by Rick Wood
In the history of the modern mission movement, few organizations have succeeded as brilliantly as The Jesus Film Project.
Started in 1980 as an evangelistic effort of Campus Crusade for Christ using a recently released film called the Jesus Film, which chronicles the life of Christ from the Gospel of Luke, its efforts have gone from simply amazing to astounding and earth-shaking.
For at least a decade or two it has remained the most translated and viewed film in the history of filmmaking. When we featured the Jesus Film and its mind-boggling goals in the November-December, 1997, issue of Mission Frontiers, the film had been translated into 419 languages and over one billion people had viewed the film. Now, as of the end of June, 2007, the film has been translated into over 1,000 languages and achieved the incredible milestone of exposing over 6.2 billion persons to the film, with some having seen it more than once. The one million speakers of the Lanka Kol language of India are the recipients of the 1,000th translation of the Jesus Film.
Even more significant is that more than 201 million people have committed their lives to Christ as a result of viewing this film, and hundreds of thousands of new churches have been established. Steve Steele, formerly of the DAWN Movement which promotes church planting, has said: "Of the 1 million churches started in the last decade (1992-2002) 75 percent used the Jesus Film strategically in its startup or the growth of the congregation." Hundreds of mission organizations partnering with The Jesus Film Project have been instrumental in helping start and grow these churches.
It took 17 years, from 1980 to 1997, for the project to reach 419 translations and one billion viewers. In just the last 10 years they have completed over 581 more translations and reached an additional five billion viewers. This is just the beginning of their plans to plant churches and expose as many as possible to the life-saving message of the gospel of Christ.
In terms of translations, their ultimate goal is to translate the film into the heart language of every person. But their intermediate goal is to translate the Jesus Film into every language with over 100,000 speakers. There are currently around 1,500 such languages, so the project is two-thirds of the way towards that goal. With a new translation completed almost once a week, they should reach this goal within the next 10 years.
Introducing New Versions
In recent years the Jesus Film Project has introduced new versions of the film in order to reach new audiences. In 2000 they released The Jesus Film for Children, designed to appeal to a younger audience. To produce this film they interlaced clips of the original Jesus Film with new footage portraying children in Jesus' time to create a new storyline.
They have also released a new film in 2007, Magdalena, Released from Shame. Again by interlacing original Jesus Film clips with new footage the producers have created a unique new film designed to appeal to women. The film portrays five women from the life of Christ, such as Mary Magdalene, whose lives were changed by Christ. The film is being shown in theaters in various countries. In more restrictive countries, the film may be distributed on DVD by way of the informal private networks of individual women. Its use will depend on the country and the cultural contexts of the peoples they are seeking to reach.
The Jesus Film has also been adapted to an audio format for use on radio, cassette tapes or CDs. Narration and sound effects are added to the audio clips from the original film to describe action taking place on the film. Currently around 400 translations in this format have been completed.
As the Jesus Film approaches the end of its third decade of ministry, its leaders recognize that they need to adapt the film to the needs of an increasingly sophisticated media audience, especially in Western countries. The younger generation of 15-25 year olds will likely need new versions of the film in order to understand the message of the gospel in a meaningful way. This will involve the creation of completely new films in order to reach this and following generations of young people. The focus is not on the Jesus Film itself. It is merely a tool. The focus is the development and distribution of the most effective media tools to communicate the gospel to various types of audiences. One size or tool does not fit all.
One foray into this arena of new tools and resources is the new DVD, Jesus, Fact or Fiction. It is an innovative new evangelistic tool that uses cutting edge interactive multi-media technology to provide compelling answers to some of life's toughest questions. It includes dramatic real life stories along with answers from expert scientists, biblical scholars, and apologists such as Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Ravi Zacharias, Paul Maier, Kelly Monroe, and many others.
The DVD presents the facts, history, and evidence that support the claims and teachings of Jesus. A person with questions and objections can get thoughtful biblical answers by watching the DVD. It includes a full-length version of the Jesus Film along with interactive apologetic features and full-length audio commentary by Paul Eshleman. A PC DVD for use in a computer is also provided with articles for further research on various subjects. This new tool is designed to be used in various contexts, from home Bible studies to evangelistic outreaches to church planting. More information on this resource others can be found by going to www.jesusfilm.org
Moving into the Future
The Jesus Film Project is always looking for new ways to convey the message of the Jesus film and the gospel. Currently, the Jesus film is available to view online in any of 800 different languages. You can also download segments of the film onto your iPod for on-the-go viewing. As technology and the mission of the church around the world advances, you can be assured that the Jesus Film Project will be actively involved in helping to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to every tribe and tongue.
Reprinted with permission
Rick Wood is managing editor of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Missions