Questions such as these are important to ask in light of a new effort being put forth by Greg Laurie and his Harvest Crusades. The Press-Enterprise reports:
Riverside-based Harvest Crusades is launching an ambitious expansion that organizers hope will bring its annual evangelical gathering at Angel Stadium of Anaheim to 1,000 venues nationwide via satellite and high-definition webcasts.
About 165,000 people attended Harvest crusades last year in Anaheim and at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, making them among the biggest evangelical events in the country.
But crusade organizers are estimating that the new “Harvest America” effort, formally unveiled Tuesday at a luncheon at Angel Stadium, could attract 5 million participants over the next three years to churches, arenas and theatres.
“We think this could be our future,” said the Rev. John Collins, executive crusade director for Harvest.
More than 250 churches — some with sophisticated, high-tech big screens and other equipment — already have signed up to hold events centered on the Aug. 26 crusade at Angel Stadium, he said. Many of the venues are expected to localize the event with live bands and preaching by local pastors, he said.
The 12,000-member Harvest Bible Chapel, which has six campuses in the Chicago area, is starting to prepare for the event, said the Rev. Brian Bement, who is coordinating the church’s participation.
“We’re excited that, given the current technology, there’s an opportunity to spread the word of God through Pastor Greg Laurie, who has a clear gift of evangelism,” he said.(Online Source)Why the desire to clone this experience across the country?
Holding the event live adds to the energy, said the Rev. Thom O’Leary, pastor of the 1,400-member Mountainbrook Community Church in San Luis Obispo.
“It’s pretty cool that we’ll be experiencing this at the exact same time as at Anaheim stadium,” said O’Leary, whose church will have a live band perform before the webcast. “You’re a part of the vibe.”
Even though hundreds of thousands of people have watched the crusades online since 1997, it is more effective to have them experience the event with others, Laurie said in an interview after Tuesday’s luncheon.
Just as Christians who attend the Anaheim crusade are encouraged to bring non-believing family, friends and neighbors with them, Christians who attend the webcasts nationwide will be urged to invite non-believers to events at their local churches, Laurie said. Those who view the crusade with friends are more likely to make a profession of faith in Christ than people who watch the crusade alone on a computer, he said. (Online Source, emphasis added)Are we to believe, then, that if God has ordained for one to be saved, the Holy Spirit can only work in a more effective manner when that one is in a large crowd of people? Are we really to believe that God cannot save someone who is watching at home "alone on a computer?" Or are the comments above indicative of a larger problem in evangelicalism today?
On any given Sunday across America, "worship experiences" are taking place where once the saints gathered together for church. Where once the worship was designed to please God, now it appears to be fashioned as something for man to "experience." Today, flashing lights, "relevant" messages and emotionally driven music are strategically executed in order to deliver the product: professions of faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, if spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ is truly the main goal, is the "experience" necessary? Or does one only need to be true and faithful to preach the Gospel without compromise? Surely the Holy Spirit does not need "the vibe" of a large stadium event in order to draw people unto Himself!
Laurie, who also pastors Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California, states in this same article, as well as on the Harvest America website, that "Harvest's goal is to have 500,000 people nationwide profess their faith in Jesus over the next three years as a result of the live-stream events, more than have done so in the 22 years of the crusades."
This sounds like a noble goal, but the statement raises questions. What if God has ordained a different number, larger or smaller, than 500,000? And what if God is seeking actual conversions rather than "professions of faith?"
The Harvest Ministries website clearly defines what they interpret a "profession of faith" to be:
What does the term "profession of faith" mean? Is it the same as a conversion?
We believe that only God has the power to "convert" a heart to Himself. We use the term "profession of faith" to indicate that a person made a public, formal profession of a desire to follow Christ and live by His Word (whether that be a first-time commitment or a recommitment). While many of these people will be discipled, grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and bear lasting fruit, we know that this is a matter of the heart and some will not continue on in the Christian faith (see Matthew 13). This is the reason that there is a follow-up process in place—to ensure that as many as possible are given all the tools and biblical counsel that they need, and are also prayed for. (Online Source)It is moderately reassuring that Harvest Ministries recognizes that not all professions of faith are true and lasting. Nevertheless, it is still these professions that they seek to record at the upcoming Harvest America events. One tends to wonder, if not one person walked the aisle at a Harvest America event, and the 500,000 goal was not met, yet there was one - only one - person who remained seated, was convicted of his sin and repented and trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation and for the forgiveness of his sins, would the event still be deemed a success?
Of note is that, within this article at the Press-Enterprise, it is acknowledged that many of these event-driven "professions" may not "stick," however the reason for this lack of efficacy appears to be a bit misguided.
Holding Harvest America events in churches close to participants’ homes may lead to more long-term conversions rather than spur-of-the-moment declarations of faith in Jesus at big stadiums that may quickly fade, said Kurt Fredrickson, an associate dean at Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical institution in Pasadena.
At the end of each night of the crusade, thousands of people typically walk onto the field of Angel Stadium to announce their faith in Jesus, but Fredrickson wonders how many of those decisions stick. (Online Source)The above seems to hypothesize that those who will immediately have a nearby church to attend may "stick" to their profession of faith longer. It is true, the Christian walk is a lifetime one, but there are many people within churches who appear to walk that walk without ever having been truly saved by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Too many people have been misdirected to believe that attending church and getting "plugged in" and "doing life" in "community" means that they are saved. While being a part of a biblically-centered church ought to be the desire of every believer, the act of consistently attending the church will not save, nor is it necessarily indicative of one's salvation. Plenty of pews are warmed each week by those who have never heard the gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Too many professing Christians spend all but 2 hours a week living like heathens, only to "wipe the slate clean" on a Sunday morning. Too many have been woefully deceived. Sadly, those who are deceived are often in this state due to a one-time, emotionally-high experience.
It might be suggested, then, that it would be more beneficial for Laurie and his team to focus on clear, unambiguous Gospel preaching as a means of true conversion rather than as a means of logging a number of mere mouthed professions.
As was asked earlier, if the goal of 500,000 professions is not met, yet only one soul is saved in the span of 3 years, will the event still be deemed a success? One would hope so.
Let us settle it in our minds that it will never do to be content with merely hearing and liking the gospel. We must go further than this. We must actually repent and be converted.
- J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew, 115.
The Gooey Mess that is American "Christianity"