The Passion Movie--What Difference Did it Make?
Totem to Temple has a helpful analysis of a recent George Barna article discussing the long-term spiritual impact of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Short summary: Most people liked the movie but very few reported lasting life change as a result.
I remember receiving several mailings calling the movie the most important evangelistic opportunity ever. Perhaps it would have been better to call it an open door to talk about the claims of Christ with our friends. Having seent the movie three times, I found it gripping and compelling but not directly evangelistic in the normal sense of the word. It wasn't like a Billy Graham film where you could stand up and give an invitation. When I saw the movie for the first time, I didn't want to talk about it; I wanted to get away by myself and think about what I had experienced. We purchased a block of tickets and invited people to come back to the church afterwards for supper and a panel discussion. It helped that we had 30-40 minutes between the movie and the beginning of the supper. That gave people time to decompress. During the panel discussion we let people ask questions based on the film. And we gave out copies of John Piper's The Passion of Jesus Christ. But we didn't press people to make immediate decisions. We simply gave people a place where they could go to talk about the film with their friends.
Someone asked me later if we had seen an upsurge of Easter attendance as a result of the movie. Not as far as I could tell. And we haven't seen a wave of conversions either. It may be that it's too early to gauge the long-term results. Certainly we felt that our participation was well worth the effort. Our people enjoyed the movie and many of them invited their friends. I do know of many cases where serious conversations about Christ took place after viewing the film together.
Barna is right when he says that in a media-saturated society, people have a very short attention span. If we were hoping for The Passion of the Christ to start the next great awakening, we'll probably have to wait a bit longer. But the incredible coverage in the mainstream media, plus the unprecedented participation by thousands of local churches, caused millions of people to attend the movie who probably wouldn't have paid attention to it otherwise. As a result, many people took another step toward Jesus. That alone made it worthwhile.
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