Missouri churches using Gibsons’ ‘The Passion’ as an evangelistic tool
By Bob Baysinger
February 3, 2004
CHAFFEE – A growing list of Missouri Baptist churches are making plans to use the “The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson’s powerful movie portraying Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, as an evangelistic outreach tool when the film opens at theatres across the state on Ash Wednesday Feb. 25.
Churches in the St. Louis and Cape Girardeau areas have negotiated to buy out theater showings and get tickets in the hands of lost people. One Missouri Baptist Convention association is discussing plans to make it an association-wide evangelism effort. And other churches will be distributing Gospel tracts and doing personal evangelism with people exiting the movie.
Missouri Baptists and other Southern Baptists who have previewed the film, including beloved evangelist Billy Graham, have endorsed the movie and said it leaves them with the feeling that they were present at the crucifixion of Christ.
Gary Smith, a member of Windsor Baptist Church, located about 10 miles south of Arnold, said his church has voted to buy out a matinee session at an Arnold theater on Feb. 28.
“We get the stage 15 minutes before the movie to speak to the audience, and we will get the stage a short time after the movie to speak again," Smith said. “We’ve made arrangements to use a secular coffee house across from the theater. We will suggest that anybody who has questions about the movie to go across the street to the coffee house,"
Smith said his church has also purchased copies of the Gospel of John to distribute to moviegoers.
Smith and his wife, Ginger, serve as volunteer workers with the Hand in Hand pregnancy help center, which is also a ministry of Windsor church.
“Eighty percent of the women who come to the center have no church affiliation," Smith said. “We think the movie is a fantastic way to share the Gospel with them in a non-threatening environment. We’re giving each young lady a free ticket and also a ticket for a friend."
Smith hasn’t seen the movie.
“All I have seen were some small clips from the movie. That was enough to excite me," Smith said.
Cliff Day, pastor of First Church, Chaffee, said his church with join with several other churches to hand out Gospel tracts to people leaving the theater in Cape Girardeau. Day said he expects people to have questions after watching the film, hailed by as being true to Scripture and starkly graphic in its presentation.
“Another thing we would like to do is put up a slide (on the theater screen) when they are running other advertisements," Day said. “We’re also going to buy an ad in the local paper, telling people that if they have questions after watching the movie, they can find answers at First Baptist Church of Chaffee."
Jon Sedgwick, pastor of First Baptist Church, Oak Ridge, Mike Perry, pastor of Fruitland Baptist Church, and Fruitland’s youth pastor drove to the Chicago area to sit in on a recent preview showing of the movie at Willow Creek Church.
“Tears were rolling," Sedgwick said after watching the preview. “There is some artistic license involved, but there is nothing in the movie that is unscriptural. I would recommend to Baptists all over Missouri that they go see this movie. I think everyone should buy a ticket and buy another ticket for a lost friend.
“I’m convinced that a lost person will have questions after watching this movie."
Sedgwick said several churches in the Cape Girardeau area are negotiating with the Town Plaza Cinema to buy out the theater for one or more showings.
“We want to do this to get lost people into the theater, but we also want to make a statement to Hollywood," Sedgwick said. “We want them to know that this is the kind of movie we want them to produce."
Bob Caldwell, director of evangelism for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) said his office will purchase Gospel tracts and make the tracts available to churches across the state who will distribute the tracts to moviegoers.
Graham said he was moved to tears when he saw the film.
“No one who views this film’s compelling imagery will ever be the same," he said after watching a special showing of the movie last December.
First Family Church, a new Southern Baptist church in Overland Park, Ks., pastored by Jerry Johnston, will use the move to saturate the Kansas City metropolitan area with the Gospel message.
Steve Barnes, Johnston’s associate, said First Family has been promoting the film with TV and newspaper ads and showing clips of the movie during services.
“We have bought all the tickets at two Kansas City theaters and are selling those tickets to our congregation," Barnes said. “We are encouraging our people to buy extras so they can give them to friends, family and co-workers who do not know Jesus Christ."
Barnes said the church initially purchased 2,400 tickets. All but a few of the tickets, he said, had been sold in a short time.
“The interest-level is very exciting in the Kansas City area," Barnes explained. “We don’t want our people to use the tickets just for entertainment’s sake. We are going to give an invitation at each showing with follow up cards for them to fill out so we can begin a process of follow-up after the night of the showing."
Theater owners throughout Missouri say interest in the three-hour movie is running at a high level. The manager of a Jefferson City theater said it is possible the movie will be shown in more than one theater if extra copies of the film can be obtained and if interest warrants. He added the theater may take the unprecedented step of selling tickets in advance, perhaps about a week before the movie premiers.
Paul Harvey, renowned radio broadcaster, recently attended a private viewing of the film in Washington, D.C. Harvey said the movie evoked more deep reflection, sorrow and emotional reaction within him than anything since his wedding, his ordination or the birth of his children.
“Frankly, I will never be the same," Harvey said.
“From the gripping opening scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the very human and tender portrayal of the earthly ministry of Jesus, through the betrayal, the arrest, the scourging, the way of the cross, the encounter with the thieves, the surrender on the Cross, until the final scene in the empty tomb, this was not simply a movie. It was an encounter unlike anything I have ever experienced."
Graham was also deeply impacted by the movie.
“I have often wondered what it must have been like to be a bystander during those last hours before Jesus’ death," Graham said. “After watching ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ I feel as if I have actually been there. I doubt if there has ever been a more graphic and moving presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which Christians believe are the most important events in human history."
Gibson has spent 12 years carefully studying the crucifixion and about $25 million of his personal funds to make the film. He has been personally showing the movie to various groups – including the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) — across the country to garner support. SBC leaders have endorsed the movie. Church groups nationwide reportedly have put in large ticket orders to see the movie.
Speaking recently to a group of evangelical clergy in Orlando, Fla., Gibson said he showed the film to an agnostic friend “and the next day, he read all four of the Gospels."