Thinking Out Loud

September 10, 2017

Charts: Ten Largest Churches in America

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus is quoted as saying, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
But you’d never know that by the American obsession with church size.
Image: Journey Online, Australia (click to link)

The Outreach Magazine list is always considered the most authoritative, but only includes participating churches. Nonetheless, here’s how it looked in 2016:

  1. North Point (Atlanta) 39,056 (Andy Stanley)
  2. Church of the Highlands (Birmingham) 38,346 (Chris Hodges)
  3. NewSpring (Anderson) 33,761 (vacant)
  4. Gateway (South Lake) 28,399 (Robert Morris)
  5. Saddleback (Orange County) 25,612 (Rick Warren)
  6. Willow Creek (NW Chicago) 25,371 (Bill Hybels/Steve Carter)
  7. Christ’s Church of the Valley (Peoria, AZ) 24,108 (Donald J. Wilson)
  8. Christ Fellowship (Palm Beach) 23,845 (Todd Mullins)
  9. Southeast Christian (Louisville) 23,799 (Dave Stone/Kyle Idleman)
  10. Crossroads (Cincinnati) 22,458 (Brian Tome)

So right away many of you noticed that Lakewood (Joel Osteen) and LifeChurch (Craig Groeschel) are missing. That’s the problem with this list. It only lists churches that completed Outreach’s full survey. They charge money for their reports, and that’s disturbing because almost by definition, the lists are incomplete.

Go to The Christian Post and you’ll find what might be a better list, but it doesn’t have the data:

  1. Lakewood
  2. Willow Creek
  3. LifeChurch (North Oklahama City; Craig Groeschel)
  4. North Point
  5. Saddleback
  6. Gateway
  7. Shadow Mountain (San Diego; David Jeremiah)
  8. New Season (Sacramento; Samuel Rodriguez)
  9. Prestonwood Baptist (Plano, TX; Jack Graham)
  10. The Rock (San Diego; Miles McPherson)

Regular readers here will notice that there are many churches I would consider to be presently more influential that don’t make these attendance-based lists.

Some readers here would be able to rattle off a list like this off the top of their heads. What I thought would be really interesting would be to list the Top Ten Catholic Churches in the US by attendance. Such a list proved elusive. At least one branch of Christianity isn’t focused on numbers.  Other churches on similar lists include Woodlands (Kerry Shook),  Potter’s House (T.D. Jakes) and Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale (Bob Coy).

If you want to sort by denomination, or state, this list at the Hartford Institute is a good one to know about. They also have an alphabetical Canadian list, but I’m not sure when it was last updated.

Image: Christianity Today (click to link)

 

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February 20, 2014

NBC News: Elevation Church Manipulates Baptism Call

Steven Furtick 3If you want to be the first one in the baptism tank at Elevation, middle-aged people need not apply. According to a report from the local NBC affiliate in Charlotte, hometown to Steven Furtick’s church,

Volunteers are instructed to “pick young energetic people” to go on stage first to be baptized and “not necessarily those who are there first.”

But the entire crowd response is manipulated from the very outset. The report notes,

…the first people instructed to respond to Pastor Steven’s call to baptism were not converts suddenly inspired but Elevation volunteers carefully planted in the crowd.

The guide instructs, “Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.”

“They had people in the crowd stand up who never intended to be baptized,” said James Duncan, a communications professor at Anderson University and critic of Furtick. “They were shilling for Steven and the intent was these shills stand up and everybody else follows.”

Duncan blogged about the baptism guide in a post he titled, “How Steven Furtick engineered a miracle.”

Furthermore the church instructs other churches on how to stage the same type of response,

Elevation produced a document to show other churches how they could do likewise.

It’s titled “Spontaneous Baptisms – A How-To Guide” and the church shared it freely on the Sun Stand Still website.

But the church categorizes the great response it gets as belonging in the realm of the ‘miraculous,’

“Although Furtick says this is a miracle, it’s not a miracle,” Duncan said. “It’s emotional manipulation.”

The spontaneous baptism how-to guide describes its purpose as to “pull off our part in God’s miracle.” Church leaders have repeatedly referred to the mass response as a “miracle.” But the guide reveals plenty of human staging.

And what are people being baptized into? The Body of Christ, hopefully; but it’s also a Baptist baptism as the report states at the beginning,

You wouldn’t know it by the name, but Elevation Church is Southern Baptist. Its Pastor Steven Furtick graduated from a Southern Baptist seminary. Elevation was planted with seed money from Southern Baptists. And Elevation gives money to Southern Baptist missions.

But you won’t find the Baptist name on Elevation… There’s not even the traditional cross on the outside of Elevation buildings.

and at the end,

…brand loyalty is to Elevation and not necessarily to the Southern Baptist Church. Rev. [David] Key says the Southern Baptist church runs a risk investing in Elevation.

“A church like his does not create any denominational loyalty,” Rev. Key said. “Because every member of Elevation Church will not necessarily look for a Southern Baptist church when they move away.”

Elevation Church video via WCNC

Elevation Church video via WCNC

I encourage you, if you’ve come this far, to read the entire WCNC report in full. (Or watch the 5-minute video at the same link.)

How widespread is this technique of ‘priming the pump’ at altar calls? If Furtick shares the strategy with other pastors, you can bet many of them avail themselves of Elevation Church’s methods.

I have to also say that on a personal level, this is disappointing. I was quite impressed with Furtick’s writing and preaching style, and gave glowing reviews here to Sun Stand Still here when it was released, and also Greater the follow-up title that is in many ways a sequel. (I won’t be reviewing Crash the Chatterbox.) But then the $1.7M house scandal tainted Furtick’s ministry, and now this revelation.

What is the role of WCNC here? Are they the enemy of the Church of Jesus Christ? Far from it. I think they’re simply doing their job, and I think they’re doing us a favor. I’ll go further and say that I believe media reports like this are part of the purification process the capital-C Church needs. If anything, we should be thanking WCNC’s Stuart Watson for the investigative work he is doing. (The report concludes with various offers he made to the church to respond.)

I don’t believe Watson’s aim is to see the church’s doors locked and the windows shuttered. I believe that he, myself and everyone reading this yearns for Elevation Church — and all churches — to operate at the highest standard, above suspicion and above manipulation.

The bottom line is that Furtick doesn’t need to resort to tricks like this; he is pulling in the crowds just fine and he will with absolute certainty, get a response to a baptism altar call.

To resort to this is simply insecurity.

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. (I Thess. 2:3 NIV)

Thanks to Flagrant Regard for making us aware of this story.

  • Elevation’s own statement on church metrics, see The Code, item #9, “We are all about the numbers.”

October 7, 2013

Head Counting at Worship

Every summer I attend camp meeting where one of the ushers not-so-surreptitiously does a headcount during the sermon. In most churches we count heads. The apologetic goes like this, “God likes Numbers, he has a whole book of them.” (People seriously say that.) But didn’t King David get in trouble for doing that sort of thing? Anyway, this week, I did some studying of the churches in the U.S. and Canada with the highest attendance, and thought I’d share the top 20 for both, as well as links where you can access this information and sort it by state (or province) and denomination.

First, for the U.S.:

Church Name City State Average
Attend.
Denom
Lakewood Church
Joel Osteen
Houston TX 43500 NONDENOM
North Point Community Church
Andy Stanley
Alpharetta GA 30629 NONDENOM
LifeChurch.tv
Craig Groeschel
Edmond OK 30000 EC
Willow Creek Community Church
Bill Hybels
South Barrington IL 25743 NONDENOM
Fellowship Church
Ed Young
Grapevine TX 24162 SBC
NewSpring Church
Perry Noble
Anderson SC 23055 BAPT
Church of the Highlands
Chris Hodges
Birmingham AL 22184 NONDENOM
Saddleback Church
Rick Warren
Lake Forest CA 22055 SBC
Southeast Christian Church
Dave Stone
Louisville KY 21764 CHRISTIAN
Gateway Church
Robert Morris
Southlake TX 21403 NONDENOM
Central Christian Church
Jud Wilhite
Henderson NV 21055 CHRISTIAN
Phoenix First Assembly of God
Tommy & Luke Barnett
Phoenix AZ 21000 AG
Second Baptist Church
H. Edwin Young
Houston TX 20656 SBC
Christ’s Church of the Valley
Don Wilson
Peoria AZ 19931 CHRISTIAN
Christ Fellowship
Todd Mullins
Palm Beach Gardens FL 18965 NONDENOM
Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale
Bob Coy
Fort Lauderdale FL 18521 CAL
Woodlands Church
Kerry Shook
The Woodlands TX 18385 SBC
Eagle Brook Church
Bob Merritt
Centerville MN 17091 BGC
Cornerstone Church
John Hagee
San Antonio TX 17000 NONDENOM

Second, for Canada:  (by province) (which is basically the entire list)

Crossroads Church
NONDENOM
2000
Red Deer County
AB
www.crossroadschurch.ca
Dan Cochrane
Sherwood Park Alliance Church
CMA
2000
Sherwood Park
AB
www.spac.ab.ca
Greg Hochhalter
Beulah Alliance Church
CMA
2400
Edmonton
AB
www.beulah.ca
Keith Taylor
Centre Street Church
EVAN
7000
Calgary
AB
www.cschurch.ca
Henry Schorr
First Alliance Church
CMA
3000
Calgary
AB
www.faccalgary.com
Scott Weatherford
Broadway Church
NONDENOM
2100
Vancouver
BC
www.broadwaychurch.com
Darin Latham
Trinity Baptist Church
ABC
2200
Kelowna
BC
www.trinitybaptist.net
Wayne Alguire
Willow Park Church
MEN
2000
Kelowna
BC
www.willowparkchurch.com
Mark Burch
Northview Community Church
MEN
2700
Abbotsford
BC
www.northview.org
Jeff Bucknam
Willingdon Church
MEN
5000
Burnaby
BC
www.willingdon.org
John Neufeld
Springs Church
NONDENOM
7500
Winnipeg
MB
www.springschurch.org
Leon Fontaine
Church of the Rock
NONDENOM
2500
Winnipeg
MB
www.churchoftherock.ca
Mark Hughes
The Meeting Place
MEN
5000
Winnipeg
MB
www.themeetingplace.mb.ca
John Neufeld
Southland Community Church
NONDENOM
3300
Steinbach
MB
www.mysouthland.com
Ray Duerksen
Agincourt Pentecostal Church
PAC
2200
Toronto
ON
www.apchurch.com 
Keith Smith
Bramalea Baptist Church
EVAN
1800
Bramalea
ON
www.bramalea.org
Stephen Sheane
Rhema Christian Ministries
NONDENOM
2000
Toronto
ON
www.rhemaonline.ca
Denise Blagrove
Richmond Hill Chinese Community Ch.
EVAN
2800
Richmond Hill
ON
www.rhccc.ca
Daniel Splett
The Peoples Church
NONDENOM
3800
Toronto
ON
www.thepeopleschurch.ca
Charles Price
North Park Community Church
NONDENOM
2500
London
ON
www.northpark.on.ca
James Bekkers
The Meeting House
NONDENOM
4401
Oakville
ON
www.themeetinghouse.com
Tim Day
Eglise Nouvelle Vie
AG
3600
Longueuil
ON
www.nouvellevie.com
Claude Houde

Finally, as a sample of the global information — since I can’t figure out how to merge the various continents, Africa:

Attendance Church Name Continent Country State or Province City Church Website
75000 Deeper Christian Life Ministry Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.dclm.org/
6000 Jesus Celebration Center Africa Kenya Mombasa http://www.jccmombasa.org
50000 Living Faith Church (Winner’s Chapel) – main campus Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.davidoyedepoministries.org/
50000 Apostolic Church Africa Nigeria Lagos (Ketu) http://www.tac-lawna.org
40000 Redeemed Christian Church of God Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.rccg.org/
35000 United Family International Church Africa Zimbabwe Harare http://ufiministries.org/
32000 Christian Revival Centre Africa South Africa Bloemfontein
30000 Word of Life Bible Church / International Gospel Center Africa Nigeria Delta state Ajamimogha Warri http://www.ayo-oritsejafor.org/tav/index.php
30000 Lords Chosen Charismatic Revival Church Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.thelordschosenworld.org/
30000 Christ Embassy (Believer’s Love World Fellowship) Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.christembassy.org/pilotsite/
30000 Doxa Deo Africa South Africa Johannesburg http://www.doxadeo.co.za
25000 Rhema Bible Church Africa South Africa Johannesburg http://www.rhema.co.za
22000 Christian Life Church Africa Uganda Kampala http://www.christianlifeministries.org/
20000 Eglise Protestante Baptiste Oeuvres et Mission Internationale (The Works and Mission Baptist Church Int’l) Africa Cote D’Ivoire Abidjan
20000 Light House Chapel Africa Ghana Accra http://www.lighthousechapel.org/
20000 Mountain of Fire and Miracles Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.mountainoffire.org/home/index.htm
20000 Dunamis International Gospel Center Africa Nigeria Abuja http://dunamisgospel.org/aboutus/index.html
15000 Winners’ Chapel International Nairobi Africa Kenya Nairobi http://www.winnersnairobi.org/
15000 Christ Is the Answer (formerly Nairobi Pentecostal Church) Africa Kenya Nairobi www.citam.org
2000 Parklands Baptist Church Africa Kenya Nairobi http://parklandsbaptist.org
2000 Nairobi Baptist Church Africa Kenya Nairobi http://www.nairobibaptist.co.ke

July 16, 2013

Bad News / Good News for American Evangelicals

If it bleeds it leads.

So goes the adage among newspaper and television reporters when constructing the front page or the evening newscast. We tend to become more engaged by bad news stories, and for statisticians who manufacture and sell reports on everything from the consumption of soup or soap or the latest revelations of sexual trends among youth, shock sells.

The Great Evangelical RecessionThe book The Great Evangelical Recession (Baker Books, January 2013) by reporter-turned-pastor John S. Dickerson is this type of shocker. Forget the thrillers in the Christian bookstore fiction section, this book is far scarier.  The full title is The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare. The book describes the challenges that the Evangelical church faces over the next few years. It’s a message that Canadians have been hearing recently through the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Hemorrhaging Faith report, which I covered in this article; and Americans made aware of via a recent Pew Research Forum report which I discussed here.

The book is arranged in twelve chapters, six deal with isolating the particular urgent challenges faced by Evangelicals, and six offer hope and direction, but offered in the shadow of that same urgency.

Of the six issues there are two that I gravitated to in reading the book this weekend. The first has to do with the longstanding suspicion among many that the number of Evangelicals in the United States is grossly inflated. The author, no stranger to interpreting statistics — is more comfortable pegging the numbers at 7% or 22 million. Toward the end he states that while these numbers will be disappointing to some, there is a lot that may be accomplished by 22 million people.

The second issue concerns the financial health of churches and parachurch organizations. With each successive generation, people are becoming more stingy. Worse for local churches, is the tendency among the younger generations to prefer supporting parachurch ministries over local assemblies.

We often tie the drop in giving to the drop in the economy. But a larger undercurrent is also at play. The generation that gives almost half of total donations began passing away about three years ago. Nearly one thousand of them are called home every day. Their funerals and memorials are quietly held every morning, afternoon and evening in rural churches and metropolitan chapels across the country. Nobody seems to be noticing.

Over the next twelve years, this faithful and reliable generation will pass away. As they do, total giving will decrease by as much as half for typical evangelical ministries — nationally, regionally and locally. (p.82)

More specifically,

The older generation accounts for only 19 percent of our national church, but they give 46 percent of our donations. A combining of figures reveals that approximately 361,000 of these most generous Americans die every year, or 969 per day.  (p. 91)

And

Some optimists reason that as the younger generations age, they will become more generous. And certainly, some of them will. However, the Purdue study compares how today’s older folks gave when they were younger folks. It tells us that a 75-year-old giver today was, at age 35, far more generous than his 35-year-old counterpart today. (p. 93)

Perhaps it’s wrong on me to focus on the ‘money chapter’ especially in view of chapters that deal with the erosion of belief that accompanies the drop in church attendance. But in a book that takes its title from an economic event — recession — it seemed an appropriate section of the book to serve as example of what it is the church is facing in the long term unless some of these situations turn around.

Bradley Wright’s unofficial counterpoint to unChristian, titled Christians are Hate Filled Hypocrites, reviewed here, still must have dealt with enough potential negatives that his follow up had the more buoyant title Upside, reviewed here.  In John Dickerson’s case, the half empty glass and the half full glass are presented in a single volume. In a way, the first part of the book grabs us more, the frightful news story does indeed command the front page. But the second half — each chapter a response to the conditions described in the first — while more familiar to us, preach against a background of statistics that give their prescriptive advice much greater meaning.  Of those, I found the chapter on pursuing unity across denominational lines one of the most powerful.

The Great Evangelical Recession released in January in paperback at $14.99 US and is available from a Christian bookstore near you. Though the book deals exclusively with U.S. stats, I believe Canadians would benefit greatly from reading it as well. A review copy was provided by David C. Cook, Canada.

  • Watch a 6-minute interview with the author at Fox News

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

September 15, 2012

Why They’re Leaving The Church: A Canadian Study

“When it comes to the faith commitment of parents, it is hugely important that children observe their faith as a lifestyle throughout the week if it is to make a statement about its vibrancy and authenticity.  ~John Wilkinson, Canadian youth ministry specialist

“The most effective faith instruction takes place organically.” ~Hemorrhaging Faith

This month’s cover story at Canada’s national evangelical magazine Faith Today is titled Why They’re Leaving, and appears in connection with the release of a study titled Hemorrhaging Faith which was co-sponsored by EFC (publisher of Faith Today), InterVarsity and others and compiled by James Penner Associates. The study is in ‘pre-print’ stage and is available for $15 CDN as a .pdf download.

The website notes:

  • Only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church weekly as a child still do so today.
  • Of the young adults who no longer attend church, half have also stopped identifying themselves with the Christian tradition in which they were raised.
  • There are four primary toxins that keep young people from engaging with the church: Hypocrisy, judgement, exclusivity, failure.

The Faith Today article, in a sidebar, notes four categories of youth:

  • Engagers (church is good) 23%
  • Fence Sitters (want church on their terms) 36%
  • Wanderers (church is not for me) 26%
  • Rejecters (church is bad) 15%

For more, I guess you’ll have to buy the report or at least read the article (first link above).

September 20, 2010

In Canada, The Mission Field Starts at Home

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 pm

I’m kinda off schedule today and this post, and possibly tomorrow’s, are a little late appearing.

Part of this is due to a two hour conversation I had last night with the man who hired me for the only local church position I have ever held.  (All my other jobs have been with parachurch organizations, or related to Christian publishing.)  It was the first time in about two years we’ve talked; probably the longest stretch we’ve had without contact.

I have more take-aways from that call — my former boss is very knowledgeable on church-related things — than I list here, but one thing that struck me is how fragile the local church is in Canada.    A consequence of this is that because things are so tenuous here, there are very great disparities between regions, even within the same province.  And the French-language church in Quebec is a story unto itself with many different dynamics.

I’ve long known about the Canadian “Bible Belt” in Western Canada, and a mini-version of it in Western Ontario; but I didn’t know the degree of contrast between, for example, Windsor, Ontario and Oshawa, Ontario.

I didn’t realize the degree to which the church is in decline in parts of Canada while seemingly growing in other parts.  He told me a story of a church plant which mailed out 80,000 advertising pieces and failed to attract one single person to the launch service.

All this comes just days after Outreach Magazine released another one of its lists of the Top 100 Churches in the United States.   Why don’t we have a list like that here?

My former boss suggested that among people who study the church, there is really no interest because, as one U.S. scholar put it, “The church is non-existent in Canada.”    When I asked the editor of a Canadian Christian periodical about the possibility of doing a top Church list here — even a top ten list — he e-mailed back saying, essentially, “What’s the point?”

I wrote him back saying,

As I looked at the U.S. data, I realized how little I know about Canada. I’m aware of two or three mega churches here in Ontario; I know the Alliance has some large churches in Alberta; I think there’s something Hillsong-related in Winnipeg and perhaps a large Pentecostal church or two in Vancouver; but I’m realizing how totally ignorant I am about my own country.

I thought perhaps knowing who the top ten are — at least — might be interesting. I can’t begin to guess who they are; let alone name the church, city and pastor. I’ll bet most Canadians know more about NorthPoint and Willow Creek and Lifechurch than they do about… whoever they are up here.

I’d just like to counterbalance the U.S. data I’m bombarded with.

But then I get a call reminding me of the other side of the story, that there are far too many small, hurting, struggling, hanging-by-a-thread churches in Canada; and with them a lot of frustrated, discouraged, burned-out, ready-to-give-up pastors.  The rate of attrition is high and climbing.

While sending out missionaries to third world countries is important, I think Canadian Christians need to be aware of the needs here at home.   It’s so easy to get swept up in U.S. Evangelical culture and just assume that we’re an extension of that.

We’re only, at best, very distantly related.

This link to a story on the new Top 100 list points out that there are actually more “gigachurches” (i.e. over 10,000 in attendance) in the U.S. than the survey reports, because some churches don’t want to be part of the annual study.    One explanation:  “Some churches don’t want to negatively affect other churches.”

For statistical information on Canadian churches, consider checking out the Churchmap Canada pages at Outreach Canada.

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