CP: Are there any other "crucial issues" facing the 21st century Spirit-empowered church that the conference will be tackling?
Garrison: We will be looking at the results of a Spirit-filled life. In other words, is there an outcome that we're trying to achieve? What is that outcome? Would you know a Spirit-empowered disciple if you saw one? That's another thing that we're trying to say. We're saying we believe it's important. Then we're saying, is there ever an opportunity to evaluate how good you're doing on your goal. Everything has to be measurable at some point. We're not judging anyone's spirituality. We break it down into what we would call a rational theology, a behavioral theology and an experiential theology. We would probably add experiential, where many religions would only say doctrine and duty, belief and behavior. We're saying all of that begins with an encounter. That encounter is an experience. We believe that everyone can have that experience. It may be different for a lot of different people, but it is an experience. That's what we'll be discussing in Griffin, a part of it. There there will be some younger leaders that will be speaking. African American, Caucasian, we're gonna be very diverse ethnically, we're going to be very diverse demographically in regards to age.
CP: Empowered21 encourages and helps to facilitate a fresh outpouring or move of the Holy Spirit for Christians to do God's work. How do you instruct people to test whether the signs they see or experience are actually of the Holy Spirit?
Garrison: We believe that it's almost innate in a way, and sometimes it's very intuitive. The Bible says to try the spirits. That doesn't mean everybody always knows. But we are asking the Holy Spirit to help us. Some people say that doesn't make sense. Many people, their first impression is wrong. I've seen people that I thought liked me, and they turned out to be people who didn't like me. I've had some people I thought didn't like me and they turned out to be some of my best friends. We do it with prayer. We do it with counsel, in other ways we say that there is protection in the counsel of two or three people. So we wouldn't be any different than anybody else in some of those ways. Then we do it in observation. Does it bear the kind of fruit we want it to bear? To me, it's a process and it's also intuitive.
CP: Empowermed21's vision statement includes the desire "that every person on Earth would have an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit by Pentecost 2033." What is the significance of the year 2033?
Garrison: We believe that that's approximately 2,000 years after the original outpouring. Jesus lived till he was about 33, however he was probably born maybe 4 B.C., and so that's how we arrive at that.
CP: The Assemblies of God has experienced much growth in recent years, especially when it comes to racial diversity and Millennials. However, the 2012 statistical report shows declines in Spirit baptisms and conversions. Are these areas of special interest or focus now for the denomination?
Garrison: They are definitely of concern to us. We've had a tremendous explosion of growth over the last — we're in our 100th year, this is our Centennial year. April was our 100th birthday, and we're having a big Centennial in August where we'll be bringing international delegates from around the world. Ninety-five percent of the Assemblies of God constituency lives outside the United States. We're about 3.1 million in the United States, and we're close to 63 million outside the United States. There are 360,000 churches worldwide. Every 20 seconds, best that we can tell with our statisticians, on average somebody comes to faith in Christ in an Assemblies of God Church, and every 52 minutes a new church is planted.
In the United States, 82 to 83 percent of our churches are under 200 in attendance, but we have around 250 churches that have over 1,000 (in attendance). Larger churches see more people converted, but less Spirit baptisms. We're not sure of all of the reasoning for that, but it is something we pray about and we are concerned about. Smaller churches, that ration's much better. It seems to be, the attraction of bigger crowds gives less time for systematic Bible study and what we would call taking time to posture yourself in prayer and waiting before the Lord. For instance, I was at a church Sunday a week ago in Chicago where we had three services back-to-back. We started at 8-something that morning and didn't get out until two that afternoon. They're running them as fast as they can just because every service is packed.
So some of it is just a feature of what's happening. Some of it may be, in some people's area, there may be that there's a decline in spiritual fervency. I don't know that. And we can't seem to get a true answer, whether we look to LifeWay Research or Barna or Gallup, nobody seems to be able to tell us that. So we're just believing that we'll stay strong into our second 100 years.
CP: It would seem that it could be a possible negative aspect of the megachurch boom.
Garrison: We're certainly not against megachurches but we do know that that is an oddity. So we're looking at more than numbers, we're really trying to drill down. And we do conversion to water baptism and conversion to Spirit baptism, and we started encouraging people to look at that more than just numbers. For a while, people wanted to know how big is your church and how many do you have, and that's the only criteria. I call it "nickels and noses."
As noted in a press release, the conference hosts include Garrison, Empowered21 U.S.A. chair, Surratt, Empowered21 U.S.A. vice-chair and founding pastor of Seacoast Church and Wilkerson, pastor of Trinity Church. Speakers include John Gray, associate teaching pastor at Lakewood Church, Dr. Mark Williams, pastor and general overseer of the Church of God, Peter Hass, pastor of Substance Church and Dr. David Cooper, pastor of Mount Paran Church.
The Empowered21 Global Council, co-chaired by George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, and Billy Wilson, president of Oral Roberts University, holds conferences across continents throughout the year. Organizers claim the 2015 global congress in Jerusalem "will be the largest Christian gathering in Jerusalem in modern history." The global council is chaired by leaders from the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Church of God in Christ, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and several others denominations and ministries.
Learn more online: http://www.e21usacongress.com/