The success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ proved to Hollywood that there is demand for movies that praise the Lord. But behind the scenes, Passion's success revealed some other truths about the Christian market, which may present opportunities for entrepreneurs:

Churchgoers love the Internet. BuzzPlant, a marketing firm in Franklin, Tenn., garnered hundreds of thousands of advance ticket sales online for The Passion. One of its sites catered to college students, another allowed ticket buyers to forward invitations to friends (evangelism meets Evite), while a third presented a trailer for the film that you could e-mail. Christians both young and old are good Web consumers, BuzzPlant CEO Bob Hutchins says, because "they are hungry for things that pertain to their own lifestyles" and "are willing to pay for it."

Churchgoers also love to rock. When Nashville start-up Fuzebox Media landed a contract to help push The Passion, CEO Denny Dansereau knew his contacts in the Christian music industry would serve him well. In the same way that Britney Spears dazzled mainstream audiences in her Pepsi ads, Christian rock groups have tremendous influence within their devoted fan base. Dansereau worked with rockers such as Delirious and Third Day to organize online chats about the film long before its release. Another band, MercyMe, exhibited a Passion promo featuring Gibson at each of the 28 shows, which were typically seen by 4,000 fans, on its three-month winter tour. "We had people every night talking about how cool it was," says MercyMe guitarist Mike Scheuchzer. "The excitement about seeing that movie was overwhelming, for sure."

Christians are an underappreciated market. They're organized, centralized, and easily motivated to rally around one man: Jesus Christ. Carl Townsend, CEO of Virginia-based InService America, a third company retained to promote The Passion, maintains a database of roughly 10 million Christian consumers. In the run-up to the film's release, his 400-person staff contacted nearly 100,000 pastors to ask them to mention the movie in their weekly congregation newsletters. "There's a huge group of Christian believers that have a huge influence on the economy," Townsend says. InService's efforts resulted in another 2.1 million advanced ticket sales.

Published on: Jul 1, 2004