Elevation Church 'Emotionally Manipulating' Thousands Into 'Spontaneous' Baptisms, Say Critics

Pastor Steven Furtick (r) of Elevation Church in North Carolina in the baptismal pool with a new convert.
Pastor Steven Furtick (r) of Elevation Church in North Carolina in the baptismal pool with a new convert. | (Photo: Screen Grab via Vimeo/Elevation Church)

A baptism manual produced by Pastor Steven Furtick's popular Elevation Church in North Carolina, which teaches people how to produce "spontaneous" baptisms among the repentant, is being criticized as "emotional manipulation."

The manual, Spontaneous Baptism How-To Guide, was produced by Elevation Church in 2011 and received its first critique in November from James Duncan, a Christian blogger and associate professor of communication at Anderson University who lives in South Carolina.

"As a church we pray Sun Stand Still prayers all the time. We are constantly asking God to do something that seems impossible and then believing that He is going to pull through," explains the introduction to the guide.

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"Most recently we prayed and asked God to lead thousands of people to take a public stand in their faith in Christ through baptism. God blew our minds and in two weekends we saw 2,158 respond and be baptized," it continued.

It then explains in very detailed and strategic terms how the church was able to get "this amazing, Sun Stand Still, only-God-can-get-the-glory miracle."

Among the strategies, according to the manual, is to strategically place people in the worship service who will pretend to respond when pastor Furtick gives the call for baptism approximately one hour into the service.

"Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when pastor gives the call. Sit in the auditorium and begin moving forward when pastor Steven says go. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk," the manual advises.

In a WCNC report on Tuesday Duncan claims that the tactic as dishonest.

"They had people in the crowd stand up who never intended to be baptized," said Duncan. "They were shilling for Steven and the intent was these shills stand up and everybody else follows."

Duncan highlights one of Furtick's baptism calls in his November critique in which Furtick dismisses the notion that his tactics are "emotional manipulation."

"You know God is calling you, and if you feel that in your heart, let me assure you that is the Holy Spirit of God calling you. It is not emotional manipulation. It's the presence of God drawing you and calling you. So in just a moment, I'm going to count to three. When I say 'three,' at every campus I want you to move into the aisles and go to the exit where the ushers are stationed at your campus," said Furtick.

Duncan, however, argued that it is emotional manipulation.

"Perhaps you could classify this as encouragement for a decision already made, not manipulation. You could, though if this were a decision made with confidence and determination, there would be no need to constantly reinforce that decision. Why I classify these as manipulative comes from the very first action, performed just seconds after Furtick's assurance that he wasn't manipulating them," said Duncan, who claims that people are being used as "shills" to start moving toward the front of the church.

Blogger Christopher Smith noted in his recent critique that the tactics being employed in the manual are a reflection of the McDonaldized Christianity many churches are now driving toward.

"Elevation has almost gone so far as to make themselves a caricature of McDonaldized faith, but I hope that – like all good caricatures – we don't just dismiss them as extreme, but rather, see through their story the desires in our own hearts and congregations that are driving us in a similar direction, even if we are not so ridiculous and extreme," said Smith.

The Christian Post reached out to Elevation Church for further comment on this story Thursday but a response was not provided at the time of publication.

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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