Why do people still go to movie theaters? That question has been on my mind for a while.

Is it an affinity for over-priced junk food? Crying babies or yakking teens? Air condition overload or floors glazed over by cola and fake butter?

As an occasional movie-goer, I’m unsure of the appeal. Not since Joaquin Phoenix had me rocking to “Get Rhythm” in “Walk the Line” have I been wowed by a theater visit.

But there is something appealing since people keep going to see movies in theaters despite the fact that thousands of films are available at home through cable and satellite television and video distributors like Netflix and Blockbuster.

In a New York Times article dated Feb. 28, 2009, Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment and society at Southern Cal, described the experience as something akin to communal escapism.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “People want to forget their troubles, and they want to be with other people.”

Is there something to the experience beyond simple entertainment that cannot be found in the front of a large-screen, hi-def TV at home? Is it the even bigger screen and louder sound? Or a sense of community? A shared narrative?

My friend Kyle Matthews (a singer, songwriter and minister in Greenville, S.C.) and I touched on this topic following an interview about worship for the February issue of Baptists Today that is en route to subscribers now.

We wondered about, but didn’t explore deeply, the continued appeal of the shared movie experience. But I would like to know more.

Another intriguing question to me is what church leaders might learn from the movie theater experience. Does the church have something to offer those seeking a place to deal with “their troubles” and “be with other people?”

It would be easy to label one as entertainment and the other as a higher purpose. But that would end the digging too soon.

More dynamics seem to at work here. But, then, I often have more questions than answers.

[IMAGE: The Majestic 12, that opened in downtown Chattanooga in November, is the nation’s first certified “green” theater. It also features plush lounge chairs and gourmet food.]

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