Running the Numbers 15

I made a comment in the When to Stop Eating thread that I think deserves a little more thought.  Last weekend, Elevation had their grand opening for their first permanent site. It drew their largest attendance yet. As Furtick reports:

Over 7000 people at Elevation this weekend! Over 500 salvations! Eph. 3:20! Thank you Jesus!

500 salvations is a huge number, and praise be to God for those souls. Even though it seems unbelievable, I know through Christ anything is possible. I wouldn’t question the legitimacy of those conversions, but apparently Steven does:

We’ve seen over 5000 people indicate that they placed their faith in Christ in the last 3 ½ years through our weekend worship experiences.  While we can’t make any assertions about which of these conversion experiences were genuine, we’re so thankful that God has allowed us to scatter so much seed and see such an evident harvest in our city.  He will separate the wheat from the chaff.  We’ll just keep sowing the Gospel and celebrating the life change we can see.

Nevertheless, I’ll assume those 5,000 converts are real for now. Just a quick glance at the figure in the first quote vs. the figure in the second quote stopped me in my tracks.If Elevation’s largest attendance ever was 7,000, and they have had over 5,000 people saved in the last 3 years, that would mean that at least 70% of Furtick’s audience are new believers.

So as Senior Pastor to such a congregation, what is Steven teaching these infants and toddlers in Christ?

  • Here he paints Bible study in a negative light.
  • Here he teaches that too much bible study is a bad thing, and we should avoid learning about things like the doctrines of Grace. Gotta be careful about Spiritual Obesity.

I am sure he borrowed the idea from his mentor Perry Noble, who probably borrowed it from Rick Warren. Here’s a quote from Warren on the topic:

“The last thing many believers need is to go to another Bible study. They already know far more than they are putting into practice. What they need are serving experiences in which they can exercise their spiritual muscles.”

Why do these guys have such a disdain for bible study? It has to be one of the following:

  1. They don’t believe it is powerful. Surely if these pastors thought the Word of God held any power, they would encourage their members to study it as much as possible. It would make their job easier. We’ve seen how they don’t want to give individual attention to members, so at least leading them to God’s word would ensure they were being fed.
  2. They don’t believe it is God’s word. If studying the Bible is listening to God, then it is impossible to study too much. If God has chosen to reveal himself to us through this book, then we should spend as much time as possible learning about him.
  3. They believe there is a better method for hearing God. This is particularly bothersome, considering their dependence on personal revelation.
  4. They find it threatening. They are afraid that Christians well-versed in Scripture will start raising questions about things going on in the church.

The next figure to address is the 500 salvations from last weekend. That is 500 brand new converts, thrown into this world where the pastor doesn’t care about their needs, they are told to feed themselves, and directed away from Bible study. 500 people. That’s an entire church…all with no guidance. The church I serve is in a town with a total population of 600.

You have to question what is being done to care for these 500 brand new believers. Have they hired new staff to look out for these guys? Have they made any changes to ensure this group is cared for? Again, you have enough people to be considered a pretty large church here. That’s scary.

15 thoughts on “Running the Numbers

  1. Ryan Aug 27, 2009 10:11 am

    This whole “too much Bible” and “not another Bible study” and spiritual obesity is a little out of hand. I can’t imagine why in the world you would not encourage a brand new believer to latch onto whatever (and whoever) they can to grow their spiritual life.

    I can understand the “not another Bible study” for more mature believers, and I’ll say it – believers in the Southeast. I think so many times we (I’ll include myself) look to Bible studies and small groups, or whatever it is you’ll call them to get our spiritual fix. I think there are a couple of inherent dangers in “another bible study”

    1. It was addressed in the other thread, but at some point, we have to stop going to more bible studies and start applying what we already know to our lives.

    2. That leads me to think that if these new believers see that as the process of being a Christian, we (and our multiple bible studies) are leading them to think that is the life of a true Christ follower – hanging out with your Christian friends in a closed environment, which leads me to #3

    3. Spending another weeknight at another bible study lends us to continue to hang out with only our circle (or maybe another circle) of Christian friends. At some point we need to all be reaching out of our comfort zone and reaching the lost through our own personal ministry, whatever it is.

    That being said, I don’t think it’s appropriate to teach new believers not to find a Bible study or not to read the Word too much. That’s putting their souls in a dangerous place. I think these 3 points are pretty nit-picky, but applicable nonetheless.

    If these churches aren’t leading these rescued sheep, they’re just being found in one wide open space, only to be let go in a different wide open space. They’re still (possibly) lost, just a different kind of lost now. Scary indeed.

  2. James Downing Aug 27, 2009 10:34 am

    Ryan – I think you may be underestimating the power of God’s Word. Consider this: If the Holy Spirit illuminates the word in the heart of a believer, that person WILL be moved to act upon it. It doesn’t return void. Without the intervention of the Spirit, our works are useless anyway. There is absolutely NO reason to discourage study of the Bible.

  3. PJM Aug 27, 2009 10:46 am

    70% of Elevation is not new believers. I know this because I live in Charlotte and have family and friends in church planting circles in the area. On a smaller scale, all the people I know personally that go there were already Christians and left other churches.

  4. Ryan Aug 27, 2009 10:54 am

    James

    I don’t think I underestimate the power of God’s Word at all. Quite the contrary.

    After re-reading my post I can see why it would sound that way. I was more referencing the ability of us as humans, and our “Bible studies” to water it down and even change it.

    You’ll notice I said it was not appropriate to teach new believers (or any believers) not to study the Bible. I never once agreed with that point, I was simply pointing out some issues where maybe another Bible study may not be the best option for studying the Bible. Just merely making observations.

    Again, I’m in 100% agreement that believers should never be encouraged not to study the Bible.

  5. James Downing Aug 27, 2009 11:19 am

    Ryan – Understood. Didn’t mean to come of as attacking.

    PJM – I’m in Charlotte too, and would have to agree that everyone I know at Elevation came from other churches. However, I’m just taking the numbers they are publishing and assuming they are not lying about them.

  6. Ryan Aug 27, 2009 11:27 am

    James – No problem. I didn’t see it as an attack, but wanted to straighten it out nonetheless

    James and PJM – I would say the same is true for NS that many of the members/attendees are from other churches, and it does lead one to wonder what is happening to all of these converts.

  7. JT Aug 27, 2009 1:04 pm

    Several have mentioned that Elevation and NewSpring draw a lot of attendees from other churches, thereby implying that they can’t possibly have seen the number of conversion that they claim.

    I guess I’ll be the one to ask the obvious follow-up question:

    Does previous church attendance equal salvation?

  8. James Downing Aug 27, 2009 1:35 pm

    Jt – You see in the article, I said I believed the numbers, then again in my last comment said I didn’t think they were lying. Noone said anythin about “couldn’t have possibly seen the number of conversions.”

  9. Paul Aug 27, 2009 3:26 pm

    I guess it boils down to what new believers need. New believers need to learn the Bible, and have life on life discipleship with older believers. Doing these two things while practically obeying through faith in Jesus is what really we all should be doing. We were once babes in Christ.

    One thing that seems (hopefuly I’m wrong) is sorely lacking from NewSpring and Elevation is older, seasoned believers (grey heads) to disciple young believers. Why is that? Are they discouraged by the pastors there or encouraged to come? Bible study is vital to teh life of a Christian, but life on life discipleship from those who have gone before us is vital too.

  10. James Downing Aug 27, 2009 3:35 pm

    You are right Paul. Very few older Christians at these churches. It is certainly not discouraged, but these churches have a clearly defined target market, and the cut-off age is about 40. The vast majority of attenders would fall between 16 and 30.

  11. Paul Aug 27, 2009 4:25 pm

    James…I would agree. I’ve heard this phrase from these type of churches…”This is not your grandpa’s church!” Most of these types of churches would welcome older belivers, but would not do much to minsiter to them or allow them in any leadership position.

    Having a target market is an intersting phenomena. I would like to know where in teh Bible it says you are to target a specific type of people and make a church for that type. Sounds like more of a capatalistic business model to me.

  12. keitho Aug 28, 2009 8:32 am

    I’m not sure about the market penetration of NS, and I don’t know the median age, but I observe after several visits at NS:

    -Lot’s of folks over 40+ (like me) attend NS (this is based on my unofficial gray hair count); and

    -Every person I know (friends and family both) at NS came from another church.

    I would then postulate that in spite of NS casting themselves as a church for unchurch people, I would suggest that it is a church for churched people who want to update their worship style and/or make church exciting for their kids.

    I guess grandma down in the basement for Sunday School doesn’t cut it anymore.

  13. James Duncan Aug 28, 2009 8:15 pm

    I think you could change the title of this post to “Running WITH Numbers.”

  14. Sara Crocker Aug 29, 2009 2:09 pm

    @Keitho

    “I guess grandma down in the basement for Sunday School doesn’t cut it anymore.”

    Of course not.

    What does Grandma know about the Bible anyway?

  15. keitho Aug 31, 2009 12:48 pm

    If she was like my grandma, she knew alot, and she didn’t put up with much nonsense either.

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