The Passion II

Y’all know where I stand on the film… so you will know that I got a chuckle out of this…

Faith alive, but church-going lags
Michael Clancy    The Arizona Republic    Apr. 11, 2004 12:00 AM

The Passion of the Christ may be packing them in at theaters, but the Mel Gibson movie about the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life hasn’t translated so far into higher church attendance.  But don’t blame it on Hollywood.  Overall, church attendance in the United States hasn’t grown in years and might be sliding, according to several studies and polls.  “Weekly church attendance is declining over time,” said Mark Chaves, a University of Arizona sociologist. “No one is arguing that churches are growing. The argument is whether they are staying even or shrinking.”

Four in 10 Americans said they attended church in the past seven days when polled in March by the Gallup Organization. That figure has been consistent for 12 years.  Even among evangelical Christian churches, widely regarded as the fastest-growing segment of religious belief, the trends are the same, Chaves said.

Many nationally known church leaders hope The Passion will reverse the longstanding trends, even if results aren’t immediately evident.   “I have no doubt that the movie will be one of the greatest evangelistic tools in modern-day history,” said Ed Young Jr., pastor of a Dallas-area megachurch and religious broadcaster.  “I think people will go to it and then flood into the churches seeking to know the deeper implications of this movie.”  ((Not happening, buddy.  Did I see CGM in your title, btw…?  Oh, yeah – MegaChurch.))  Pastor Greg Laurie, an internationally known speaker and writer and head of Harvest Ministries in Riverside, Calif., called the movie, “one of the most powerful evangelistic tools of the last 100 years.”

Locally, ministers are preaching sermon series based on the movie and urge members to use The Passion to spark conversations with non-believers.  Pastor Dan Yeary of North Phoenix Baptist Church said Christians have a “moral obligation to see this film and take a friend. This is great free publicity for what we believe in.” ((Moral obligation to pay money to see Christ in agony?  I don’t think so, pal!))

The movie, released Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday, surprised Hollywood with its box-office impact. So far, it has earned $330 million in six weeks, and it remains in the Top 10. Box-office experts said the movie may have gotten an added boost from Holy Week observances celebrated during the past week.

But the results in churches are not as easy to pin down as ticket sales.  Many pastors are reporting a deeper commitment among their congregants.  But in terms of bringing new faces into the congregation, “I would be a bit skeptical of broad and sweeping claims of evangelism at this point,” said Maxie Burch, a Southern Baptist and dean of Grand Canyon University’s College of Christian Studies.

Susan Zahn, a Phoenix publicist who organized a screening of the movie for Phoenix Inner-City Church and others during opening week, said she is surprised by the lack of impact.  She said she had a response rate of 87 percent when she invited church leaders to the movie. But when it came to inviting the leaders to discuss ways to follow up on the movie, only 3 percent of those who attended the movie responded.

The difficulty of translating movie viewing into church attendance has not stopped churches from trying.   Dave Gudgel of Bethany Bible Church of Phoenix, for example, conducted a series of sermons during the Sundays leading up to Easter.  “We promoted it in the community by mailing 15,000 brochures to our immediate neighbors,” said Gudgel, the senior pastor.  But he added, “We have not really seen a bump in attendance, but that may be hard to measure due to the number of people who have been out of town for spring break.”  ((Uh, yeah, Spring Break.  It’s spring break.  Nevermind that Easter is one of the two BIGGEST church attendance days of the year…))

Easter Sunday typically outdraws Christmas as the most popular service of the year, and both attract so many worshipers that pollsters leave those days out when asking people about church attendance.  ((As I was saying…?))
The Barna Group, an evangelical research company, reports that only 37 percent of people who live in the western United States attend church at least once a week. Another 33 percent rarely if ever attend church.

But The Passion has spurred plenty of discussion, Jernigan said.  “I am certain I have heard the name of Jesus mentioned on TV and radio more in the last months than I have in all prior years combined in that venue,” he said.

Radiant Church in Surprise is claiming an increase in attendance of almost 1,000 people a week, starting the weekend after the movie opened.  ((Yeah, I believe the Radiant Church in Surprise, don’t you??))  “This movie has caused people to be more open to God than ever before,” said Stacy McCollum, director of marketing. ((DIRECTOR OF MARKETING?!?!  Can you spell CGM church scammers?)))) “People who have become complacent in their walk with Jesus find themselves running back to church, to prayer and to the Bible.”

But at Word of Grace in Mesa, “People’s conversations are dying down,” Senior Pastor Gary Kinnaman said. “I anticipated somewhat that the excitement around the movie would not turn into something tangible.”  ((Here’s honesty, to contrast the director of Marketing at Radiant SurpriseVille))

Burch at Grand Canyon is equally skeptical.  “Whenever the evangelical community uses various forms of popular culture for making spiritual claims and predictions, I usually adopt a wait-and-see approach.”

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