CHARLOTTE, N.C. — You wouldn’t know it by the name, but Elevation Church is Southern Baptist. Its Pastor Steven Furtick graduated from a Southern Baptist seminary. Elevation was planted with seed money from Southern Baptists. And Elevation gives money to Southern Baptist missions.
But you won’t find the Baptist name on Elevation. Instead its campuses are marked with Elevation’s trademarked name and brand – the orange circle with the “up arrow” chevron shape inside. There’s not even the traditional cross on the outside of Elevation buildings.
But baptism – the sacred Christian rite symbolizing being raised to a new life in Jesus Christ – is clearly vital to Elevation. Online videos of Elevation’s mass baptisms play rising music as they show slow motion shots of people obviously moved by a religious experience meaningful to them.
Elevation Church keeps an exact count of its thousands of baptisms, all part of its laser like focus on numbers.
But those numbers have spiked and dipped from year to year according to a confidential internal report obtained by the NBC Charlotte I-Team – from 289 in 2010 to 2,410 in 2011, from 689 in 2012 to 3,519 for the first eight months of last year.
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 his is where the church loses its integrity:
Page one shows that the first people instructed to respond to Pastor Steven’s call to baptism were not converts suddenly inspired but Elevation volunteers carefully planted in the crowd.
The guide instructs, “Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.”