secular artists are bearing the image of their Creator because he’s in them,” Bolin says. “We have the opportunity to steward these performers for a month or two, and then we send them back to shine their light in the secular world,” whether that’s Broadway or Disney or Cirque du Soleil. Some “Thorn” participants formed an alumni group online so they can disciple and encourage one another in the faith journey.