When the passionate sermons and singing congregations of a community church service are silenced for another week, life – and work – goes on for the people who attend to every part of their church’s daily business. Clearly familiar with that working atmosphere is filmmaker Crystal Barnes, the writer/director of the new workplace comedy web series Churched. Produced by Barnes’ company Ark Productions, new episodes of the show air Wednesdays on Facebook and Fridays on YouTube (links to both pages below).
Carrying on the tradition of popular workplace comedies like The Office, Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Churched places a contrasting assortment of funny yet relatable personalities in a behind-the-scenes look at everything that happens in between the preaching and teaching at a local church.
Churched follows the devoted yet eclectic staff of the fictional, Chicago-based Walk This Way Church: charismatic lead pastor Axel Stevens (played by Ben Marten), Axel’s wife/volunteer church counselor Heidi (Monique Horton), family pastor/aspiring performer Parker Smoth (Duane Deering), interns Colt Hernz (Nicholas Barelli) and Bill Liu (Jin Kim), self-centered worship leader Raj (Ross Childs), his musically adventurous counterpart Tyrell Barnes (Dimitri Mareno), and image-obsessed operations specialist Naomi Wise (Alissa Sherwood).
Compared to the highly materialistic Heidi, Parker’s wife Sari (Mimi Sagadin) doesn’t believe that one’s life is immediately enhanced by flashy store-bought goods. Explains Barnes: “She hates the idea of consumerism, so she’s constantly making something; food, clothes, kids (she has 12), whatever.”
Sari’s unique religious journey also informs her perspective on life. “(Sari) became a Christian on a trip with some friends where she also met Parker,” Barnes says. “She is proud of her Jewish heritage and tries to find a balance between faith and her ethnicity.”
Meanwhile, the mysterious Gladys (played by Ruth Kaufman) is a fascinating character all her own. “We’re not sure where Gladys is from or much of her past,” Barnes adds. “She has a very grandmotherly-like appearance and she can be sugary sweet but she has had a very dark past that no one dares ask about. She exhibits remarkable skills for different exotic things.”
Though Barnes says that her own experiences in the Christian faith have inspired Churched, two pivotal events helped to jump-start the show’s development. “A couple of years back, I was working in a church office and threw around the idea of a show with a church office as the backdrop to my producing partner,” recalls Barnes. “It wasn’t until I saw The Office for the first time that I immediately thought The Office-meets church office concept would be the perfect vehicle.”
Before that concept popped into her mind, though, Barnes questioned if Christian audiences not used to humorous portrayals of the religious community would take to Churched. “Much of the faith-based content (out there) is serious and dramatic, implying that to make light of ‘church things’ or “church people’ is taboo,” recalls Barnes. “Because of that, I wasn’t sure people would be ready for this series.”
Having aspired to make a feature-length religious comedy, Barnes nevertheless found resistance to the approach. “I directed a feature film about the 10 plagues called The Law of Moises and I wanted it to be a comedy. Almost everyone I talked to said ‘no’.”
That dissuading word didn’t stop Barnes from forging ahead on Churched. “Somehow, going through that emboldened me to want to create this series even more.”
Barnes humorously reimagined many of the people and moments she experienced while on the job as she planned Churched‘s first season. “Most of the situations (in Churched) are inspired by real events; each character is comprised of a handful of different people with a bit of exaggeration mixed in,” she comments. “Sometimes the event is real, but the real people in the event are swapped out with someone else with a specific character trait to make it funnier. Think of Kevin Hart in an Indiana Jones movie.”
Compared to the stereotypical portrayals of Christians seen in movies and TV series, the characters viewers will see on Churched aren’t as high-minded or impossibly immaculate as one might expect. In Barnes’ view, the humanity and imperfections of Churched‘s primary players make the series more appealing to viewers.
“Christians are often depicted on non-faith programming as hypocritical, narrow minded, or worse. In faith-based films, they appear as “perfect”. I believe the characters in Churched provide a more realistic and dimensional view, because each character, though Christian, has flaws and failings that anyone can relate to.”
What also makes Churched a breed apart from typical faith-based content is its attention to detail across all areas of production; something often sacrificed by other religious filmmakers in favor of overt preachiness to the unconverted.
While that approach comes naturally to most filmmakers in the faith-based market, Barnes sees Churched not just as an indicator of her own creative point-of-view, but as an example of how Christian entertainment can shine a more accurate spotlight on the world – warts and all.
“Many of the writers and directors of these films come from a different demographic than myself so they see the world differently than I do; my art reflects that inherent difference. The intentional difference is that I don’t always see the message I want to convey as needing to be front and center. Additionally, I tend to cast my net for an audience that may not watch many faith-based films or TV shows.”
Regardless of their job titles or religious backgrounds, those who work five days a week face the universal task of keeping a business running successfully. As Barnes sees it, the workplace – and its potential for comedic conflict – provides the ideal setting for Churched.
“The Churched series focuses mostly on the nuances of a group of people who work in a church office; their interactions with one another and how each navigates in that world,” she notes. “By sharing laughter, we are free to share the world in a similar but personal way.”
Thus, Churched uses the universal language of comedy to transcend religious boundaries. “Humorizing these moments can create a connection between diverse people that faith alone fails to do. That being said, the approach of the series is to present a humorous worldview from a Christian perspective that is rarely seen and yet is undeniably relatable. The bottom line is, all people are funny.”
As the COVID-19 lockdown continues, home-bound viewers of all beliefs are always in search of something new to watch. Barnes believes that Churched‘s blend of funny characters in a relatable setting – the workplace – can successfully reach audiences beyond the faith-based entertainment bubble.
“The show will appeal to an audience that have spent time in a church setting, whether they still live in that world or not,” she says. “People who might be skeptical about faith will also like it and find it different than they expected. People who are social distancing, sheltering in place or who are hungry for new content will watch Churched.”
Laughs aside, the message of Churched is more relevant than ever: “We hope people watching it will be entertained, (and to) take away the understanding that the people at church are just like anyone else trying to live their lives in the manner God wants them to. We really are in this together; it’s not just a hashtag.”
Watch Churched each Wednesday on the show’s Facebook page:
Watch Churched each Friday on YouTube:
On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/churched2020
For more information on Ark Productions, visit its web site: