2016-06-30
(RNS) This Easter, many churchgoers at one of the year's most attended worship services will not go home empty-handed.

At Asbury United Methodist Church in Madison, Ala., for example, an evangelism committee has purchased 1,250 copies of a little book they hope will eventually draw Easter-only worshippers to attend on a regular basis.

"He Did This Just For You," a 64-page booklet is at the center of a massive campaign spearheaded by Christian book and music companies that began with a best-seller by author Max Lucado.

Scott Ray, chairman of the evangelism committee at the Madison church, said the booklet fits into the church's Easter efforts, which include a special contemporary service at a local high school. He and the associate pastor decided the new booklet would be better than the more 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 book published last year by Word Publishing, a Nashville, Tenn., company. Across the country, churches are planning to distribute the booklets to worshippers on Easter Sunday in hopes that they will keep them or share them with others.

Since it came out last August, "He Chose the Nails" has morphed into a variety of products with an evangelistic edge -- a recording, a teaching series, and a four-city tour that Lucado completed Sunday (April 1). During the tour, he read excerpts from the book in between selections by contemporary Christian artists and a choir including members of his San Antonio church.

An estimated 18,000 people attended the tour in Dallas, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati and Memphis, Tenn. A similar production will air as a television special Easter weekend.

The author said the original book was designed to have readers look at the graphic elements leading up to Jesus' death. It dwells on the spit, the sponge and the spear, among other objects.

"I wanted this to be kind of an explanation of why Jesus died on the cross 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 of Jesus, Lucado thought it was important to remember the crucifixion. "I have found that people have an easier time seeing a Jesus who rose from the dead than a Jesus who could forgive their mistakes," he said. "To see the empty tomb is to see the God of power. To see the crucifix on Friday is to see mercy and grace."

Lucado boiled down some of the concepts in the book for the smaller booklet, retaining stories such as that of a daughter who ran away from her father and how the dad was always ready for her to return home. It also includes advice on how someone who decides to become a Christian can get involved in church life.

"I felt like if a person came to a point of belief in Christ through that booklet that they would be asking, `Well, what do I do next?"' Lucado said.

The book and booklet have the same cover, a photograph of a gift from a visitor to Lucado's Oak Hills Church of Christ. It is a cross made of nails from a disassembled Russian church and overlaid with a ring of barbed wire resembling a crown of thorns.

Organizers of the evangelistic campaign hoped to sell 1 million of the booklets. By the end of March, at least 1.4 million had been distributed. When all the projects are totaled, more than 2 million items have been purchased including the book, booklet, video curriculum and church evangelism kits.

On top of that, more than 24,000 people have visited the campaign's Web site (www.hechosethenails.com ) and Here to Him Music, also in Nashville, has shipped more than 90,000 related tapes and CDs from its warehouse.

"I'm just real thankful," said Lucado, saying the campaign has exceeded expectations. "We sure didn't set out to do all this." He did voice some qualms about the extent of the product line associated with the campaign.

"I think we've done enough product out there," he said. "I think we've crossed a line."

Susan Ligon, former vice president of Word Publishing and a consultant heading up the campaign, said the cross-and-nails image and the words "He Chose the Nails" became popular with Christians who wanted to declare their faith publicly.

"It began to take on a little bit of similarity to the `What Would Jesus Do?' campaign," she said. "That was a way for them to express their faith in a public way as well as a private way."

Profits from the sales of T-shirts and cap sales are going to a ministry that aids Russian orphans, Lucado said. Thus far, 30,000 T-shirts, denim shirts and golf shirts and more than 5,000 caps have been purchased.

When the Christian companies behind the campaign asked him about a 30-day tour, Lucado nixed the idea and the concept was trimmed dramatically to a four-day reality.

He said the booklets are being offered basically at cost, at $1 or 2 each with discounts for large orders. The concert tickets were kept to about $10 each because of a deal with the Christian relief organization World Vision, which paid for half of the costs for renting facilities and paying the artists and technical crew.

Organizers estimated that 600 churches nationwide watched the evangelistic concert -- which featured people coming forward to a 16-foot cross in the middle of each arena, some to announce they had become Christians.

A video was produced of Lucado's original appearance with the musical artists, held during last year's annual gathering of CBA, the Christian retailing industry's major trade organization. It will air on television Easter weekend on such networks as Fox Family, PAX TV and The Inspiration Network.

The booklet and some related products could turn out to be an Easter effort that outlasts the holiday.

Ligon expects it will reach across the globe.

"It's likely that it will be licensed in several languages, both the book and the booklet, for campaigns abroad," she said.

Ray, of the Methodist church in Alabama, hopes it will touch far more than the number who come to the special Easter service. He said his evangelism committee will place stickers on each booklet that will ask those who receive it "to read it and to pass it along."

more from beliefnet and our partners