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Judgement House effort ‘absolutely worth it’

CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)–Tired of planning the same type of alternative Halloween youth event for Bethel Baptist Church in Moody, Ala., Tom Hudgins decided use the pagan holiday to present a gospel drama message. In 1983, the first production of “Judgement House” opened for two nights, with 500 people attending and 50 people making professions of faith.

“I couldn’t believe it. We had revival meetings in the past, but not this kind of response,” Hudgins recounted. Since that production, Judgement House has been produced in more than 220 churches in 27 different states and five foreign countries, with more than 63,200 people making first time professions of faith or recommitments to Christ.

Hudgins, who is now a deacon at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., explained that Judgement House is an eight-scene walk-through drama which tells the story of the death of two young people. Currently there are eight different scripts dealing with cancer, abusive family situations, automobile or plane crashes or some other calamity. At the end of the 45-minute tour, the gospel is presented.

“Our experience is that churches see more than 7 percent of all people going through the experience making first-time professions of faith,” Hudgins told Florida Baptist Witness. “Last year, the average church doing JH for the first time had 1,863 people go through the presentation, with about 130 making professions of faith.”

Two churches in northeast Florida will present the drama for the first time this year — Duval Station Baptist Church in Jacksonville and First Baptist Church in Orange Park.

“It has taken about three months of planning with 100 people involved in construction and rehearsals,” said Tommy Johnson, Sunday school director for Duval Station Baptist Church. “But we do think it will be a soul-winning tool.”

Tom Evans, a member of First Baptist, Orange Park, said the participation by church members has been phenomenal.

“Manpower is the key word,” Johnson said. “But working together with other Christians on a project that will potentially reach hundreds for Christ is a true blessing.” He said a prayer team would be offering prayers continuously during each performance in the church, with each tour group, on church property and in members’ homes. He said he is thankful to God to be a part of the outreach.

“It is absolutely worth it,” said Sandra Bandino, drama director for First Baptist Church in New Port Richey, where JH is being presented for a second year. She recommended that two or three small churches collaborate to do the event for any community.

Because of last year’s overwhelming response, First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach also will offer it again. Stephanie Evans, college/singles ministerial assistant for the church, said JH provides an opportunity for Christians to bring people who would not come to a traditional church function, and it is safe entertainment with a purpose.

“It’s also a super way to mobilize the people in the church and find out what areas God has gifted them in,” she said.

Among churches which have produced the drama for their community three or more times and plan another production this year is Wyomina Park Baptist Church in Ocala. Several churches told the Witness they continue to do the production because it is an outreach to the community and it bonds the church membership.

“We plan to continue doing JH until the Lord comes again,” said Sue Williams, office administrator and drama director of Wyomina Park Baptist Church.

Perhaps one of the most experienced in using JH as an evangelistic tool is Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater. They started producing it in 1994, while Hudgins was youth pastor for the church. In the seven years it has been produced, approximately 24,000 people have gone through the presentation with about 2,400 making first-time professions of faith, director Art Cader said.

Because of JH’s popularity, Hudgins has been concerned by some deviations from his original idea.

“Over time we saw a few churches begin to change the focus of the presentation and do things that were not faithful to the gospel,” Hudgins said.

So, encouraged by a businessman, Hudgins formed a nonprofit corporation call New Creation Evangelism, Inc. Through the corporation he has made videos and scripts available to those churches which partner with JH as a “covenant church.”

“The churches pay an annual licensing fee of $325 and send one person to the regional training conferences,” Hudgins said. Once a member, covenant churches may use the trademarked name and logo, a different copyrighted script each year and receive the detailed training manual with advertising materials.

Drama presentations like JH have been criticized for the content of the dramas. Hudgins explained that some people confuse Judgement House with Hell House from Abundant Life Christian Center in Arvada, Colo. Hell House uses graphic scenes depicting the funeral of a homosexual who has died of AIDS, a scene where teens are using drugs and another that portrays abortion with “demons” guiding groups through the tour.

“I think that the presentation of social issues takes the attention off of Jesus and puts it on the issue,” Hudgins said. “The philosophy of JH is for a person to meet the Lord Jesus, and then get involved in a Bible teaching and preaching church.”

Another criticism is that the presentation scares people into making a decision or is too traumatic for children. Hudgins replies that the churches are trained to be very conservative in the hell scene.

“In the hell scene, we do not recommend JH for children under the age of 10. Adults are stationed outside this scene with anyone, adult or child, who does not wish to enter,” he said. “We do not coerce anyone to make a decision.”

For more information about JH, call (727) 449-1100 or visit the website at www.judgementhouse.org.
Editors’ note: Judgement is spelled with the two e’s.

(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net.
Photo title: HOUSE CALL.

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  • Janice Backer