There are more than one billion websites on the internet and hundreds of cable channels, but there is nothing like “#PREACHED,” according to Pastor Matt Chewning. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be doing something like this TV show.”
Screen capture from go90.com
Matt Chewning, right, pastor of NetCast Church in Beverly, Mass., talks with his wife during taping of “#PREACHED,” a reality show on Go90.
The new reality series follows Chewning as he talks to Christians and non-Christians in New England about real life issues. Through his interactions, Chewning demonstrates that authentic Christianity can be fun and normal, yet full of honest, broken people who are just like everyone else, according to the show’s publicist.
“It breaks down many stigmas that Christians fight against every day, yet it also shows the beauty of how we walk with a confidence, hope and security in Jesus.”
Two dozen episodes were released in February through Verizon’s Go90 app and website, go90.com. Go90, a streaming platform similar to Netflix, is now a standard feature on Verizon devices, but not limited to their customers. Public response to the series has been positive.
Chewning left the security of a lucrative job in North Carolina almost seven years ago to start NetCast Church in the Boston suburb of Beverly, Mass.
With support from the North American Mission Board, North Carolina Baptist churches and others, the church plant has experienced significant growth.
As NetCast’s lead pastor, Chewning’s days are packed with ministry. He felt there was no room to add responsibilities to his schedule. That is one reason he quickly said no when approached with the initial concept of #PREACHED.
Chewning and his wife, Beth, rented a house from Joe when they moved their family to Beverly in 2010. Because of their friendship, Joe called Chewning one day to talk about marriage struggles. That led to more conversations with Joe and his wife, Karri-Leigh.
Screen capture from go90.com
In an episode of “#PREACHED,” Matt Chewning and Ricky Grant Jr., pastor of Rescued Church in Boston, challenge people on the street to win $100 by listing the Ten Commandments. They use the opportunity to discuss biblical morality.
“Both grew up in the area as nominal Catholics but were never really involved with the church,” Chewning explained. “The only thing they knew about Christianity was what they experienced in the Catholic Church and what they saw on television.”
The Chewnings developed a good relationship with the couple and eventually led them to Christ. The broken marriage was restored.
“They both worked in reality TV and in the Hollywood scene for years,” Chewning said. “It was the first time they had ever seen or experienced a relationship with anybody who was a Christian. What they saw was vastly different from anything they thought we were.
“We were normal people. We loved them well. We were willing to be their friends, even though they didn’t believe what we believed.”
The new followers of Jesus soon wanted to know how they could use their media skills so more people could experience what they saw in the Chewnings.
“Their mindset was, ‘the world needs to see this,’” said Chewning. “They approached us with the idea of doing a TV show. At first, we were very much against it. If you know anything about reality TV, you know it’s Hollywood drama – that’s why people love it, because of the drama. We really didn’t want to be associated with that.”
He knew how Christians have been depicted on secular television. “The more we went down the road in this conversation about a show, the less we liked it,” Chewning added.
Not wanting their friends to feel rejected, the Chewnings agreed to film a pilot episode. The Women’s Entertainment (WE) network was interested in the project. “I figured there was no risk in giving it a shot,” he said. “It was not going to be seen publicly.”
The Chewnings did not like the pilot and walked away from the project. That was two years ago.
Last summer the Chewnings paid a return visit to Joe and Karri-Leigh in California. The idea for #PREACHED came up again. This time the interested party was a Nashville-based company called Rated Red, a network owned by Verizon that targets millennials in the heartland.
Chewning recalled, “This time the premise of the show was to de-construct false views of Christianity and reconstruct accurate ones that are based on the Jesus we see in the Bible – a Jesus who was very loving, gracious, kind, direct, full of grace and truth – but was a friend of sinners.”
Joe and Karri-Leigh said this was the only opportunity they found that allowed them to portray an authentic message about the Jesus of the Bible without the dramatic distortion typically associated with secular television.
“We decided we would do it,” Chewning said. “And, to be totally honest, I’ve really been blown away by the way the whole show has come out.”
Although many Christians are involved, this is not a Christian project, said Chewning. “This is something I’ve never seen or heard of before – a secular company has allowed Christians to give an explicitly Christian message to an explicitly non-Christian audience.”
Each episode is 23 minutes long and divided into three segments. Chewning said the show is designed for the attention span of millennials who like to watch shows on mobile devices. New episodes are released on Mondays and Thursdays.
“If you watch the whole series, we deal with some really controversial issues that the church has struggled historically to talk about in healthy ways,” he explained. “We talk about race, teen pregnancy, sexuality, relationships – including honoring your parents and relationships with people that have hurt you – abuse, addiction. We talk about these things in public ways and give people an opportunity to tell their story.
“We show Christians, not as those who pretend to have it all together, but people who are broken and understand their desperate need for Jesus. It also shows the premise and importance of mission in the Christian life. Even in our broken state, we are still called to be ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation. … I’m a person who is trying to live as a missionary, called to understand my context and share Christ with the world. The show tries to demonstrate that.”
Chewning said the network imposes no limits on his use of the Bible or Christian teachings. “I would not have done the show if they would not let me clearly portray what we believe,” he added.
“You get a dose of Christ in every episode,” he said. “We want to create conversation that our culture needs to be having. We want to be the creators of the conversation, not the ones responding to the conversation.”
He hopes the series causes viewers to say, “OK my whole framework has just blown up. What I thought Christians were like or what I thought Christians believed, or what I thought I was supposed to believe as a Christian – now I need help putting the pieces together.”
The long-term vision is to provide resources that answer questions raised by viewers. NetCast Church is creating a website that will point inquirers to resources such as a sermon series from other pastors and materials provided by Southern Baptist entities. The goal is to connect #PREACHED viewers to local churches for discipleship. Although Verizon has not released viewer data, Chewning said, “We know it is being watched because people are contacting us with their questions and response. Most of the response has come from those who grew up in the church or had some kind of church background but drifted away, burned out or turned off. In the show they see something different and it whets their appetite toward the faith.”
Some Christians may be uncomfortable with part of the show’s content, Chewning admitted. They may be “nervous about it.” Some tend to avoid these subjects because they do not want to be critical or misunderstood.
In the first episode, Chewning has a conversation with a young woman who self-identifies as pansexual. “She wants to be identified by her sexuality,” he explained.
“My question to her was, ‘Why? Where did you come across this notion that you need to be identified by your sexual preference rather than being identified as a human?’ I shared with her that she is a human being created by God in His likeness. … She’s a 15-year-old girl that is already being fed this trash from culture.
“In the show she has this moment, and she says, ‘I really don’t know why I feel this way.’ You and I know why. Culture feeds this individualism to us. We want to help people find an identity in Jesus and not in their sexuality.”
Chewning and the producers of #PREACHED hope the series will start gospel conversations among outsiders, draw them to healthy churches and cause churches to have more conversations with sinners – the way Jesus did. If that happens, Chewning said, “It will be an answer to my prayer.”
Download the free Go90 app or visit Go90.com to watch all episodes of #PREACHED. Contact NetCast church at NetCastChurch.org.