Evangelize by Suggesting Catholic Movies for Public Libraries

I Will Show You A More Efficient Way

When Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was in theaters many Christians tried to evangelize by giving away tickets. When the DVD came out they gave them away too. Admirable, but there is a far more cost efficient way to evangelize. You can suggest to your public library that they add Catholic and/or Christian films like “The Passion of The Christ,” or “A Man For All Seasons,” and many others to their collection. For example, my county library system has included six copies I bought of "The Passion of the Christ" in their various branches.

200 Hours for $15

My local librarians estimate DVDs average a hundred circulations before they have to be replaced. They have a machine to take out the scratches. It really works well. With that DVDs may last much longer than a hundred circulations.

Sometimes the DVD will be returned without anyone watching it, but in other cases several members of the household may view the movie. If we assume somewhat arbitrarily that there will be two hours of viewing per movie per circulation and a hundred circulations that is about two hundred hours of viewing for a movie DVD. As we can generally buy most of these at less than fifteen dollars a DVD, we can hope for an hour of viewing for every eight cents spent. This is extremely cost effective evangelization.

Not Just Preaching to the Choir

Furthermore, movies can reach out to the marginal Catholic, Christian, or even people who are not Christian in a way that other media, for example Catholic radio or Catholic books in the library do not, so we are not just preaching to those who already believe.

I Was Thanked, Not Stoned

Giving DVDs to the library is a lot less embarrassing than standing on street corners shouting at the people who pass by, or knocking on doors. It is also safer than the evangelization work of St. Paul. As I am giving DVDs to the library that will increase the library's circulation and make the librarians look good professionally. I find the librarians are quite friendly about adding the DVDs. They are often very friendly about the gifts and even thank me. I also thank them because this is such a good deal all around. They get better circulation figures, I win merit in heaven.

As you might expect, giving DVDs also makes me something of a minor hero around the parish. Furthermore, it saves the parishioners money which they no doubt can put to good use elsewhere.

Of course we should be trying to please God, not men, but in this case you are likely to achieve both.

DVDs not VHS

VHS tapes may last twice as many viewings and they may even be cheaper, but at this point I do not recommend them. Librarians are reluctant to add tapes to the collection and are probably thinking of phasing the tapes out. Furthermore, DVD circulation is much higher. If the library has the movie in VHS they maybe reluctant to add it in DVD, and DVDs are overwhelmingly where the circulation is. So the addition of a VHS tape may discourage the addition of a far more effective DVD. As mentioned above the DVDs are more expensive per circulation, but they are still so cheap that I believe DVDs are the way to go. VHS tapes might be a good option for the parish library, but even there I would go with DVD.

Circulation Far Better at Public Library

Is it better to just to concentrate on the parish library and forget the public library? No!!! The circulation of the public library is likely to be up to a hundred times greater. I have not made any comparisons of videos in the parish and public library, but I have made the comparison on books. Six books I suggested to the library got as much circulation as six hundred books in the parish library. That was a hundred to one difference. The local Newman Center library did better. The public library only beat the Newman Center library by a forty to one ratio. So give the public library the best, DVDs.

I do not know the perfect list of movies to suggest. Nevertheless, after consulting with a Catholic friend I am offering the following list of suggestions. The Internet is an interactive medium so you can comment through the guest book. This is still a work in progress so I am asking for your suggestions.

Seven Important Classics

  • "The Passion of the Christ" - 11th in all time box office
  • "A Man For All Seasons" - Oscar Best Picture and Actor
  • "Jesus of Nazareth" - A Mini Series by Zeffirelli
  • "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" - St Francis by Zeffirelli
  • "The Song of Bernadette" - Story of Lourdes
  • "Godspell" - Musical based on Gospel of Matthew
  • "A Prince of Egypt" - Moses Animation
  • "The Miracle Maker" - Jesus Animation

    All of the above are available on DVD. Amazon will sell all but Jesus of Nazareth for less than fifteen dollars. Jesus of Nazareth, however, may be the biggest bargain. It is more than 6 hours long and only costs seventeen dollars. My local public library has agreed to include all of the above in their collection.

    The whole collection of the above videos would cost about a hundred dollars new from Amazon. If one put them in the ten thousand largest libraries and branches you could put them within reach for most of the 300 million people living in America for about a million dollars. Of course many of those libraries and branches already have some of this material, so the project would cost even less.

    I would put getting the above videos very high up the list of evangelical priorities. As we move down the list we might choose to use other mediums of evangelization, for example, contributing to Catholic radio is a favorite of mine. But I do not know where the cut off is even for myself, and your cut off is likely to be very different from mine. Perhaps you are not a fan of EWTN and this might fit your style far better.

    At any rate here are some other prospects.

    Other Possibilities

    I am putting together a list of the religious movies at my public library., this could give you some ideas.

    Here is a short list of other ideas.

  • "Boy's Town"
  • "Going My Way"
  • "The Bells of St Mary"

    Searching for More Strong Movies

    I find that the librarians quickly and cheerfully include award winning movies into the collection, and there are a lot of Oscar winning, or at least nominated, Christian movies. For example, “Going My Way,” and “Chariots of Fire.” These are just a few, I have a separate page listing Oscar nominated religious movies You can check your local library catalog to see what they have and then fill in the ones they have missed.

    Other Categories-Childrens

    There are a number of different categories to consider. Under children’s there is “A Prince of Egypt,” and “Joseph, King of Dreams,” which is done in the same style, on a smaller budget. There are also some children's series on the Bible that your librarian might accept and might circulate well, but probably not quite as well as the movies.

    For more Christian children's videos on the Internet please check out my new web page.


    In the musical category there is “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which maybe too controversial for some, and "Joseph and the Amazing Technocolor Dream Coat." Both Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technocolor Dream Coat" were written by Andrew Loyd Weber.

    Important Web Sites for Checking Movies

    If you want to check the quality of the movies you are suggesting you can check out the archived movie reviews from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. You can also check to see what videos are sold by responsible Catholic institutions, for example Ignatius Press. The Vatican list of the top 45 films can also be used to find films to suggest to libraries, particularly those in the sections on religion, and values.

    Catholic Books for the Library

    Still another thing you can do to evangelize is suggest Catholic books to public libraries. I have a very extensive page on suggesting Catholic books to public libraries. This page has been recommended by Father Richard Neuhaus in First Things and The National Catholic Register.

    Books do not circulate quite as well as movies, but I have had the very gratifying experience of learning that one of the most active people in our parish returned to the church because of books that I suggested to the local library.

    Books in many cases may reach those who are already dedicated to Christ, proverbial choir, perhaps you prefer a more visual medium that will reach out to people. Long comics, called graphic novels, are now being included in many public library collections. There are religious comics including Bible comics that you might want to suggest or buy for your library as a way of evangelizing with comics.

    This is a Limited Project

    While there are a fair number of books and movies we should try to include in public library collections, it is not an unlimited project. At some point diminishing returns will set in and we should switch to other methods of evangelization, for example, supporting Catholic radio. But until your local library has a good collection of popular and effective Catholic media to evangelize, catechize, and inspire you should make those requests.

    For the really ambitious however, you might be able to continue the project by buying DVD's for other libraries other than your local library. I have done some of this. The people in other communities are still God's children.

    Please Report Back

    If you do engage in library evangelization please report back here and tell me about it. You can leave a short note in my guest book to get things started. I try to do things, and then report my experience on the Internet. That way we can learn from each other and more effectively bring the good news to the world.

    Only I will be able to read it, so this is like e-mail.


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    Page last updated December 14, 2006