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Drive-through passion play enables church to broaden its Easter message

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (BP)–A drive-through passion play may not be the first thing that comes to mind for evangelism at Easter, but at least one church has found the effort to be more than worth it.

“It’s all about making church user-friendly and relevant to everyday living,” said Dennis Gray, senior pastor of Riva Trace Baptist Church in Annapolis, Md., which uses “bridge events” to attract unchurched families to the gospel.

“The Scenes of Easter” is just such an event presenting a unique drive-through experience on the church grounds depicting seven live, dramatic scenes chronologically from Easter week.

“It’s like going to the theater without ever getting out of your car,” said Bill Bloomquist, minister of music and producer of The Scenes of Easter.

Many people will not set foot in a church, but they will bring their children and out-of-town guests to see a drive-through Easter presentation. It costs nothing, is entertaining and is a non-threatening way to celebrate a spiritual holiday. “Our advantage,” Bloomquist said, “is that we get to share the gospel story.”

The first scene depicts Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Next is the Lord’s Supper scene where Jesus bids farewell to his disciples. It opens with Jesus predicting his betrayal by Judas and his crucifixion.

Following the Lord’s Supper is the arrest in the garden and Peter’s denial.

“People seem stunned,” said Carol Thompson, church member and scene director. “They can’t believe we go through all this trouble — for free. I think many wonder what motivates us to do this.”

The answer is staged in the next two scenes — Jesus before Pilate and the crucifixion. The crucifixion scene is the most dramatic. It features an actual cross assembled with wooden pegs and Roman soldiers who put Jesus on the cross.

The drive-through finale is the resurrection scene. A fog machine and strobe lights are used for special effects as the stone is rolled away from the empty tomb and an angel appears announcing that Jesus has risen.

The Scenes of Easter is consistently a successful community evangelism event for Riva Trace, which could be adapted by most churches. But it does require months of advanced planning, volunteer recruitment and hours of preparation.

“Our first year we made 80 costumes,” Bloomquist said. “The following years we added new costumes and upgraded old ones.” His wife, MaryAnn, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, directs the cast of 100 actors and the seven scene directors who monitor the scenes during each night’s performance.

Meanwhile, the publicity committee is hard at work. A logo was developed the first year and is now used in paid advertising and all printed materials promoting the event. Church leaders encourage members to hang professionally printed posters in public locations. One month prior to the event, they print free tickets that are inserted in the Sunday bulletin for members to hand out to friends and acquaintances. They purchase ad space in the local newspaper.

In April 1999, more than 2,000 people attended The Scenes of Easter, and due to the unexpected influx of people, many were guided through on foot by church staff so no one would be turned away.

“Without proper planning,” Bloomquist cautioned, “this can be a logistical nightmare.” To avoid a disaster and ensure a successful outreach event for a community, he offers these tips:

— Don’t procrastinate. You can’t start too early. Your biggest time-buster is the costumes. And don’t forget to hone those scripts.

— Get support. This is a big project, and success requires church leaders’ support. Volunteer recruitment is most difficult the first year.

— Create authentic scenes. Begin with research and build the scenes from your findings. Each scene’s backdrop or flat should be designed and painted by an artist. Use colors from the time period, mostly natural earth tones and jewel tones. Build easel-like supports for the flats that can be assembled and anchored to the ground with ease. Also work on your props.

— Plan your setup and logistical needs. Survey church property and determine the best route for the cars and positioning of the scenes. Determine your electrical needs. Time each scene during a dress rehearsal, determining the total time to complete the drive-through and how best to manage traffic.

— Avoid traps that distract from the primary purpose of evangelism. Don’t be too ambitious. Be realistic, and don’t try to be too big too soon. Pray a lot, and always remember what’s really important — that people need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Mathisen is the communications liaison for the Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington, D.C. Reprinted from March-April 2000 issue of On Mission magazine of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

    About the Author

  • Alysia Mathisen