Crusade's empty seats show poor timing, some say

Thursday, October 31, 2002

There were more empty seats, but more fulfilled souls, organizers said of last week's Hope for America Crusade, where the attendance was roughly five times less than a similar crusade held in the spring but 11 more people became Christians.

Donny Ford, a Horizon Foundation representative, said there are no official attendance figures, but the crowds were generally in the 400 range each night during last week's crusade, compared to an average of about 2,000 nightly in the spring.

Some say churches' conflicts with other events quelled the crowds, while others say large events are not as effective as they used to be. But there is a general consensus that the timing was a bit off.

"I think maybe the crusades may have been a little too close together," said Dr. Derek Staples, pastor at Lynwood Baptist Church. "Churches usually do two revivals per year, and they're their own revivals for their own specific needs. Sometimes, in a corporate setting like the Show Me Center, those needs of an individual church can't be addressed."

Staples said his 1,300-member church helped lay the groundwork for the first crusade. But plans for a second crusade came in the middle of Lynwood's planning for a major church-wide campaign, called Forty Days of Purpose, for the fall.

"We just felt that was where we needed to keep our focus," he said.

An example of a more specific scheduling conflict was an Andrew Peterson concert Friday night at Cape Bible Chapel. Friday was also youth night at the crusade. Peterson is a popular Christian contemporary singer.

'Too soon'

"I really feel that we probably came back a little soon," said Ford. "But our crusades are different than most in that we basically have evangelistic Bible conferences. But with other churches' schedules, I realize it may have been too soon."

While the attendance numbers may have been down, the numbers that Ford cares about the most -- the number of converts -- was up from the last crusade. Ford said 37 people made professions of the Christian faith at the first crusade, while 48 converted last week.

However, while considering it a success spiritually, Ford said the foundation took a loss on the event. Horizon Foundation is an organization founded by businessman Jerry Lipps.

Ford declined to disclosed the financial figures, but said: "Finances are always a concern when the crusades don't pay for themselves. I think a lot of people misunderstood that the foundation was just going to pay for everything. We want others to catch the vision with us. We're concerned, but the lord is providing. We're not concerned that the Lord will provide the needs."

And as far as others who came forward to pray or re-commit themselves to God's service, "we had as many or more than we did last time," Ford said. "We're thrilled that we had a great response. The quality of the speakers and the music was phenomenal and the feedback we got from people was phenomenal."

Some pastors have said that they were given too little time to promote the event, even if they wanted to assist.

Mike Woelk, pastor at Livingway Foursquare, said he told his congregation about the first crusade and made them aware of counseling training and how they could participate.

"Actually, I never heard about the training and participating this time," he said.

He said his church had some other activities going on last week that made it difficult for his congregation to attend the crusade. He did not announce the crusade dates, either, because it was publicized in the newspaper, he said.

Woelk says he has a good relationship with many pastors in the area, including many who helped organize last week's crusade. But he said a crusade may not be the best way to reach non-Christians.

"I love the fellas at Red Star Baptist and I appreciate their efforts and we serve the same Lord and I prayed for their success," Woelk said. "But the traditional, big-meeting revival vehicle, from what I've read and observed, seems to have a limited success in the number of people who are not Christians becoming Christians."

Woelk said that non-believers today don't tend to seek the church for answers, but look to other people.

"We have to be creative and hear what the spirit of the Lord is saying," he said. "I'm not sure that vehicle is productive anymore."

Daniel Hale, pastor at First Baptist Church of Millersville, disagreed. He said a crusade is one of many ways to reach people.

"I see it as a viable tool and will continue to support them," he said, adding his church canceled Wednesday night services for both crusades so his congregation could attend. "This crusade is still a baby. To abandon that baby would be wrong. It has tremendous possibilities."

Hale said, ideally, a large crusade would occur every 18 months to two years. He said six months notice should be enough time for churches to clear their schedules.

Staples said he thought the crusade would be very successful in attendance if held every two or three years.

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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