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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 April, 2004, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Passion gift swells congregation
The Passion of the Christ
The tickets, worth 20,000, were paid for by church funds
Easter Sunday attendance figures have risen significantly at a church which gave away more than 20,000 worth of tickets to The Passion of the Christ.

St Luke's Church, in Maidstone, booked up all the showings - more than 3,000 tickets - for the opening three days and nights at the town's Odeon cinema.

The 6.50 tickets, paid for by church funds, were given away on the internet.

Director of worship Russ Hughes said attendance figures at Easter Sunday services had risen by about 10%.

"Obviously it's Easter Sunday so you are going to get more people - but it has been especially busy," he added.

"I've just been speaking to a couple who went to see the film two weeks ago and have been coming to church with their young son since.

If people are talking about Jesus rather than gay bishops, that has to be a good thing
Russ Hughes
St Luke's Church

"All our people are saying they hear friends talking about the film and talking about Jesus," Mr Hughes said.

"If people are talking about Jesus rather than gay bishops, that has to be a good thing."

Volunteers from the church had distributed 2,500 books addressing various questions about Christianity from a stand they had set up outside the cinema, Mr Hughes added.

The Passion of Christ, directed by Mel Gibson, has broken box office records around the world.

Mr Hughes said church officials came up with the idea to gain positive publicity for Christianity and give non-believers the chance to "reinvestigate" Jesus.

He told BBC News Online: "When a man like Mel Gibson makes a film like this it is a gift, and we just had to take advantage of that."

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