By Karen Vance
With receipts expected to hit $400 million, there is little doubt that The Passion of The Christ has brought big numbers of people into theater seats. But its impact in bringing people into local church pews isn't quite as clear, local pastors say.
Some pastors interviewed this week say the film - though controversial and graphically violent - has bolstered people's faith, and has helped boost attendance.
But perhaps more important, the film has sparked more conversation about Christ's sacrifice.
Florence Baptist Church has seen record numbers of people at services and choosing to be baptized. Associate Pastor Pete Coleman expects that will continue for Easter, with more than 2,000 people attending four services - one today, three Sunday.
"I think this could be the biggest weekend in our history," said Coleman, noting that The Passion might be partly responsible.
Senior Associate Pastor Dan Dunlop at Hope Church in Mason said he hasn't seen an attendance impact from taking about 1,000 members of the congregation to the film. But the awareness of the story has had a different effect.
"The true impact has come one-on-one, rather than in reaching big numbers. It's really made a substantive change in people coming in and asking questions," he said.
At Faith Fellowship, a Baptist church in Bridgetown, connecting the film to a Lenten sermon series has also caused a community response, said Pastor Tim Wagner.
About 150 people from the church attended the film together, and the congregation has a sign outside with a picture of Jesus from the film.
"We've seen a lot of people coming in we don't know at all, and we're excited that they're showing an interest," Wagner said.
"The biggest difference is, we're seeing a lot of conversations about Christ and the movie that normally don't happen."
Pastor Henry Zorn of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Anderson Township put off seeing the film until Holy Week so he could discuss it with fresh thoughts at the church's Good Friday service. But he's seen the impact it's had on conversations among church members.
"They've been able to talk to people about their faith like they've never been able to before," he said. "And that's exciting."
Rev. Rick Bolte, pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Newport, said the discussion has also reached young people. Recently, while talking with fifth-grade students, the film came up even though some of the students hadn't seen it.
"The Passion was good in that it generated discussion that might not have happened," Bolte said. "It puts a little extra energy into discussions about the Passion and the Resurrection and has us asking questions about important issues."
It's those kinds of conversations that James Carwell, 31, of Batavia finds the most important impact of the film.
Carwell, a steering committee member at Harvest Pointe Christian Church, said the start-up church, which meets at the Teen Challenge Ranch in Stonelick Township in Clermont County, has seen a handful of families join since its 441-person screening.
"But you might never know how many people will be reached by that screening or others," he said. "We'd like them to come to Harvest Pointe, but if they make it to heaven, that's what really matters. Hopefully, they found the church that's right for them."
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