The final number of people watching the three-day Harvest outreach event with Pastor Greg Laurie in Anaheim last weekend has not been fully tabulated, but one thing is certain – social media has helped at least triple the amount from last year.
Laurie is calling the preliminary numbers that are coming in a “mind-blowing stat.” Three members of the Riverside, Calif.-based Harvest Crusade webcast tech team talking to The Christian Post Thursday were at a loss to quantify the increased viewership and simply exclaimed, “wow.”
All three nights of the crusade featuring popular Christian musical performers and modern-day evangelistic messages by Laurie were broadcast live over the Internet at Harvest.org. The live streaming webcast could also be viewed on Facebook for the first time, and a link to the webcast page could be shared on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
In Laurie’s most recent blog post he wrote: “Here is a mind-blowing stat: Over the weekend, online viewers connected with the Anaheim Harvest webcast a total of 1,303,332 times. We had viewers from all 50 states and from 63 countries around the world! That is far and away the largest response EVER from online viewers. It is almost triple what we had last year.”
Paul Eaton, who is the pastor of communications and leads the tech team at Harvest, did not want to "go ahead of the numbers," still being calculated. He said he wants to make it clear that the “one million-plus number does not necessarily translate into individual viewers.” Nevertheless, he is absolutely sure that online evangelism is as strong as ever and is a powerful way to spread the Gospel.
“We are finding that the crusade is as much a virtual as it is a personal presence. It’s becoming a huge component in the outreach of this ministry,” Eaton said. “We’re going to where people are and we are seeing a massive sea change in the way people connect with information. We are moving into that space.”
A total of 115,000 people attended the Harvest event in person. It was announced on Sunday, the last day of the event, that the previous two nights included 240,000 people watching live online. However, the Harvest tech team is still waiting on Facebook to provide the number of people watching on its social media site. The team said that Laurie's "almost triple" the amount conclusion is a safe estimate, but may even increase more.
Eaton said that the Harvest tech team includes nine paid full and part time staff and as many as 20 volunteers on the nights of the event.
“People are using different means to connect with the world and this is where we are going,” Eaton said. “A great lesson from Jesus is that he was always where the people were and that’s where he brought the message. He didn’t stay separated from them and that’s what I see Pastor Greg doing. He wants us to go to where the people are and reach them in that environment.”
Internet users on the website page where the webcast from Anaheim was offered for free could Facebook “Like” the page. The action of clicking on the “Like” icon meant that the Facebook user doing so automatically shares a link to the Harvest page to potentially all their Facebook friends. It was the first time this social media tool was implemented.
Harvest webmaster Justin Beasley said that as of Thursday there were 27,000 Facebook “Likes,” which is also a means of promoting the event organically, as some have called the method by which social media spreads without financial cost.
“Among those approximately 27,000 actions on Facebook we saw somewhere in the 12 to 13 million range of page views,” Beasley said. The exponential calculation is based on Facebook statistics that show that the average Facebook user has between 250 to 480 Facebook friends,
Promoting the event by means of social media was something Harvest team members focused on more than last year, they said.
“A concerted effort on our part was to ask people who follow our ministry, who are on our mailing list, our email list, our Facebook, our Twitter, and all our social media to actively help us promote the event. We encouraged them to do that by way of getting the Gospel out to the world in this electronic format reaching new people in new places,” Eaton said. “There’s thousands of believers in the Southern California area who every year make the Harvest Crusade a part of their life so it’s not much of a stretch for us to ask them to help to promote this.”
According to Beasley, Harvest now has a global network of supporters as well that can help promote the event online.
“Now, instead of just being limited to our base in Southern California, there is an action that someone on the other side of the country or the other side of the world can take to share the webcast with their friends,” he said. “They don’t have to be local to participate anymore.”
While the popular evangelistic event has been at Angel Stadium for 22 years, Harvest with Greg Laurie will be making its first appearance at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles this year, on Sept. 10.
“Los Angeles is full of influencers who have a worldwide reach. We recognize that this is not a small thing to go into,” said Eaton, who also shared that the Harvest church in Riverside and the outreach’s ministry supporters will be praying intensely in the coming weeks.
Plans for next year include encouraging churches to broadcast the Anaheim crusade live to congregations and guests. The effort will be called "Harvest America," Eaton said.