Churches capitalise on Mel Gibson film

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Churches are employing a range of tactics - from block-booking cinemas to 24-hour hotlines - to capitalise on this week's opening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, in an effort to convert audiences to Christianity.

Other tactics include leafleting campaigns and even the setting up of Christian coffee bars next to cinemas.

When the film, which depicts Christ's last hours in gruesome detail, opened in America, it was called the best recruiting tool for Catholics for 2,000 years.

Faced by declining congregations, British Protestant and non-conformist churches are hoping to capitalise on the interest the film may stimulate among cinema-goers.

The film opens at 90 cinemas on Friday and will then be shown across the country.

Baptist and Evangelical churches in Worthing have bought 1,000 tickets so non-churchgoers can see the film.

Graham Jefferson of Worthing's New Life Baptist church said: "The level of interest in religion generated by this film is unprecedented. People are talking about Jesus and his passion in a way I have never known."