(Photo: Hope Community Church / Rob Blair)
This Halloween, a local church in Ohio is asking the community one sobering question: What if your worst nightmare was only a mild hint of your coming eternity?
Referring to Judgment Day, Hope Community Church in Hudson, Ohio, is skipping out on the pumpkins, the candy and the spooky costumes this year and using the month of October to get real.
“The Bible tells us that we will all stand before the Lord in judgment and what happens there will be based on the decisions we made in life,” the Rev. Jeff Schofield, co-lead pastor at the church, told Akron Beacon Journal. “We want to encourage people to choose a relationship with Christ.”
Offering an alternative to haunted houses around the neighborhood, the church puts on a live, walk-through drama called “Judgement House” every year, allowing visitors to witness what the Bible teaches about life after death.
A guide walks groups of 30 from scene to scene through the church, which starts off at a tent off the parking lot and ends in the sanctuary.
The theme for this year’s “Judgement House” is “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire.” It tells the story of a family trying to deal with a devastating loss after three teens die in a house fire.
This year marks the 10th year of the drama’s run at the church, which although has differing themes each year, shares the same underlying message: What will you do with God’s offer of a saving and personal relationship with Jesus Christ? And where will your final destination be?
Not intended to scare people into believing, however, the church simply seeks to present a biblical perspective on the afterlife.
“We’re not trying to make people wet their pants or have a heart attack,” Schofield told ABJ. “It’s not our heart to scare people into a relationship with Christ.”
“The goal of the event is to communicate the good news of the Gospel in a clear and compelling way,” the co-pastor further explained to The Christian Post via email.
“Judgement House is multi-sensory. Not only are they hearing the Gospel, they are visually engaged. Their heart is engaged as they connect with various characters in the story.”
After each 35-minute walk through, a trained group of “wrap-up” counselors are available to talk with the groups, broken down into smaller groups of five. The Gospel is then clearly shared in a small group dialogue that engages the attendees.
At last year’s event, which brought 6,000 people to the church, more than 600 people indicated that they made a first time decision to follow Christ, Schofield shared with CP.
The church also made an effort to follow up with attendees as well. If visitors came with a specific church, they sent response cards to the church. If they came alone, they would write them a letter and add them to their mailing list as well.
Moreover, the drama’s impact on the community has been far-reaching.
“There have been individual lives changed that have had dramatic effect on their families, which only makes the community stronger,” Schofield wrote.
“Communities are made up of families, and communities are only as strong as the families within them. So, Judgment House is about the people in our community having a repeated opportunity to see, hear, and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We accomplish that one life at a time.”
Schofield and a team of people started “Judgement House” in 2001, capturing the vision from another local church in Akron, Ohio.
“We were taking our teens to the Judgement House at Norton Grace Brethren, and we saw the powerful impact it had on students we took, plus the many un-churched people it drew,” he told CP.
“We are a church that seeks to communicate the Gospel in effective ways that connect with the un-churched, so this appeared to be something that was connecting with the un-churched people.”
Admission to the event is free, although there are donation buckets at the exits. Funds collected from the event are used to help cover the costs of equipment rented and materials purchased for the live drama.
Hope Community’s “Judgement House” is part of a larger organization by the same name, also known as New Creation Evangelism.
They are a nonprofit organization, established in 1983 by Tom Hudgins, who created the first “Judgement House” in Moody, Ala.
According to their website, more than 6 million people have attended a “Judgement House” presentation throughout 35 states and 10 foreign countries and approximately 600,000 of those have made first-time professions of faith.
Their mission is similar to Hope’s: to provide as many people as possible with the opportunity to choose a saving and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
New Creation Evangelism accomplishes this through equipping the local church and other ministries with the ability to produce a walk-through Gospel presentation concerning the truth of people’s choices versus the earthly and eternal consequences. They have thus far partnered with more than 600 ministries to achieve this goal.
Scripts are provided by NCE for the development of the dramas. Todd Kowalcyk, director of the production, adapted the script for Hope Community this year.
“As far as I’m concerned, God takes care of the message and we take care of the show,” he told ABJ. “It’s all about spreading the Gospel.”
More than 200 church members have been involved in the making of the 2011 “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire” drama.
“When people walk away from Judgement House, we want them to look at the reality of life after death and to have seen the love of God through his son, Jesus Christ,” founding pastor Jerry Witt shared with ABJ.
“We do this as a gift to others because we want to share the love of God. And the added bonus is that it really draws the people in our church together.”
HCC’s “Judgement House” plays on the last two weekends of October every year.
Hope Community Church was founded in 1992 and is part of the larger movement called the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an alliance of evangelical believers joined together throughout the world in local churches.
On the Web: hopecma.com