Valley clergy members and others see an opportunity for Christians to explore and discuss their beliefs with a flood of faith-based films opening in theaters leading up to Easter.
"Son of God," the life story of Jesus from his humble birth through his teachings, crucifixion and resurrection, debuted Feb. 28. "God's Not Dead," a film about a college student who finds his faith challenged by a philosophy professor, opened March 21.
"Noah," starring Russell Crowe as the man chosen by God to build an ark to save creation from a coming flood, opened Friday in theaters.
And on April 16, "Heaven is For Real," the true story about a small-town father (Greg Kinnear) who tries to find courage to share his son's life-changing experience with the world, opens.
"I think that anything that creates an environment where people are discussing spiritual issues, people can manage it," says Tom Sims, pastor of 4141 ministries and interim director of missions for the Mid-Valley Southern Baptist Association in Clovis.
"From the churches' point of view and the point of clarifying the Christian message, we have to be ready and willing to respond effectively — and not reactively. But to engage people."
Mike Navarro, pastor of the Celebrate Recovery ministry at NorthPointe Community Church in northwest Fresno, says the current faith-based movies are opportunities for people to see and experience biblical accounts.
"I'm not worried about pop culture diminishing the meaning," he says. "I am all for anything that sparks interest, curiosity or conversation whenever God is concerned.
"I think it would be great for us, as Christians, to just let people go and watch these movies, and be prepared if they want to talk about it."
Catherine DePrima, director of marketing at Santa Rosa Entertainment Group, which operates Sierra Vista Cinemas 16 in Clovis, says theaters recognize faith-based movies as opportunities to offer pre-buys and work with churches to present special private screenings.
That's what Clovis Christian Church did. The church skipped a Sunday service in its sanctuary this month and went to see "Son of God" instead.
"We had a lot of fun," Pastor Cameron Unruh says.
In 2004, many Valley churches bought out movie theaters for private showings of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
"There is this population out there — and I'm happy we're able to provide the venues," DePrima says. "There's quite a bit of interest in these films.
"We also do field trips for schools (for children's movies). You have them all in one room, you have the movie screen and you have their attention. Same thing for churches."
Unruh says "Son of God" — a television mini-series that got a big-screen re-edit — is accurate enough to Scripture that he felt comfortable taking his congregation to the movies.
"Our intention was to reach out to people and bring them with us," Unruh says of the congregation of about 300.
Six hundred people attended, filling the two largest theaters at Sierra Vista Cinemas 16. Officials gave the church a special rate: $6 per person. Clovis Christian Church charged $5, paying the rest.
After the movie ended, worship music was presented in each theater as well as a message.
"We shared the Gospel message, which was easy to do, having just seen the life of Christ and heard the message of Christ," says Unruh, adding the movie is another resource for people to better understand biblical accounts.
"The response was it brought Scripture to life. It's helped me know that our church folks have seen the movie, and they have that visual image."
Altar calls also were presented in each theater — and a total of 70 people made professions of faith.
Valley residents say it is important Hollywood understands what believers want to see.
"Christians will boycott or resist non-value movies and in some ways send a message to Hollywood that we don't like those movies," says Bruce Kinabrew, who trains missionary teams to the Philippines through Church Multiplication Coalition International.
"On the other hand, Christians will bring their whole families if they present family-friendly movies."
Ken Johnson believes the recent motion pictures with biblical themes are good for the faith community and others.
"For those individuals who have an established, ongoing faith, these movies serve to reinforce what they already believe to be true," he says. "For individuals who do not practice their faith in an established church, these shows might cause them to re-evaluate what they believe about God and religion, leading them to seek out a church home."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6304, email@example.com or @ronorozco_bee on Twitter.