How Steven Furtick engineered a spontaneous miracle 33

While we’re on the topic of Steven Furtick’s marvelous manipulated numbers, now is as good a time as any to look back on his 2011 spontaneous baptism event where he carefully manipulated his congregation to herd them through his baptism factory.

For a bit of background, Elevation had experienced a couple of lean years for baptisms, which may be why Furtick needed something big to move the numbers. Here’s how Elevation reported its 2010 salvations and baptisms.

Elevation's "decisions" and baptisms for 2010

Elevation’s salvations and baptisms for 2010

The real story of the numbers is hidden by the tricky way the data is presented cumulatively, which means that the line will never go down. The numbers claimed in 2010 include all the baptisms and salvations from 2006 through 2009 as well. If you look at the actual numbers for each year, you see something very different.

Elevation Salvation & Baptism Statistics

Year
Salvations
Baptisms
Percentage Baptized
20082,4371,24351
20093,5451935
20103,6882898
20117,6992,15828
20126,097Not reported?

The spike in baptisms in 2008 came from Elevation’s first “spontaneous” event, when they baptized 1,044 over two weeks. Outside of those two weeks, they baptized another 199, which is a similar rate to the two years after it. So, even though this Baptist church was adding thousands of salvations, it was unable to get more than a relative handful to follow up with baptism. Either Furtick wasn’t preaching baptism, or he was preaching it poorly, but if you’re a Baptist preacher, you really ought to do better than have only 5 percent of your conversions be baptized. Baptism by full immersion is the most celebrated sacrament (though they call it an ordinance) of the denomination that helped start Furtick’s church. As will be detailed below, Furtick and Elevation solved this problem by meticulously planning a baptism ambush when they would emotionally manipulate as many of the congregation as possible to be baptized immediately.

Before the criticism, some words of praise. Furtick rightly tells his congregation that they should not seek to be baptized if they have been baptized before as adults, even if it was in another church and even if they’d prefer a more meaningful experience now. His pal, Perry Noble, doesn’t restrict re-baptisms the same way.

Now, returning to regular programming, the problems with this event:

Emotional Manipulation

In the moments before his call to action, Furtick tells his audience (at 50:20 in this Elevation video),

You know God is calling you, and if you feel that in your heart, let me assure you that is the Holy Spirit of God calling you. It is not emotional manipulation. It’s the presence of God drawing you and calling you. So in just a moment, I’m going to count to three. When I say “three,” at every campus I want you to move into the aisles and go to the exit where the ushers are stationed at your campus.

No manipulation, all God. Let’s check that.

As part of the promotional package for Sun Stand Still, Elevation offered what it calls a Spontaneous Baptism How-To Guide (Word doc)which is long on manipulation, and short on the Holy Spirit.

On the Sun Stand Still website, it describes the event in miraculous terms:

Sun Stand Still is about believing God for the impossible. At Elevation Church in the summer of 2011, we saw God move in one of the most amazing ways in the history of our church…

We baptized 2,158 people over 2 weekends. It was unbelievable. It required audacious faith in a God who provides.

The preface to the guide also frames the event as a Sun Stand Still miracle.

As a church we pray Sun Stand Still prayers all the time.  We are constantly asking God to do something that seems impossible and then believing that he is going to pull through.

Most recently we prayed and asked God to lead thousands of people to take a public stand in their faith in Christ through baptism.  God blew our minds and in two weekends we saw 2158 respond and be baptized.

Except that it didn’t blow their minds at all, and the results underperformed what they expected would be possible. We know this because they explain how they ran the numbers from the 2008 event which showed that 16 percent of attenders responded to the invitation to be baptized. They say they expected the same number the second time, and even used the 2008 numbers to estimate the proportion of females to males (60/40), from which they calculated exactly what size clothing they needed to have on hand for people entering the pool. From the guide:

You will want to calculate the number of each item to be purchased based on your projection of how many people will be baptized, the number of men vs. women, and the breakdown of sizes.

The 2011 event, even with the knowledge gained from the first run, only yielded a 13 percent response, down almost 20 percent from the first time. Elevation almost certainly over-prepared and had hundreds of clothing items they never needed to use. They would have been prepared to baptize at least 1,600 in the first week, but baptized only 1,428. Now, preparation is not necessarily emotional manipulation, though it does suggest that they were relying on the power of raw numbers as much as they were on the feeling in the heart that Furtick assured them was from God. How this blew their minds, I really don’t know. Since 2008, Elevation reported that they saw 14,932 new conversions, of which only  2,640 were baptized, either spontaneously or deliberately. That’s a three-year salvation-to-baptism conversion rate of 18 percent.

Rather than advertising this as a model for other churches to follow, this is a model that should embarrass them and prompt serious change. Perhaps the vast majority of those 15,000 reported salvations, weren’t. What happened to the 12,000 people who “made a decision” at Elevation yet didn’t get baptized? For a Baptist pastor who cared for his flock, that ought to be mind blowing.

For the few that Elevation did baptize, their how-to guide documents exactly how they used emotional manipulation to get people from their seats to the pool. Volunteers were placed throughout the campuses to make sure the baptism candidates maintained the emotional fervor that Furtick had created in the service. Here are some of the instructions from the guide:

[At the doors] Smile and clap showing people you are excited they came forward.

[For the 30-60 volunteers lining the hallway] Create an atmosphere of Celebration for those being baptized as they walk toward the changing rooms…this needs to be HUGE and over the top celebration!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[For the teams escorting people to the pools] Start in the hallway smiling, clapping and creating an atmosphere of excitement and help direct people to the changing rooms.

Have them take out their phones and tweet #follow that they are being baptized today!! …We created a hash tag on Twitter and tweeted individual stories.  We had a crawl on our iMag screens of live twitter feed to build excitement during the Worship Experiences.

Perhaps you could classify this as encouragement for a decision already made, not manipulation. You could, though if this were a decision made with confidence and determination, there would be no need to constantly reinforce that decision. Why I classify these as manipulative comes from the very first action, performed just seconds after Furtick’s assurance that he wasn’t manipulating them. As you saw above, Furtick prepares them for action, then counts down from three (that should be the clue, right there). Look at what happens when he gets to zero:

15 people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call.

  1. Sit in the auditorium and begin moving forward when Pastor Steven says go.
  2. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.

Elevation has seeded its four auditoriums with 60 shills who pretend to be responding to the call. Their high-visibility movement is designed to manipulate others to follow. If Furtick was confident in his message and in the efficacy of the Holy Spirit’s call, he shouldn’t need fake converts.

This is even more interesting for Furtick’s restriction on re-baptisms. We know these 60 are official volunteers, so it’s almost certain all had already been baptized. That means that if they melted away out of the lines later on, their response in the auditorium was a lie. For good doctrinal reasons that even Steven Furtick understands, they never ought to have responded in the first place. Not only are they lying, they are pretending to sinfully partake in the most important sacrament of their church. That’s serious stuff for a pastor and church to be encouraging.

(It’s possible these were people who needed to be baptized, though there’s nothing in the document that indicates how the church would find the 360 people that would have been needed to cover its four campuses meeting a total of 24 times over the two weeks. He would need to have recruited twice as many people as Elevation baptizes in a whole year, and have each one agree to participate in the trick and keep quiet about it. It didn’t happen.)

Perhaps Furtick realized that his own preaching wasn’t enough. Look at Elevation’s numbers again. Without a mass event, Furtick couldn’t convince more than about 200 in any year to be baptized, so he needed to add manipulation to his message. In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini describes a persuasive method called Social Proof, the idea that “the greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.” The reason the 60 volunteers were asked to stand was to assure the people sitting behind them that instantly responding to the Furtick Countdown was right. Cialdini gives a few examples of this, but in one he describes the persuasive genius of Jim Jones.

Although he was without question a man of rare dynamism, the power he wielded strikes me as coming less from his remarkable personal style than from his understanding of fundamental psychological principles. His real genius as a leader was his realization of the limitations of individual leadership. No leader can hope to persuade, regularly and single-handedly, all the members of the group. A forceful leader can reasonably expect, however, to persuade some sizable proportion of group members. Then the raw information that a substantial number of group members has been convinced can, by itself, convince the rest. Thus the most influential leaders are those who know how to arrange group conditions to allow the principle of social proof to work maximally in their favor. (p. 156)

Furtick isn’t Jones, but their persuasive techniques are identical.

Favoritism

Although Elevation didn’t and couldn’t know who would answer the call, it did have means of filtering people according to specific desirable characteristics once they were on the move. They mainly wanted young people with compelling stories.

Besides the 15 shills, you’d imagine that the first people to reach the changing areas were the ones who most wanted to be baptized. Never mind letting them go first, however, as Elevation preferred young people. From the guide:

The first people going into the changing rooms have got to be people who move quickly, they must be changed and out in stage in a few minutes.  Pick young energetic people, not necessarily those who are there first.

(I am not quite sure what the “out in stage” means here. I seems they may have had a tank set up on the stage where they wanted this first group to go, and then the older, slower Elevators could be baptized in relative privacy outside.)

Most of the participants were expected to remain essentially anonymous, treated with not much more attention than a tire change.

Think of the [changing] room in terms of a NASCAR pit stop, it has to be a quick in and quick out.

Two attendants were assigned to marshall groups of 12-14 people, and one of their first tasks was to ask the group to share their names in order to write it on a specially formatted name tag.

As the group is sharing names, the host prints the name tags that are Legible and places the name tag on the outside shoulder.  Depending upon the tank it could be right or left, but the shoulder that is away from the baptizer so the tag is not obstructed during photos. Write the name in two lines and leave room for a tracking number to be written in the upper RIGHT corner of the name tag.

Not everybody got reduced to a number, though. If you had a good story, the church wanted to know much more than your name. The marshals were to be on the lookout for video-worthy biographies.

You are looking for 1 or 2 great stories in your group.  When you ID those individuals, place a “black wrist band” on them so that the video crew can interview them after they are baptized.  After they are baptized help ensure they go to the video recording area.

The pair of hosts were also assisted by media team members who were also hunting for good stories.

[We need ] (2) people working with hosts and circulating amongst the team mining great stories and pushing them up to the video crew.

At NewSpring, where Furtick’s friend Perry Noble pastors, they have a motto that says, “Every number has a name, every name as a story, and every story matters to God.” At Elevation, every name has a number, some names have a story, and one or two stories matter to Pastor Steven.

So What?

This is all being done for a good cause, so why does this matter, anyway?

More Fakery About Numbers

Elevation Church says it’s all about the numbers, but only when they want to be. Some numbers, like the pastor’s salary and book-deal information, they won’t reveal. Other numbers, like annual baptisms, they hide behind charts designed to paper over the almost complete inability of their pastor to persuade people to be baptized without special events. If anything, the chasm between reported salvations and baptisms tell us that something is terribly wrong. Either the salvations aren’t actually there, or the church is full of unbaptized, disobedient believers. The numbers, while large, are terrible.

Low Confidence in the Message

I don’t know what Pastor Furtick was preaching about baptism in 2009 and 2010, but it either didn’t exist or it was spectacularly unpersuasive. Elevation Church is Baptist, so you’d expect that they would carefully preach and teach that doctrine to each new believer. If baptism was so essential in 2011, why did they let the thousands of new believers since 2008 walk in spiritual disobedience and partial blessing? You’d hope a Baptist pastor would care about that.

Low Reverence for the Doctrine

If you had a couple of friends who, while dating, told you that weddings were a special, sacred event, and then you learned that they flew to Vegas one weekend and got hitched in a drive-through chapel, you’d reconsider whether they actually believed weddings to be important at all. I don’t know what other Baptist churches think of Furtick’s (Noble, too, for that matter) 30-45 second walk-through number-on-your-chest baptisms, but I’d cringe at how the central sacrament of the denomination was being mistreated.

Little Respect for the People

One of Baptists’ criticisms of infant baptism is that the rite is meaningless to the recipient, which is why they distinguish it as believer’s baptism; you need to believe before you’re baptized. Baptists also emphasize the volitional aspect of the sacrament, so that the participants’ attitude is one of informed obedience in an exercise of a free will. Although Noble allows do-overs, Furtick does not, so his flock only get one chance at a moment that will change their lives. Why not teach the people well and let them think about it and own their decision? How many people will look back at that special moment and regret that they were merely a pit-stop project for a pastor who needed to boost his baptism balance sheet?

33 thoughts on “How Steven Furtick engineered a spontaneous miracle

  1. SallyVee Nov 5, 2013 9:38 pm

    Powerful stuff, Duncan. So glad you are back in your p-jays and once again putting forth more truth and substance half asleep with bunny slippers on, than the entire cabal of mega mafiosos on red bull can pull off ensemble at high noon.

    It is so painful and depressing to watch tens of thousands of adult humans being tickled, pickled and rolled by professionals. Week after week. Outrage after outrage. I pray for eyes to be opened by the Holy Spirit.

  2. Soli Deo Gloria Nov 6, 2013 10:14 am

    Dr. Duncan, I have skimmed through the “spontaneous” baptisms document before but didn’t quite get to the part about the 15 plants who would go forward in order to encourage others to do so as well. That is shameless and makes me sick. I really did not believe that I could be more upset over what Furtick, et. al. are doing to the church, but this makes me so sad. I don’t even know if people like Charles Finney even went that far. I’ve heard Furtick preach before or speak about the fact that he never really thought he could be good at altar calls but that after he gave it a try he realized he was a natural. Well, now we know that there are no hesitations about it and that it has even gone too far.

  3. Sara Nov 6, 2013 10:47 am

    The 15 plants disturbs me the most. Isn’t this a lie? How would they explain the ethics (or lack thereof) behind the decision to put plants in the audience? Someone should ask them. Oh, wait . . .

  4. Soli Deo Gloria Nov 6, 2013 11:06 am

    Well, it’s not just the fact that there are/were plants. What’s more problematic is that Elevation sees that this is a tactic they should actually promote other churches to also employ. Yes, it’s a lie.

  5. Charlie Nov 6, 2013 1:49 pm

    The use of 15 plants is disturbing to me also. It sickens me that they could be so deceptive. I would love to know if NewSpring is using similar tactics.

  6. Monica Nov 6, 2013 1:53 pm

    Using planted people to come forward is an old Baptist trick that’s been used for decades. Billy Graham designed certain people to come forward to set the stage and make everyone feel comfortable doing so. That first crowd of people you see coming forward at crusades, rushing towards the stage– they’re all planted people. It makes it look like everyone is coming forward… but its just an illusion. Although not addressed here, another problem is what to do with people who come forward. Looks like at Elevation Church and New Spring, they make sure youre saved and then the next step is to be a volunteer. The problem is that no one is discipled. If you really want to be discipled and grow in your faith, you have to look elsewhere. And besides, Perry Noble is quick to say that “anyone who wants to go deeper in God’d word is a jackass!” Guess that sums up his position on discipleship. He sees no need for it.

  7. Dave L. Nov 7, 2013 8:16 am

    Dr. Duncan could you please comment on Monicas reply about Graham crusades. If this is true , then certainly they have set the stage and “o.k’ed” it for others to do. also is it o.k.to private message you with some personal questions. thanks

  8. Invalid_Nate Nov 8, 2013 12:21 am

    I was at a mega church at one time that did similar “spontaneous baptism” events once a year. To their credit they never seemed manipulative nor had pants. But, I always found it interesting that the same people seemed to get baptized year after year during these events. The church wasn’t big on projecting numbers (a rare trait for megas) so it wasn’t very well regulated when it came to new believers, first baptisms, or do-over baptisms.

    I credit this less to the church trying to push something as much as people having a watered down idea of baptism because of these kinds of events. I’ve seen the same people get baptized 3,4,5 times over. So when have they properly demonstrated their faith publicly?

    I really wish these events didn’t happen and instead have pastors preach a genuine and honest look at baptism, (which, in my opinion, means the moment you accept Jesus you go to get baptized)because these events cheapen what it is all about. It becomes a circus as opposed to a life changing demonstration of faith.

    • James Duncan Nov 8, 2013 3:24 pm

      Nate, a spontaneous baptism without pants would take the scandal to a whole ‘nother level. Awesome typo.

      Dave, I don’t know about plants for BG, though the altar call, no matter who gives it, is basically designed to make use the social proof Cialdini described. You can use the “Contact Me” link above if you have other questions.

  9. Pingback: Are Steven Furtick and SBC Megachurches Manipulating the Masses, the Baptisms and the “Metrics”? | The Wartburg Watch 2013

  10. Matt Barrera Nov 8, 2013 4:18 pm

    Dr. Duncan, in all respect, why does the topic of Elevation Church and Pastor Steven concern you so much? For one, Elevation church has/is an incredible blessing in Charlotte despite it’s recent negative criticism! Even so, why must you talk so negatively about what the church is doing? Does the Bible not say “..First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” Have you taken the time to visit an Elevation campus? If you would take the time and then you would see that God is truly moving in a powerful way then you might be able to understand how/why the spontaneous baptism worked so well. I intend no disrespect, but it troubles me to see that my church, the church where my life changed completely, is being criticized.

    • James Duncan Nov 8, 2013 4:26 pm

      Matt, if you learned that I had visited Elevation, would you accept my criticisms as valid?

    • Soli Deo Gloria Nov 8, 2013 4:36 pm

      @Matt, does it not concern you the least bit that your church asks 15 members to be planted in worship services to stand up and come forward at the invitation acting as if they are going to be going forward for baptism? With the express intention that by their going forward will be simply a catalyst in order to influence other people to go forward?

      If such a thing IS happening (and it is – or has at least – and is recommended in Elevation resource kits for other churches to do), then this would mean that this is actually the opposite of “God truly moving” since the moving is being generated under false pretenses.

  11. John Nov 8, 2013 8:40 pm

    I appreciate a numbers person. Congrats on being a threat for speaking truth to power.
    God is love
    jpu

  12. Kaitlin Nov 11, 2013 2:29 pm

    Dr. Duncan,

    One more example of why you were my favorite college professor. You’re not afraid to challenge what is widely accepted, and encourage everyone to dig deeper and think harder. I’m often ashamed of the way that fellow Christians respond to criticism of leadership–if we are all following Jesus’ example, we would be unafraid to criticize as well. He didn’t come down and tell leaders “excellent work, you’re doing everything perfectly, don’t change a thing.” We have to be willing to hear criticism, consider it biblically, and not continue to blindly defend simply because that is the church we go to and have benefited from. Our pastors won’t always get it right. In fact, sometimes they will get it horribly horribly wrong, and when they do, our “fangs” shouldn’t come out to defend their wrongful action and teachings. Where is it biblically correct to blindly accept the sins of your leaders without challenge?

    Thank you for being a professor and person worth admiring.

  13. SCme Nov 13, 2013 1:06 pm

    I was around the Billy Graham team for 20 years- the people going forward are not “plants” in the sense that their sole responsibility is to go forward so others follow their example. They are counselors, whose job it is to walk people through the decision for Christ once they get up there. However, there is no secret that their going forward gives courage to those who need to make a decision for Christ and are fighting the urge to stand and go themselves. If I remember correctly, they actually release at different times (in waves) to increase the impact. For me, this is not manipulative or sneaky, it is actually providing an impetus to those who need the nudge. Many people who need to commit their lives to Christ do not stand and come forward right away- it takes multiple assurances verbally and visibly before they make the move. Personally, I would like some confirmation that NS and Elevation “shills” are really there just to walk through the auditorium, rather than having some role at the front of the church that requires their presence. There is a world of difference between merely using someone as a prop vs. utilizing the opportunity afforded by their service to accomplish something else as well.

  14. Kathryn Gabrielle Christmas Nov 13, 2013 7:22 pm

    Dr. Duncan,

    Before I start, let me begin with the statement that I say everything with all due respect. I am not an owner at Newspring church nor Elevation. I am a regular attendee at Newspring, and attend Elevation when I am in Charlotte. I grew up in the Pentecostal church, as well as the Baptist church I like to refer to myself as a baptcostal. I grew up under the preaching of some of the wisest men I’ve ever met. They preached the word, and I grew up in churches that saw crazy amounts of Salvations. Until my teenage years, the church my parents attended began to die. Why? Well if you ask me it’s because they were so stuck in the old days, and the old way of doing things. Children lost interest in church because the church had nothing to offer them. I know the bible and I know what’s true. I’ve never heard Perry or Steven preach anything that wasn’t biblical. My parents new pastor, is incredible too, he’s a Noble and Furtick supporter. You are certainly entitled to your own opinion about it but it doesn’t make your opinion right. God has anointed those two men, and they were radical enough to listen to God and do what he said even when it didn’t seem feasible. So what if they play secular music, Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make music secular or Christian he died on the cross to save people from a real place called hell. So I will end on this note, in Acts there were a unrealistic amount of people saved, and baptized. If God did it back then, why couldn’t he do it now? So my question is, is it really these men and their churches your doubting, or is it Gods power to do the impossible. Have a blessed night Dr. Duncan, I’ll keep you in my prayers that you can find peace within yourself because to me it appears that is what you need.

    • James Duncan Nov 14, 2013 11:29 pm

      Kathryn,

      You say your previous churches “were so stuck in the old days, and the old way of doing things.”

      Christianity is a religion of old days. We read of and learn from saints and a savior who lived thousands of years ago in cultures and places that are totally foreign to us. To read the Bible properly, we need to try to understand the old days and old ways of doing things.

      Old ways can sometimes mean tired human traditions. If so, I’m with you. Often old ways can also mean Biblical ways. When they do, let’s embrace them and not look for something new.

    • Robert McKenzie Nov 22, 2013 10:36 pm

      KGC
      If you “have not heard Perry or Steven preach anything that wasn’t Biblical” then I encourage you to go to fightingforthefaith.com and search under the archives for sermons from both men. Reading a Bible text and rightly teaching or preaching something Biblical are not the same thing. Perry’s “sermon” at the Code-Orange “revival” was especially revealing of both men’s world-view and self-view.

      The most dangerous false teachings are not the obvious ones, but ones that deftly blur the lines between Biblical truth and things that may or may not be true, but that are not Biblical. Listen to a variety of mega-church sermons from a variety of churches and you are likely to hear sermons based on pop-psychology, self-congratulation, secular wisdom and what I like to call Nickelodeon moralism. Remember, true and Truth are not the same.

      Pastors are called to shepherd the flock, no matter how much that irks Andy Stanley, and feed the flock the Word. Not lead leaders. Lead leaders leading leaders. Lead leaders leading leaders that lead leaders. Or Lead the leading leaders of leaders who lead leading leaders. Perry, Furtick, Stanley, et al, consistently deliver presentations that show they have either purposely for selfish gain, or mistakenly out of lack of Biblical wisdom, done away with what being a pastor and preacher really means.

  15. Dave Nov 13, 2013 11:53 pm

    As a now former “Elevator” a few things. 1. I take major issue with these spontaneous baptisms as there is no conformation of conversion. There are no questions asked to qualify one’s decision for baptism. Questions and qualifications are seen as too personal, restrictive or off-putting. 2. I know people who were “re-baptized”; heck, the atmosphere was such that I wanted to be baptized again. They really push it. 3. Kathryn, keep in mind the numbers baptized in The Book of Acts was not normal. I know at Elevation we celebrate our not being normal. But sometimes not normal means not right or legit. Be discerning. There may be a reason why some of what we see at Elevation is not “normal” that has nothing to do with God. 4. When watching the video interviews of those baptized in the other baptism services notice how their lives were changed, not by Christ saving them, but through baptism. Most never once mention their lives being changed by Christ. Either they elevate Pastor Furtick or the church. Rarely do they exalt Christ.

    My heart breaks for the black eye Elevation and Pastor Furtick have given Christ’s church through this recent “scandal”. FYI, I have asked for a full financial audit, twice actually, and have had no response. A friend of mine requested one and received a postcard with financial highlights. It is just this secrecy and deceit that has led me to leave the church.

  16. Kaitlin Nov 14, 2013 10:25 am

    Kathryn,

    My fiancee and I are actually both owners at Newspring, and after the last few months and especially since our engagement through working with the church for our pastor and attempting to get into the premarital classes, we are finding more and more that the church is being operated as though it is a corporation. We’ve also both discontinued working with the student ministry because we have developed concerns about how much people love their church and not their God. It’s been a concern of ours for a while and it is becoming more and more prominent. Newspring has been a wonderful thing in my life, do not get me wrong. I found my way in faith there, and have been able to learn quite a bit. However, when a church becomes a business so focused on the numbers that helping the people who are already in the church falls to the back burner, there is a problem. I love the pastor who will be doing our wedding and I am looking forward to working with him, but he hasn’t been able to start working with us yet because the church has to finish filing paperwork before the pastors are given permission to begin premarital counseling. Our paperwork was turned in over four weeks ago and we still haven’t heard a thing. Our marriage is focused on Christ, and we believe pastoral leadership as we enter the covenant is highly important. This process has been very concerning to us. Leadership in the church needs to be about God and His work and commandments. Paperwork and systematic procedures are not what Jesus came for.

    Again, we had many concerns over the last few months but the seeker-driven church operating as a corporation is what has gotten our attention most recently. My point is that it’s important to regularly evaluate the church as a whole and whether or not it is overall being run in a biblical manner. Regardless of the strength of the preaching on Sunday, if the church is not operating in a way that reflects the person and purposes of Christ, something is wrong. We haven’t come to any conclusions yet, but many things have sparked our attention, and we are evaluating this for ourselves.

    This church was a wonderful thing for me personally but I do not know that it is heading in the right direction right now. The focus is on the churches and the numbers, and I am worried that God is getting lost in the seeking of higher numbers.

  17. Sarah Nov 14, 2013 4:57 pm

    Kaitlyn –
    If you feel that the people are more in love with the church than their God, then you’re right – there is a problem. But it’s a problem with the heart of those people, not the heart of the church. It sounds more like your paperwork fell through the cracks. People that work at a church are human…they make mistakes too, including misplacing papers. It’s interesting though. You criticize the church for “operating as a corporation” but it sounds like that’s the something that you’re expecting from them with your pre-marital process. Don’t lose sight of the good things that NewSpring is doing. That is a church with the hand of God on it. Are they going to make some mistakes here and there? Of course, because it’s run by flawed people. You have an amazing pastor, wonderful leadership, and overall a church that is focused on spreading the gospel. Your paperwork taking longer than you’d like is not a reflection of God getting lost there.

  18. Sara Nov 14, 2013 6:51 pm

    Kaitlyn: I am a former member of NS as well. I left several years ago because I experienced much of what you were talking about. At that time, there was only an Anderson campus. The CEO/corporation model was in full effect back then. It is nothing less than terrifying now. You seem much wiser and more insightful than a lot of your co-owners at NS. I urge you to take your doubts seriously and begin looking for another church. You will be glad you did. It is a welcoming and peaceful feeling when you realize that you are finally at a church, not a corporation whose product is the flashy marketing of the pastor’s visions and Gospel perspective.

  19. Jane Nov 14, 2013 11:42 pm

    Ask The Lord to help you see the Truth. Praying that he will stir your heart and the hearts of others and place you where you should be. After 11 years The Lord moved my family from NS. Many were shocked and surprised. God moved us. My number one concern was the CEO business model and the sheep who were falling through the cracks. I kept my focus on Christ alone and never intended to leave…but The Lord had other plans for us. Many of my former home group members have decided not to keep our friendship…is it because we no longer attend the same church?
    Focus on HIS word. Stay in the scripture and The Lord will keep you where he wants you. Spread the gospel is not the same as selling the gospel.
    Search your heart for answers.

  20. James Downing Nov 15, 2013 9:52 am

    I must admit it is striking to me that these churches call their attendees “owners”. You guys do realize they are blowing smoke, right?

    I work at a company that has an owner. He knows how much money I make. He actually decides that figure. If I’m not doing a good job, he can replace me.

    So. what is it that you own? How much input do you have? Can you sell you stock?

  21. Ryan Moffat Nov 15, 2013 7:48 pm

    On the issue of “we’re doing a new thing”……that’s not helpful language (or Biblical for that matter). That is often code for “we believe we’re the exception”. It sounds arrogant when you just come out and say it (because it is arrogant). I like what CS Lewis said:

    “Newness isn’t a virtue and oldness isn’t a vice.”

    That little thought has been really helpful to me personally. Thanks everyone for chiming in.

    -Ryan

  22. Kaitlin Nov 18, 2013 10:01 am

    Sarah,

    My issue actually didn’t spawn from the paperwork, as I stated previously. For many months before our engagement my fiance and I were having many experiences with the leadership and with the structure of several of the church’s ministries that had us highly concerned. I didn’t say there aren’t good things about NS–I actually said the opposite, that the church was a wonderful thing for me. However, through MANY experiences not limited to what we are currently facing, we have felt highly, highly concerned with what we see in the church. Both of us have friendships with people in key leadership roles, and were involved in student ministry. The leadership (solely based on my experience) is where the issue of loving the church more than its founder seems to be stemming from.

    Again, I really did benefit greatly from NS and it was what I needed for a season. However, I have seen many, many things over the last six months that have me very concerned.

  23. David Nov 18, 2013 2:06 pm

    It’s likely once NS discovers who “Kaitlin” is, there will no longer be a NS wedding in their future.

  24. Kaitlin Nov 19, 2013 10:04 am

    David,

    That would be an absolutely heartbreaking turn of events in response to reasonable criticism. To break that kind of commitment as a key role in the most important day of two people’s lives thus far because we expressed frustration would cause a great deal of pain to us. I sincerely hope that isn’t how this plays out. NS played a key role in my fiance and I coming together and was a huge part of our story. As I have stated in both my comments, we both have benefited greatly from our time in NS. We really did love our church. But, as I have said, we have concerns, and the way our wedding has been handled to this point has been the most concerning.

    I think that everyone who is in a church, whether it is NS or not, should be able to express concern or frustration without fear. Church is run by man, and man can make mistakes. I hope that my concerns are not met with such a response as our wedding not being approved; for us that would most certainly confirm what we are concerned about.

    The pastor we are working with is a personal friend, and none of what we have experienced has been his fault. It’s simply the current system our church is using to address weddings that does not seem to work as it should. He hasn’t been responsible for the errors, so our frustration does not lie with our pastor–just with the system.

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