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Homosexual rights activists gain influence in public schools (10/17/04)

Church’s prayer births children’s ministry (10/17/04)

Partner program revitalizes dying church (10/10/04)

Church music festival attracts variety of visitors (10/10/04)

Churches urge compassion for alienated smokers (9/19/04)

Youth ride wooden waves in church parking lots (9/12/04)

A/G, COGIC join forces through inner-city campus (9/12/04)

Christians respond to victimized women and children (8/29/04)

Growing slavic church shares new facility (8/29/04)

Couple embarks on capitol prayer tour (8/29/04)

ADHD requires multifaceted treatment approach (8/22/04)

Small congregation grows — by planting churches (8/22/04)

‘Under God’ stays in Pledge of Allegiance, at least for now (8/8/04)

Church reaches out to those feeling loss (8/8/04)

Churches act pre-emptively to reduce risk of abuse (7/25/04)

Credit cards ensnare record number of Americans (7/25/04)

Church helps out with donated CD, recycled buses (7/25/04)

New wave of pastors minister to emerging adults (7/18/04)

‘Walking Witnesses’ raise thousands for missions (7/18/04)

Healing center offers alternative medicine (7/18/04)

Growing number of Hispanics impact economy (7/11/04)

'Busy' couple finds time for compassion ministry (7/11/04)

Hand-copied Bible leaves 40-year legacy (7/11/04)

Pastor ends hunger strike when strip club promises to sell (6/27/04)

‘Military survival kit’ requests inundate A/G (6/27/04)

Fourth of July outreach draws thousands (6/27/04)

Drivers warned to steer clear of distractions (6/27/04)

Pastors face more counseling demands (6/20/04)

Church uses touch of ‘flavor’ to reach community (6/20/04)

Outrageous self-expression often starts, stops at home (6/13/04)

Runner raises $5,200 for Convoy of Hope (6/13/04)

Euphemisms tempt Christians to conveniently shed sin, guilt (5/30/04)

Funds for Easter play buy groceries instead (5/30/04)

Identity theft threatens millions of Americans (5/23/04)

Spanish speakers face challenges, opportunities in United States culture (5/16/04)

Health experts implore Americans to get fit (5/9/04)

Leaders say Christian faith stems recidivism (4/25/04)

Riders feel at home in Orlando sanctuary (4/18/04)

Churches try to keep human touch with new media (4/11/04)

Christians see Passion as ministry opportunity (3/28/04)

Tutoring improves lives, opens doors for evangelism (3/21/04)

Cybertheft costly — especially for Christians (3/14/04)

A/G women seize new ministry opportunities (2/29/04)

Investment in early spiritual maturity reaps rewards (2/22/04)

Christian families respond to foster care opportunities (2/15/04)

Childless couples grapple with emotional roller coaster, faith challenges (2/8/04)

Few men seek help from abortion grief, guilt (1/18/04)

Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

2003 PE Report stories

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

Christians see Passion as ministry opportunity

By John W. Kennedy (3/28/04)

While Hollywood has churned out about 100 motion pictures dealing with the life of Christ, evangelical churches have never responded with as much enthusiasm as to The Passion of the Christ.

The film, released on February 25, depicts Jesus’ final 12 hours of suffering before His death. In an unprecedented alliance between the pulpit and the big screen, tens of thousands of churches have lined up to promote a big-budget production. Some congregations reserved entire theaters for opening day and pastors are preaching sermons in conjunction with its release.

Mel Gibson went to meticulous lengths to ensure the biblical accuracy of the motion picture, including using Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic dialogue, languages spoken in the first-century Middle East. Gibson, who won an Oscar for directing 1995’s Braveheart, used an estimated $30 million of his own funds to make this film about Jesus’ torment and crucifixion. The movie debuted on 4,643 screens, an unmatched opening for an independent film.

The Assemblies of God Commission on Evangelism and Today’s Pentecostal Evangel partnered to communicate to church members how to effectively share Christ with nonbelievers who have attended the film. The cover story in the March 14 issue of the Evangel has also been printed in booklet form and is available from Gospel Publishing House (item #749145).

“There are many ways Christians can take advantage of opportunities for witness because of the impact of this film,” says Randy Hurst, commissioner of evangelism. “We chose to focus our attention on friendship evangelism. While an abundance of good follow-up literature is available, I believe that literature without personal interaction will not be highly effective. The most effective witness will be done by believing family members and friends who can share Christ personally with wisdom and grace. To be most effective in witness will require the gift of time to converse with non-believing friends.”

C. Dan Betzer, senior pastor of First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Fla., decided to use the film as a means of spreading the gospel. “It’s the greatest evangelism opportunity of my lifetime,” says Betzer. The week before the February 25 release of The Passion he mailed letters to 180,000 area homes, offering a free 40-minute CD on why Jesus went to the cross and why Calvary matters today.

Pastors from the church responded to questions before and after each screening. Now, classes are being held at First A/G and two satellites for those who made a salvation decision after seeing the movie.

“Maybe for the first time people are beginning to understand what Jesus really went through for us,” Betzer says.

Evangel Temple in Columbus, Ga., bought 600 tickets for a Sunday night service for congregants to take non-Christian friends and neighbors. “The simple message of the Cross is still very important,” says Evangel Temple pastor Richard Collins, who has preached several messages on the Cross. “And we want that story to be told.”

Pastor Scott Rachels of Newport Mesa Christian Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., says, “We made it clear that the violence of the crucifixion is pretty substantial, so we encouraged parents not to bring their kids under junior high age. Rarely do we have a cultural moment where everybody is talking about an event like this. This is a great way for believers to open up a conversation with those who are exploring faith in Christ.”

Associate Pastor Jim Detweiler says cell groups at Seaport Community Church in Groton, Conn., are following up with guests who made salvation decisions at screenings. The church gave altar calls at the conclusion of the film in the theater, with trained workers leading prayers. “We didn’t just want to fill the theaters up with Christians,” Detweiler says.

Darrell McClaren, pastor of Harvest Time A/G in Asheville, N.C., encouraged parents to decide for themselves whether to allow their teenagers to see it. “In this day of shocking media images let’s shock young people with the truth: the painful death of our Lord Jesus Christ,” McClaren says. “It is violent, but the reality is Jesus suffered to become the perfect blood sacrifice for us.”

“There are people who would never set foot in a church going to this movie because a friend invited them,” says National Association of Evangelicals President Ted Haggard. Haggard compares the artistry of Gibson’s film with sculptor and painter Michelangelo. “This is the Michelangelo portrait of Christ for our generation,” Haggard told PE Report.

— With additional reporting by Isaac Olivarez

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