Thinking Out Loud

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.”

July 27, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Lynx

And now here’s a Wednesday Link List that needs no introduction…

  • The other members of the band America (“A Horse With No Name”) pay tribute to Dan Peek who later had a career in Christian music, who passed away on the weekend.
  • Jay Grelen joins the cast at GetReligion.org, a blog that looks at how the media handles religious stories.  His own story was interesting.
  • Josh McDowell believes that the internet is the greatest threat to Christian belief: “The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not,” said McDowell.  Read more at Faith and The Law.
  • Pressured by his elders’ board to apologize, Mark Driscoll makes a half-hearted effort following his remarks on Facebook about “effeminate worship leaders.”  Rachel Held Evans calls him a bully.
  • Just in case you’re wondering, here’s the website for Hope Unlimited Church in Australia, the church Mark and Darlene Zschech call home since leaving the Hillsong mother-ship; though they’ll still be part of music events.
  • Tim Challies looks at the ‘Christian’ label being applied to the man who brought about the carnage in Oslo, Norway.
  • Paul Clark reads Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God and notes that the greatest books — starting with the Bible — have already been written.
  • Paul also has a great article on creating a “culture of generosity” within your church in this article about stewardship.
  • C. Michael Patton knows how to kick off a discussion and he’s got enough readers that he gets a response.  Be sure to read all the comments on this discussion about praying over and over and over and over again.
  • Michelle VanLoon at Her.meneutics tells about growing up in the 1960s and ’70s with her father’s porn magazines openly displayed on the coffee table and how it affected her.
  • While it wasn’t a Christian story per se, Eugune Cho posted this story about the latest “Susan Boyle” type of story on Korea’s Got Talent.   Read about Sung-Bong Choi.  (No relation to Song Sung Blue.)
  • While this one isn’t a link at all, I wanted to post something rather unique: My church is doing a VBS during the last week before school starts and they’re doing it as an evening program from 6:30 – 8:30 PM.  Different, huh?
  • For our Canadian readers: Yes, it’s true, McMaster Divinity School is giving Christian broadcaster David Mainse an honorary doctorate degree.  (My favorite Mainse quote: “My wife and I were virgins on our wedding night and we’ve been virgins ever since.”  …They have four children.)
  • Nick Costello’s book, Kiss What? is another book to examine the music scene and might be a resource for the teen in your home who is OD-ing on popular music culture.  Here’s a video preview.
  • Here’s a Vimeo vid on the release of the full (OT & NT) edition of the Common English Bible.  (Note: This HD clip takes awhile to load.)
  • New Blog of the Week: Housewife Theologian by Amiee Byrd — Articles of interest to women and a penchant for reviewing books in the Reformed tradition.
  • He calls his blog The Ugley Vicar and recently posted this hymn verse that was sung while attending a “Junior Clergy” conference; a verse that should be the prayer of all of us:

Facing a task unfinished,
That drives us to our knees,
A need that, undiminished,
Rebukes our slothful ease:
We, who rejoice to know Thee,
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known.

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