When it comes to sharing the Christian message with members of Generation Z, it’s certainly an uphill battle. But it would be “a shame” to dismiss them altogether, said one British filmmaker.
Paul Syrstad, creator of the anthological film, “Testament: The Parables Retold,” recently told CBN’s Faithwire that — in his experience — Gen Zers (born between 1999 and 2015) are “very open” because they are “quite spiritual,” but often feel disconnected from the ways Bible stories are typically told.
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“They like asking questions,” he said of the younger generation. “But there’s this immediate disconnect with tunics and sandals, which is a shame, because I think once you watch shows that have tunics and sandals — once you’re in, you’re in.”
In 2017, Syrstad founded Roarlight, a Christian film production company based in the U.K., where he directed and co-wrote five short films retelling the parables of Jesus in the modern era. Then, in 2021, he produced “Testament,” a full-length film weaving together the five shorts to tell a larger story about Luke, author of the New Testament book of Acts.
Syrstad and his team at Roarlight are now working alongside faith-based streaming platform Angel Studios to develop an unconventional series based on Acts “reimagined in this alternate, modern-day” environment. The setting of the show, Syrstad explained, will “look a lot like ours and will bring all the drama, the tension, the thrills that the book of Acts has, but into our world.”
He’s hoping the unique concept will be enough to draw the attention of a generation wary of or disconnected from Scripture.
“What our show is going to be able to do is kind of appeal to that audience in a more immediate sense because it feels like an action, drama, adventure — maybe sci-fi, I don’t know — it has that kind of theme and genre about it,” Syrstad said. “And then you’re just telling part of the greatest story ever told.”
“I know we use that phrase a lot,” he admitted. “But actually, if you just tell the story correctly, it is a phenomenal story and one that is inviting us to be a part of it, and that’s what the book of Acts really is.”
Syrstad isn’t naive about those who may have concerns about scriptural accuracy, particularly for a film and forthcoming series that pulls the biblical narrative out of the 1st century and drops it into the 21st.
The burgeoning filmmaker said he works alongside theologians who review the script to ensure it is staying entirely true to biblical writings on the life of Jesus and the early church.
“I was talking to one of [the theologians] who is a mentor of mine,” Syrstad recalled, “And I asked this question: ‘When does faithfulness to the text end and creativity begin?’ I think his answer sums it all up, which is, ‘The faithfulness to the text never ends, but our creativity is laid on top,’ and I think that’s important.”
“Because we’re ripping it out of its timeline and its true historical setting doesn’t mean that the story and the actions and the people … are completely different,” he continued. “It’s incredibly important to stay to the spirit of the text, the spirit of the message, the heart of it, and ultimately, what the book of Acts is trying to tell us. … Hopefully the series just invites people to have a relook at that.”
To date, the crowdfunding campaign for “Testament,” which will stream for free with Angel Studios, has raised more than $380,000 with a round-one goal of $5 million.
A 2018 study from the Barna Group found that roughly 9% of GenZers are “engaged Christians,” 33% are “churched Christians,” 16% are “unchurched Christians,” 7% subscribe to another religious practice, and the largest group (34%) have no religious affiliation whatsoever.
CBN News reported earlier this year that the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian is steadily declining. A Pew Research Center survey from 2021 found self-identified Christians make up 63% of the U.S. population, a 10-point drop from just 10 years prior.
At the same time, the number of religious “nones” — those unaffiliated with any religious practice — has almost quadrupled, making up 29% of the population.
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