Mars Hill Church will offer free screenings of the anticipated "Son of God" film on Thursday to thousands of non-churchgoers a day before it is released in theaters nationwide.
To promote the Gospel and the message behind the movie, the megachurch has purchased over 3,500 seats in movies theaters near 15 of its locations throughout five states. Their intent is to show the film free of charge to individuals who are encouraged to take a nonbeliever with them.
"This isn't just a pass to a free movie; this is an opportunity to bring a friend, a few friends, who would never otherwise hear the story of Jesus. What we don't want are theaters packed with people who attend Mars Hill. We want theaters packed full of people from Mars Hill with their un-churched friends," reads a post on the church's website.
Hollywood producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are behind "Son of God" and decided to share the Gospel on the big screen after airing the highly successful "The Bible" mini-series on the History Channel last spring. The film focuses on the life of Christ, from birth to crucifixion to resurrection.
"Son of God" is the first major feature film portraying Christ's entire life in nearly 50 years, since "The Greatest Story Ever Told" was released in the 1960s.
"We're very excited that the community is mobilizing to support 'Son of God,'" said Burnett and Downey in a statement. "The grass roots support is so important and the faith community is amazing when it mobilizes. Our hope is that the story and message of Jesus Christ will reach tens of millions of people nationwide."
Mars Hill joins a slew of other churches and faith leaders who are promoting the film this week as an opportunity to share God's Word.
"It's very interesting to see this level of excitement around the movie," said James Meredith, vice president and head of marketing and communications for Cinemark, in a statement. "We've already scheduled a few large-scale theatre buyouts for 'Son of God' in theatres across the country. The interest level for meetings, events, screenings and buyouts seems to be on par with that of major blockbuster, tentpole or franchise movies."
Among one of the many church leaders helping to promote the film is Pastor Rick Warren, who also bought out at least eight different theaters throughout Orange County, Calif., for screenings.
"We're excited Jesus is back on the big screen, and we're going to fill the theaters," Warren said in a statement. "I want every other faith leader in America to do the same. Whether you can buy out a whole theater, or just one screen, now is the time to show up."
Warren will also launch a new six-week study curriculum for Saddleback Church's small groups, called "Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You," beginning with the movie's release and ending on Easter.
Back in October, world premier clips from the film were shared for the first time with audiences at Mars Hill's 2013 Resurgence Conference. At the time, Burnett and Downey shared with Pastor Mark Driscoll their vision for producing Bible-themed shows and movies in Hollywood and noted that they took a risk with their careers in making "The Bible" series.
"We were so certain of our faith that we didn't care if the rest of Hollywood did reject us and our careers were over; we honestly were just walking forward together ...," said Burnett.
Tickets to the free screenings are on a first come, first serve basis. For a list of participating movie theaters, click here.