PORTLAND — Daniel Leavitt, 5, stood clutching his father’s hand waiting for a helicopter to descend like a giant bird Easter Sunday afternoon on Payson Park.
A cheer went up as the hovering aircraft swooped down to disgorge hundreds of plastic eggs in a rainbow of colors. Seconds later Daniel and a pack 5- to 7-year-olds were scrambling to bag as many of the eggs as possible. Daniel and his father, Ralph Leavitt of South Portland, were among about 300 people who turned out for the Next Level Church’s annual egg drop.
“It’s something to do with the little man,” said Leavitt.
The egg drop is one of the most popular events organized by the Next Level Church, a high-energy nondenominational Christian congregation with “weekly experiences” – rather than services – that feature rock music and videos. It is a young church with lots of children.
John Gagnon founded the church in 2008 with 12 members, meeting in a movie theater in New Hampshire.
Today the church has 1,200 members who meet at four locations, including Portland, Epping and Newington, N.H., and Danvers, Mass. Pastor Allen Robbins, who leads the Portland church at 1053 Forest Ave., said 2,000 people showed up for Easter experiences at the four locations this weekend.
The church is known for getting the word out through guerrilla marketing, using social media and other unconventional, inexpensive ways to promote itself.
Ralph Leavitt, like many others at Sunday’s egg drop, said he saw the signs that sprang up around South Portland directing him to the church’s website. Leavitt had to register online and then show up for one of the church’s Easter experiences. Leavitt, who does not belong to a church, called the experience positive.
“It was great. I met some new people,” he said.
Robbins said the first year the egg drop was held in New Hampshire, in 2010, 3,000 preregistered and 12,000 people showed up. So they started requiring people to attend the church on Easter in order to participate. He said the Easter egg drop always brings in new members, as will its April 20 promotion lowering the price of a gallon of gas to $2.99 at the 865 Brighton Ave. Citgo station.
Lee and Bobbijo McLaskey of Westbrook heard about the egg drop from a friend. They said their children, Shylee Rice, 4, Kaylee Himes, 8, Morgan McLaskey, 6, and Brandon McLaskey, 10, appeared to enjoy the Easter service.
“It’s for all people. We will probably start going” regularly, Lee McLaskey said.
Janeen Arnold of South Portland, a regular member of Next Level Church, said the egg hunt is a wonderful way to end Easter morning. Arnold’s son, Isaiah, 4, agreed.
“I love the eggs because they carry candy,” he said.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: