Shilling for Steven

Popular mega-Pastor Steven Furtick has been under a lot of criticism for his $1.7 million mansion, but his fans respond by claiming that he’s brought so many people to Christ that his ministry is worth it.

Now it’s his ministry that’s under attack:

Elevation Church keeps an exact count of its thousands of baptisms, all part of its laser like focus on numbers.

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To get those thousands of baptisms takes a lot of planning.

And 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 parts of the mass baptism guide have drawn sharp criticism – from other Christians.

Part of the operation was to have volunteers acting as shills in the audience. They’d be the first to hit the sawdust trail and get “spontaneously baptized,” which would encourage other people to get caught up in the enthusiasm and follow. It’s not illegal, like planting a shill at an auction to drive up the price, but it’s on the shady side of immoral.

The whole process has the feel of a well planned media event intended to drive up the numbers:

More stage instructions tell volunteers to go to staging rooms outfitted with towels, pre-printed t-shirts, sports bras, boxers, makeup remover, hair-dryers and flip-flops. Volunteers are instructed to “pick young energetic people” to go on stage first to be baptized and “not necessarily those who are there first.”

“Think of the room in terms of a NASCAR pit stop,” the guide reads. “Quick in and quick out.”

It takes “30 to 45 seconds” to baptize each person as church photographers snap photos.

More volunteers are told, “You are looking for one or two 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….”

Even if I weren’t an atheist, I’d have to wonder about the dedication of someone who got dunked at one of these extravaganzas.

In The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, Christine Wicker suggested that the baptism numbers game was a sham. Wicker points out that most of these folks would simply be members of other churches. Rather than bringing the unsaved to Christ, Furtick is likely swiping members from smaller churches. They might stay, they might fall away, or they might move on another church to get baptized all over again.


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