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Thousands of ‘Passion’ tickets bought for churches’ witness

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (BP)–For 30 minutes after viewing “The Passion of The Christ” film by Mel Gibson, not one of the eight staff members of Shadow Mountain Church in San Diego said a word to each other.

After previewing the film with 7,500 other church leaders at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, they boarded their van to get to the airport and fly back to California.

“After we got to the airport all we could do was pray together,” said John Gillette, pastor of men’s ministry at Shadow Mountain. “Grown men were speechless.”

Gillette said his church, like hundreds across the nation, had a plan to use the film as an outreach to non-believers before they saw it. The church has sold 3,600 tickets at $10 each, with some members buying blocks of 100 at a time to distribute to friends and family members.

The initial plan was to have a pastor at each of the three theaters give an altar call at the conclusion of the film.

“It had such an impact on our staff that we changed that plan,” said Gillette, who is overseeing the ministry of the film. “We all felt like we were processing it for about a week and in mourning over what our sin had done to Christ on the cross.”

Although trained counselors from the church are scheduled to be available at each theater afterward, there will be no altar call.

“We will advise our congregation how to let the story speak to each individual and the Holy Spirit work in them as they process the film,” Gillette said. “We want the church members to be ready when the questions start to flow after the film settles in their spirit.”

The Passion of The Christ, to be released in 2000-plus theaters nationwide on Feb. 25, graphically depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus’ earthly life in Aramaic with English subtitles.

“We want church members to bring their unsaved friends and not have them feel trapped at the end by ‘doing church,'” Gillette reiterated. “Every person who sees this will be deeply, deeply moved afterwards.”

David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain, will spend the evening service on Feb. 22 training his congregation on how to respond to the questions and give practical advice, such as not planning to eat dinner afterwards.

“Our members are well-trained in evangelism but we want to give them some reminders,” said Gillette, whose church sent nearly 400 members to be counselors at the Billy Graham crusade in San Diego last May. “We feel this is the best approach for our church.”

Each person seeing the film also will receive a packet including the book, “More Than a Carpenter,” and tracts pertaining to the film.

Despite the controversy over the film’s alleged anti-Semitism, media reports list the Passion as the mid-February top seller on Fandango online ticket service.

“In regard to group sales, this is the largest volume we have seen,” said Dick Westerly, senior vice president of marketing for Regal Entertainment Group which includes Edward Theaters, Regal Cinemas and United Artist cinemas.

“Hundreds of church groups are purchasing entire theaters and large blocks of tickets,” Westerly said.

Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif., and Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., also are among the many churches selling hundreds of Passion tickets to their congregation in hopes of reaching the lost through the film.

“It’s a tremendous outreach opportunity,” said Montia Setzler, pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church. “A lot of us get complacent about the sacrifice Jesus paid on the cross. It’s very, very real. It’s very applicable to the postmodern mantra that wants to ‘get real.’ From the opening scene the film is real.”

Setzler has planned a sermon series after the film opens in theaters to answer questions that may arise from seeing it as well as offering “Doubters Welcome” classes taught by California Baptist University professors who are members of the church.

“We’re also making it mandatory when church members purchase a ticket, they get one free with it but it has to go to a non-believer,” Setzler said. “If they get to the theater and the ticket is not going to be used, we will have a group of people who will go out into the shopping center by the theater and give it to someone.”

With the help of a marketing group called, Outreach, Inc., Setzler has been able to place ads for Magnolia Avenue on the 18 screens of the theater before each showing of The Passion starts.

Setzler plans to give a 20-minute message to answer some questions the film might bring up after each showing that has been purchased by the church.

“We want to provide them with a survey to see what questions they have,” said Micheal Pierpoint, pastor of evangelism at Magnolia Avenue, who saw the pre-screening of the film at Saddleback Community Church in Southern California in early January.

In addition, a booth is to be set up at each theater for prayer by Pastors Prayer Fellowship, a non-denominational pastors group comprising 18 different churches.

“We’ll be handing out New Testaments and tracts,” said Pierpoint of the booth. “My hope is that many, many people will come to know Christ through this film that may never enter a church. We believe God is getting ready to do big things.”

Jeff Lovingood, minister to students at Long Hollow Baptist Church, reserved three showings for their congregation.

“After our staff saw it at Prestonwood, we felt it was good for believers and non-believers to see it,” Lovingood said. “Our church and staff are praying that wherever the person is at spiritually, after seeing it they will be spurred on to a deeper relationship with Christ.”

So far, church members have snapped up all 1,500 tickets. Long Hollow continues to purchase increments of 500 to sell to members, Lovingood said.

“The first four days of the film have been sold out at our theater,” he said. “The theater manager told me he has sold more pre-tickets to this film than they did for ‘The Lord of the Rings.'”

Long Hollow’s staff does not plan to hold a formal altar call after the film but plans to pass out cards for moviegoers to put their contact information on for follow-up.
For information on using The Passion in outreach, resources are available on the Web from LifeWay Christian Resources at www.lifeway.com/passion.

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  • Kelli Cottrell