Barna: Few became Christians from 'Passion' film
By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS)—A new poll says 11 million people changed their religious beliefs after seeing Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” but only a tiny fraction of movie-goers became Christians because of the film.
The survey discovered the film about the death of Jesus was remarkably effective at drawing attention to the Christian Savior, even if it persuaded few to make a profession of faith. The Barna Group of Ventura, Calif., conducted the poll
“More than any other movie in recent years, ‘The Passion’ focused people on the person and purpose of Jesus Christ,” reported George Barna, the director of research.
“In a society that revolves on relativism, spiritual diversity, tolerance and independence, galvanizing such intense consideration of Jesus Christ is a major achievement in itself.”
The controversial film, which was denounced by Jewish groups for its portrayal of Jews, is the year’s top-grossing film, at $609 million worldwide. About 67 million adults—about one-third of all adults in the United States— have seen the movie, Barna said.
The survey found that 13 million adults (18 percent of those who saw it) altered their religious behavior, and 11 million (16 percent) changed their religious beliefs after seeing the movie.
Changed behavior involved increased church attendance, praying more often or involvement in church-related activities, Barna said. Changed beliefs involved becoming more concerned for others, implications of “life choices or personal behavior” and an increased “appreciation” for Jesus’ death.
Still, less than 1/10th of 1 percent of movie-goers (about 67,000) became Christians after seeing the film, and less than 1/2 of 1 percent (335,000) were motivated to share their Christian faith, according to Barna’s research.
“Major transformation is not likely to result from one-time exposure to a specific media product,” Barna said.
The overall survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, and 3.9 percentage points for the 646 adults surveyed who saw the movie.
At the same time, research by Nielsen EDI Inc., which tracks movie sales, found “The Passion” was the most popular in suburbs and a wide swath of the Sun Belt, from Orange County, Calif., and New Mexico through Texas, Florida and up into Ohio, Detroit and New York City.
Michael Moore’s documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” meanwhile, has generated similar passions but has been most popular in urban centers in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and the Washington-New York-Boston corridor, according to The New York Times.