As a kid growing up in Iowa, Russ cherished the family tradition of going to the movies. He continued that tradition as he started his own family, even after he, his wife Cathy, and their four children moved to Sydney. But he never imagined that God would show him a way to combine his love for movies with his love for ministry.
The idea was sparked several years ago at a panel discussion hosted by the City Bible Forum, a ministry that aims to share the gospel in the business districts of every major Australian city. The event discussed Hollywood’s influence on culture and religion, and Russ had the opportunity to meet several writers, editors, and producers who were Christians working within Australia’s film industry. Together, they realized how they could be using their interests to engage Australia’s spiritually-resistant culture, and The Forum at the Flicks was born.
This unique ministry brings Russ, several panelists, and moviegoers together to screen upcoming films in a rented theater, and then they discuss them through the lens of the Bible.
“We get tons of people coming to these events. And they’re so engaged that we usually have to cut off the conversation because we’re limited on how much time we can spend in the theaters,” Russ said. “It’s a really nice way for Christians to invite their non-Christian friends and work colleagues to something where they can ask their questions and hear a solid message.”
Russ’ ministry has been a tremendous success in a country where less than 15 percent of the population regularly attends church. At the first Forum at the Flicks, more than 50 people came to watch and discuss “The Wolverine,” and more than 120 people turned out for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” The most recent screening of “Age of Adeline” also had more than 120 attendees, and each time, almost half of the audience is non-Christian.
“It’s all part of us looking for creative ways to engage people, especially city workers, with the gospel,” Russ said.
After the film is over, panelists participate in dialogue with the audience regarding biblical concepts and themes that appeared in the movie, such as life after death, redemption, and humanity’s need for a savior. The honest back-and-forth dialogue is proving to be a powerful tool in engaging unbelievers and opening the door for discussion about the gospel.
“This ministry definitely was not on my radar of possibilities, but to have the Lord use something you really love for His glory is simply amazing,” Russ said.