How an App About the Life of Jesus Beat Hollywood
How an App About the Life of Jesus Beat Hollywood Pixabay

The Holy Bible is big business. The print version is said to sit atop the list of “best-selling books of all time.” It’s impossible to know exactly how many have been published – the Bible is in the public domain, meaning anyone can print and sell copies – but estimates put the figure at somewhere between two and six billion. Only Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book,” an object of veneration for millions of devout communists since it was published in 1964, is thought to come close to the number of printed Bibles.

The world’s top-selling book probably got online in some fashion almost immediately after the creation of the internet, but in 2008, the Bible went fully digital with the release of YouVersion, which claims its product has been installed on over 475 million unique devices. YouVersion has over 2,000 versions of the Bible in 1,372 languages available for free online. There are now numerous web options for reading or listening to the Bible, and there is money to be made in online scriptures as well. Business Insider once highlighted the story of an atheist programmer raking in US$100,000 annually after realizing he could make and sell better Spanish-language Bible apps than were on the market. But we live in the 2020s… we don’t read anymore; we watch.

In a story that has both the secular and religious worlds of entertainment abuzz, the Christian apps universe has a strong new contender; and it’s a stunning show. The Chosen can be downloaded as an app to be viewed on a computer or mobile device or viewed on YouTube. Rotten Tomatoes gives the series a 99 percent rating, while IMDb has it scored by viewers at 9.7 – as a comparison, the epic teacher-turned-meth-dealer show Breaking Bad only scores a 9.4. Some parts of The Chosen have reportedly registered 100,000,000 views. T his TV series/app is unlike anything that’s come before; in either its content or how it was created.

The Chosen is now the planet’s biggest crowd-funded television or film project of all time. Director Dallas Jenkins and his team reportedly showed a pilot segment to potential funders and offered them a chance to invest in the film. Generous terms that were part of the original deal include allowing these funders to own the shares in perpetuity and an agreement that the investors would see financial returns from licensing or merchandise before Jenkins and his crew. Upwards of US$10 million poured in from over 16,000 initial investors. The show then seemed to have no problems funding season two, which premiered on Easter Sunday 2021.

Jenkins is the son of Jerry Jenkins, the co-author of the Left Behind novel series, which imagines a world after the second coming of Christ – or The Rapture. Despite selling at least 60 million copies, the books were not well-received across the whole of Christendom. The elder Jenkins and co-author Tim LaHaye offered an Evangelical partisan take on the End Times story found in the Bible; some Catholics and Christians of other denominations found it offensive or objectionable. Dallas Jenkins, however, has created a Bible series that brings together Catholics, Protestants, and America’s homegrown offshoot, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), known popularly as the Mormons . The Chosen depicts the life of Christ without straying into doctrinal disputes, a wise choice by Jenkins who brought in consultants from across the Christian world – including a Jewish Rabbi who accepts Jesus as the Messiah.

There is some stunning scenery in the show; the desert of Texas fit beautifully as a stand-in for Judea in season one, but for the second season – for the first time – the Mormons welcomed a non-LDS crew to use the church’s “New Jerusalem” film set in Utah… the only movie set on the planet dedicated to near-perfect re-creations of the ancient city of Jerusalem as it would have appeared in the time of Christ. Even more “miraculous” than ecumenical harmony, or the costumes and set, is the story itself. How many people don’t roughly know the story of Jesus? And yet, despite being “the greatest story ever told and re-told,” Jenkins, the writers, and the cast manage to deliver not just a “fresh take,” but an entirely new vision of Jesus Christ and the people he interacted with.

The easiest word to describe the overall ‘feel’ of The Chosen is “human.” The Jesus portrayed by Jonathan Roumie – a Catholic who says Pope Francis’ example of humility and message of mercy inspires him – is a Jesus you’d be glad to meet and hang out with. He laughs, dances at a wedding, plays with kids, and talks to people… not at them. The rest of the cast is likewise “human,” as well as being more multiracial than seen in any previous life of Christ series or movie.

The Chosen is undoing deep stereotypes of Christian entertainment as “cheesy,” as well as experimenting – thus far successfully – with innovative crowdfunding and “paying it forward” in ways never seen for something of this scale. And that said, there is money to be made – with income avenues from TV licenses to T-shirts to be explored. The Chosen is proving that Bible stories, when done right, have enormous potential as edifying entertainment, and can also be a very sound business opportunity.