At Asbury United Methodist Church in Madison, Ala., for example, anevangelism committee has purchased 1,250 copies of a little book theyhope will eventually draw Easter-only worshippers to attend on a regularbasis.
"He Did This Just For You," a 64-page booklet is at the center of amassive campaign spearheaded by Christian book and music companies thatbegan with a best-seller by author Max Lucado.
Scott Ray, chairman of the evangelism committee at the Madisonchurch, said the booklet fits into the church's Easter efforts, whichinclude a special contemporary service at a local high school. He andthe associate pastor decided the new booklet would be better than themore old-fashioned Christian tract.
"We feel the book is just a great way to evangelize our community,"he said.
The booklet is an extension of "He Chose the Nails," Lucado's bookpublished last year by Word Publishing, a Nashville, Tenn., company.Across the country, churches are planning to distribute the booklets toworshippers on Easter Sunday in hopes that they will keep them or sharethem with others.
Since it came out last August, "He Chose the Nails" has morphed intoa variety of products with an evangelistic edge -- a recording, ateaching series, and a four-city tour that Lucado completed Sunday(April 1). During the tour, he read excerpts from the book in betweenselections by contemporary Christian artists and a choir includingmembers of his San Antonio church.
An estimated 18,000 people attended the tour in Dallas, OklahomaCity, Cincinnati and Memphis, Tenn. A similar production will air as atelevision special Easter weekend.
The author said the original book was designed to have readers lookat the graphic elements leading up to Jesus' death. It dwells on thespit, the sponge and the spear, among other objects.
"I wanted this to be kind of an explanation of why Jesus died on thecross as seen through these different inanimate objects of the cross,"Lucado said in an interview.
While some Christians focus on their belief in the resurrection ofJesus, Lucado thought it was important to remember the crucifixion."I have found that people have an easier time seeing a Jesus whorose from the dead than a Jesus who could forgive their mistakes," hesaid. "To see the empty tomb is to see the God of power. To see thecrucifix on Friday is to see mercy and grace."
Lucado boiled down some of the concepts in the book for the smallerbooklet, retaining stories such as that of a daughter who ran away fromher father and how the dad was always ready for her to return home. Italso includes advice on how someone who decides to become a Christiancan get involved in church life.
"I felt like if a person came to a point of belief in Christ throughthat booklet that they would be asking, `Well, what do I do next?"'Lucado said.
Organizers of the evangelistic campaign hoped to sell 1 million ofthe booklets. By the end of March, at least 1.4 million had beendistributed. When all the projects are totaled, more than 2 millionitems have been purchased including the book, booklet, video curriculumand church evangelism kits.
On top of that, more than 24,000 people have visited the campaign'sWeb site (www.hechosethenails.com
"I'm just real thankful," said Lucado, saying the campaign hasexceeded expectations. "We sure didn't set out to do all this."He did voice some qualms about the extent of the product lineassociated with the campaign.
"I think we've done enough product out there," he said. "I thinkwe've crossed a line."
Susan Ligon, former vice president of Word Publishing and aconsultant heading up the campaign, said the cross-and-nails image andthe words "He Chose the Nails" became popular with Christians who wantedto declare their faith publicly.
"It began to take on a little bit of similarity to the `What WouldJesus Do?' campaign," she said. "That was a way for them to expresstheir faith in a public way as well as a private way."
Profits from the sales of T-shirts and cap sales are going to aministry that aids Russian orphans, Lucado said. Thus far, 30,000T-shirts, denim shirts and golf shirts and more than 5,000 caps havebeen purchased.
When the Christian companies behind the campaign asked him about a30-day tour, Lucado nixed the idea and the concept was trimmeddramatically to a four-day reality.
He said the booklets are being offered basically at cost, at $1 or 2each with discounts for large orders. The concert tickets were kept toabout $10 each because of a deal with the Christian relief organizationWorld Vision, which paid for half of the costs for renting facilitiesand paying the artists and technical crew.
Organizers estimated that 600 churches nationwide watched theevangelistic concert -- which featured people coming forward to a16-foot cross in the middle of each arena, some to announce they hadbecome Christians.
A video was produced of Lucado's original appearance with themusical artists, held during last year's annual gathering of CBA, theChristian retailing industry's major trade organization. It will air ontelevision Easter weekend on such networks as Fox Family, PAX TV and TheInspiration Network.
The booklet and some related products could turn out to be an Eastereffort that outlasts the holiday.
Ligon expects it will reach across the globe.
"It's likely that it will be licensed in several languages, both thebook and the booklet, for campaigns abroad," she said.
Ray, of the Methodist church in Alabama, hopes it will touch farmore than the number who come to the special Easter service. He said hisevangelism committee will place stickers on each booklet that will askthose who receive it "to read it and to pass it along."