Eugene Cho

harvests & crusades in a post-christendom world

When was the last time you attended a huge “crusade?

I’ve been to a couple including one that attracted about 700,000 people in South Korea. They said it was 700,000 people but then again, I’m not really sure how you confirm that sort of attendance. While I’ve never attended a Billy Graham crusade (which I regret since he’s such an iconic figure), I once attended a Greg Laurie Harvest.

Speaking of Greg Laurie (a megachurch pastor and evangelist), he was in Seattle this past weekend for the “Seattle Harvest” whatchamagacallit in Key Arena – former home of the Seattle Sonics. From their recent press release:

Seattle is the most technologically wired city in America, and although its residents are “connected,” many of them are not connected to God. But a hunger to know God clearly exists, as was demonstrated this past weekend, November 5 – 7, when more than 39,000 people packed out Key Arena to listen to the message of hope offered by Southern California pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie during the Greg Laurie: Seattle Harvest.

In addition to the 39,000 in attendance at Key Arena, some 160,000 more connections were made on the internet by people watching the Seattle Harvest live online. Throughout the weekend, 4,225 people made decisions to put their faith in Christ, either in-person or online.

Someone recently asked me why I as a pastor and leader in the city of Seattle didn’t use my time and energy to help promote this event. I was asked why I didn’t use my church pulpit or “influential blog” to promote the event.

Do I have anything against Pastor Greg?

Absolutely not. Much respect for Pastor Greg Laurie.

Do I have anything against these large evangelistic crusades?

It’s not my personal favorite expression of Christianity but then again, I rest in knowing that God works and speaks in so many varied ways. I am thankful that these crusades are not the totality of the expression of God’s movement. Similarly, Quest is not the way to do church…it’s simply one response.

I chose not to participate because 1) I wasn’t asked and 2) If I was asked, I would have declined simply because of my limited time and bandwidth. But more relevantly, while I’m really pleased (and amazed) at the number of folks that came and the number of people that made “decisions,” I really don’t know of many people at Quest that would have resonated with this kind of event.

In fact, I’m curious if even a handful of folks attended. Anyone?

But the main reason…

…one of the main reasons why I wasn’t personally invested is because I really don’t know many friends or neighbors that are non-Christians that would have been at all attracted to the event. In fact, it may have been the complete opposite experience.

But it really is amazing to read reports of the number of people that made decisions. Hopefully, there are even more substantive stories of people living out their lives that reflect God’s beautiful story and mission of Redemption & Reconciliation.

I would be converted to be the #1 supporter of mega harvests if…

I hope and pray that Seattle may be filled with more justice, compassion, mercy, and humility as a result of the event. I pray that issues of trafficking, prostitution, homelessness, domestic violence, access to education, racism, and other social inequalities might be impacted as a result of the event.

These changes would certainly make me a dramatic convert of these mega harvests, crusades, and whatchamacallits.

The packed out Seattle Harvest and the continual growth of several megachurches in the area makes me wonder if I’m a little off about the “post-Christendom” world we live in.


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25 Responses

  1. mo says:

    Good thoughts man. I think its key to recognize the limits of your time and “bandwidth.” I’m also not sure I know any unbelievers who would have connected with this kind of event. But I’m definitely glad they happen too.

    That is a great prayer list, for Seattle and Detroit alike 🙂

  2. Rusty Rabon says:

    While I understand and appreciate the pressures of time and priorities, I sense a disparaging tone as you speak of such an event (“Seattle Harvest whatchamacallit”).

    What you have in this “whatchamacallit” is a man who is bringing a message of truth from God’s Word, and who is zealous to reach unbelievers with the message of salvation through Jesus Christ – eternal hope and a purposeful life with Christ, and eternal doom without Christ. I would hope that, as a pastor, the hope that some would come to faith in Christ would be enough to at least cause you to speak supportively of such an effort. Is it not true that the northwest – Seattle in particular – is the most unchristian or “pagan” area of the country?

    While “. . . justice, compassion, mercy, and humility, human trafficking, prostitution, homelessness, domestic violence, access to education, and other social inequalities . . .” are important issues for Christians (Micah 6:8), they pale in comparison with the eternal destiny of people who will never die. More important than a quality education or the redistribution of wealth is the eternal security of a never-dying soul.

    • criss says:

      I don’t think Eugene is questioning Laurie’s zeal or integrity or particularly criticizing the event. He’s saying that in order to communicate God’s love he needs to speak the language of his neighbors. I don’t know Laurie, but, if the press release is accurate, it seems Laurie is speaking someone’s language– blessings on him. He’s just doesn’t seem to speak this particular language.

      As for the justice, compassion, mercy, etc vs. salvation arguments, I think that instead of seeing them as opposing things that take up resources of the community, they should be thought as part of the whole package of loving and worshiping God.

    • Andy M says:

      The question is, how many unbelievers would actually be attracted to such an event? In my experience, very few people who have not been a part of the “christian” world much or ever in their lives would be interested at all in such an event.

      Being zealous to reach unbelievers does not naturally translate into actually being able to reach unbelievers. A man may be able to be very influential within churches, but that does not easily carry over into the secular world. Often, being influential among christians actually hinders the ability to influence non-christians.

      To me, this is a Christian event, meant for Christian people. If it were me personally, I would not be interested because I would not be interested in being “harvested”.

      And the social aspects of the Gospel do not “pale in comparison with the eternal destiny…” They are no more, and no less important. The Bible is not just about how to go to Heaven when we die, but rather it is about Heaven and Earth intersecting and the Kingdom of God coming here and now on Earth. To deny “justice, compassion, mercy, humility, human trafficking, prostitution, homelessness, domestic violence, access to education, and other social inequalities…” and their importance is to deny the Gospel itself. It is not an either/or, but both/and.

      • Samantha says:

        Andy, Thank you for articulating something I’ve tried to put into words and failed at, “The Bible is not just about how to go to Heaven when we die, but rather it is about Heaven and Earth intersecting and the Kingdom of God coming here and now on Earth.”

        This is another way of parsing what Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” We all need the reminder that the Gospel is for today, for right now, not just for an eternal destiny.

      • anewcreation says:

        AMEN!AMEN!AMEN! God bless you


    • Eugene Cho says:

      Hi Rusty,

      I can share with that there’s no tone of “disparagement” or at least, that’s not intended.

      I have much respect for these pastors, leaders, and evangelists alike. If they’re not posers, scam artists, and preaching a false gospel, I’ve got respect.

      While I’m not equipped with both giftings, resources, and networks to conduct such an event, I only desire much fruit knowing that there are thousands and thousands of people that would resonate with such an event. Not everyone speaks my spiritual language and that’s ok.

      As for the “whatchamacallit” term, I say it to literally convey my inability in describing it to people. While I haven’t advertised it, I have had couple conversations and it’s the hardest thing to describe a “harvest” to someone that isn’t a Christian. = whatchamacallit.

    • Bill says:

      one “theologian lite” would heartily disagree that coming to faith in Christ is achieved by a single decision at a single crusade. Moreover, the issues Gene lists are not “issues” for the Christian but are in fact the witness of the so-called decision; in other words, the former cannot exist without the latter. Quoting Micah 6:8 shows that faith must apparently be a kind of smorgasboard, but all that really matters is that you paid to get in. This is far more narcissism defining its Christian-version than it is Christianity lived,…

  3. Emily Jones says:

    I have some friends from other churches who went to Seattle Harvest and were advertising for it… the other day I asked a Quest staff person if they were going, and she didn’t know what I was talking about, had never heard of it. That made me laugh because it perfectly epitomized the way Quest is a different kind of church culture.

    I definitely share your reservations about this type of event, and I’m pretty skeptical about the number of actual changed hearts and lives it will produce. Some, I’m sure, will definitely be changed and meet Jesus. But I think you’re right that this tends to attract one type of person, and what kind of need is it really meeting for the non-Christian? Why would they want to go listen to Christian bands and a sermon in a crowded arena? God will use all things to draw people to Him, and in that respect, I’m sure much good has been accomplished by Seattle Harvest. But for all of the money and resources invested in such an event, I’m not sure if it’s the best way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus in healing a broken world. Big events can have their place, but I just imagine Jesus being much more practical and organic about changing lives, and on a much smaller scale.

  4. Dave Ingland says:

    A few things from my previous research: 1) most people that attend crusades are churched people or have a churched background; 2) the entire event is designed around a final alter call which has nothing to with becoming a follower of Christ for the first time, so many will come forward even though they’ve done so several times before; 3) most that come forward during an alter call at these events are out of the church and out of the “ether” within 12 months.

    Most of the information came from studies and research focused on Billy Graham crusades, but Laurie’s appear to be very similar.

  5. Al Doyle says:

    Harvests (or better yet the ironically named Crusades) have always been based on a culture’s underlying knowledge of basic Christian (or church) fundamentals. That is not found anymore very far from the churched population, making this tool cool mainly for jazzing up those who are in or near the grasp of a conventional church.

    Eugene, I applaud your wisdom and grace in respectfully declining to be part of this anachronism.

    And I pray that those who attended were not only “harvested”, but blessed. Seems like the people in the pews of conventional Churchdom, rather than the great “unwashed,” may need to much hear more about Jesus and his spiritual and practical direction that his Father’s Kingdom come, on Earth. Now.

  6. joejmac says:

    Good questions to be asking about Christendom/post-Christendom. I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that Christendom is not finished in the States, but there are pockets of populations that are very post-Christian. As each church family recognizes the context they are in, as you mention regarding your neighbors, than each church family can be a faithful expression of Christ within that particular context. I too had no idea the Harvest Crusade was coming to town until a friend of mine joked about inviting somebody to “come be harvested”. 🙂 I’ll also mention that I don’t know a single acquaintance of mine who lives in the city who went. Every acquaintance of mine who went to the harvest crusade drove in from surrounding suburbs…

    David Fitch has been very helpful in my processing, particularly these two recent posts of his:

  7. Daniel Azuma says:

    I think criss hits it on the head when he points out the matter of speaking someone’s language. Big crusades, big events, are obviously not Pastor E’s language, nor are they mine, nor are they many people’s. As a broad generalization, I suspect many Quest people would not be into them (and some even now may be getting uncomfortable with Quest’s own size and success). But there are many other people for whom big events are precisely their language, the best way to communicate faith to them, and for that it’s important to be supportive of such efforts, even if we’re not directly involved.

    Jesus was a master at speaking all languages. He did the organic, practical, one-life-at-a-time ministry. He also did the big crusades with thousands of people. It’s implied that he didn’t like them all that much, but he did them anyway, and did them with a flair for the dramatic. He met, embraced, and confronted people where they were, whether it’s the woman at the well looking for love in all the wrong places, or the religious scholar needing a shove out of a philosophical rut. The apostle Paul too, managed to span genres and vastly different contexts to bring the Gospel in a highly diverse and culturally confusing world. It can’t have been easy for that former Pharisee, but he did it anyway.

    Now, I can’t blame Pastor E for not being involved in actively helping or promoting Seattle Harvest. His gifts and bandwidth are clearly better utilized elsewhere. I confess that I’d forgotten completely about it myself until the weekend it was happening. When we were reminded that it was going on, Ada and I discussed it but eventually chose not to attend, deciding that we weren’t likely to contribute much, and that those two seats would probably be more valuable to someone else. I also share Andy’s reservations about these sorts of events in general, knowing that some of those are real philosophical or even theological issues, while others are just because of my “language”.

    However, this sense of cavalier disinterested neutrality, that pervades the way many of us Seattle-ites like to approach things that we’re unsure about or are outside our language, that has to go. While I have some issues with Rusty’s rather one-sided response, I shared his reaction to the word “whatchamacallit”. Whatever the Seattle Harvest was, it was not a “whatchamacallit”. It was a major event with wide-ranging impact and heavy spiritual implications on the city, our city. If there were problems with how it was run, then state those and we’ll talk about it so the next one can be better. I don’t think many of us believe there are fundamental problems with the concept itself, but if there are, state those and we can work through it. If you’re uninterested, then say so but don’t demean it because you’re uninterested. Otherwise, why not bless the event, let them do what they’re called to do, and celebrate with them?

    • Eugene Cho says:

      I like that.

      To bless is good.
      To pray for it is good.
      To celebrate w/ the news is good.

      And I certainly bless the event, prayed for the event, and rejoiced with the event.

      Per my comment in response to Rusty above, the term “whatchamacallit” came out (for me) when I was chatting with one of my neighbors about it and when I tried to explain “Seattle Harvest”, he had no idea what the heck I was talking about. I was pretty embarrassed at my inability to explain without using the terms crusade (for obvious reasons), stadium event, big tent evangelism, etc.

    • Steven Kim says:

      Very thoughtful and balanced response. Amen.

  8. chad m says:

    this looked like a Christian rally to me. everyone i know who went, according to facebook, were Christian folks. now some of them may have invited non-Christians, but this isn’t the sort of thing i’d invite a non-Christian to. it seems very tailored to those who are already “in.” i mean honestly, are non-Christians really attracted to the music and presentations at events such as this? i realize that seems like a silly question given the number of “converts,” but i’m a bit cynical when i see those numbers. maybe it’s the numerous youth rallies i’ve been to where the same kids go forward to receive Christ who went forward the last time. i mean, aren’t we all just counting the same people over and over again and calling our events a success? seems a bit odd to me. i’m with those who question the amount of resources spent on stuff like this in the name of winning souls.

    • Andy M says:

      I agree. I will admit that I dislike any kind of event set up like this one, or even the Billy Graham Crusades though I have the highest respect for the man. It isn’t my taste and I’ve come to respect the fact that other people like different things than myself and that includes worship, etc…

      However, I think what often happens is that we Christians create these events, big or small, based off of what we like as Christians. It’s like we have a tailor make us a suit that fits us perfectly, and then we assume that because it is the perfect suit for us, then it must fit everybody perfectly.

      We need to realize that the far majority of Christian events are actually “for” Christians rather than for non-Christians, even the out-reach events. And we need to learn how to engage with the outside world in new ways. I personally believe that this will begin with meeting and spending more time with non-Christians. Engaging with people who are not in the church, will help us learn how to improve our ministries.

  9. Bryan says:

    Personally, I think the real reason you don’t go is that that would be a lot of people to walk around with your zipper down and/or jacket buttoned like it was a whatchamacallit

  10. alice says:

    My friends who attended this event are churched people who were drawn by the big name worship bands playing and the opportunity to hear Greg Laurie teach in person.

    I’m not against crusades but I do wonder about the effectiveness and relevancy of them in our culture (in the United States)today.

  11. Chris Loach says:

    it’s interesting to hear someones story who isn’t really against the event but just decides against promoting/supporting it. normally people are either strongly for or strongly against it and you seem to be neither here nor there. if it works for some then great, but it isn’t our cup of tea. enjoyed the post eugene!

  12. Steven Kim says:

    Whether it’s QCafe’s Kid’s Art Day or Seattle Harvest event our God is lifted up, and our people are revived, restored and inspired through and by each other’s presence and the Holy Spirit. I love both types of events.

    May God continue to use all of us in diverse ways and means, and may our hearts be open to supporting each other even when the “language” is different.

  13. Pat says:

    I’m glad you’ve raised this question. I have begun to wonder what churches are doing in this day and time in which we live as far as revivals are concerned. I serve in conservative, Protestant church that for many year would have a revival. Over the last 3, we had a pastor who led us (or tried to lead us) toward being more of seeker-sensitive church and I think in that amount of time we may have had 1 revival. Revivals to me seem rather anachronistic, particularly if you’re seeker-, post-modern-, unchurched- and dechurched-sensitive. However, many in our church who went down this road kicking and screaming are longing for things of days gone by, particularly since this pastor has left our church. They seem very intent on revivals and altar calls being THE way to reach people. Like you mentioned, there are many and varied ways that people come to faith. So I’d like to hear what churches are doing with revivals. Are you still having them? Have you replaced them with something else? Have you successfully moved your church to the model I described above and if so, how did you do it? The way I see it, some of the people that are clamoring for revivals and altar calls are doing so because that’s what makes them feel good. I’m all for those who will come and be converted, but more and more, I believe that a lot of what we do in church is for us and not for them.

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In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

Indeed, God is not yet done. May we take heart for Christ has overcome the world. "Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity and they become mere projects. And God did not intend for anyone to become our projects." Grateful this quote from my book, Overrated, is resonating with so many folks - individuals and  NGOs. / design by @preemptivelove .
May we keep working 
on ourselves 
even as we seek 
to change the world. 
To be about the latter 
without the former 
is the great temptation 
of our times.

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