California megachurch pastor Greg Laurie’s Palm Sunday webcast service drew 1.3 million people, including President Donald Trump, with 11,207 people making decisions to have a relationship with Christ.
Harvest Christian Fellowship, a multicampus church based in Riverside with campuses in California and Hawaii, said on Monday that "a lot of new people visited us" because of Trump's tweet, where he announced that he would be watching the service.
“Palm Sunday is the beginning of a Holy week for many people of Faith and a great day to lift our voices in Prayer,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “I will be tuning into Pastor @greglaurie at @harvestorg Church in Riverside, California tomorrow at 11:00 A.M. Eastern.”
In a Facebook post, Laurie said that he was “as surprised as anyone” when he heard Trump say he would tune in for the service.
“I knew he might send a Tweet out about this, but I was not sure when,” Laurie explained. “It’s not like he does not have a lot on his plate! I am thankful the President feels it is important for us as Americans to attend Church, even if it is only online now. Thank you, President Trump!”
Laurie, known for hosting evangelistic crusades at stadiums, mentioned that Trump had hoped to join Harvest's upcoming Easter service in person but "unfortunately that has not worked out."
Although Trump said that it is “sad” that people have to watch Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday services on their computers, Laurie cited a verse from Matthew to stress that Jesus said that when ‘two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.’”
“So we are having church in the home or wherever you are watching us,” he said. “The Lord is here with us.”
During the service, Associate Pastor Jason Powell said that the online response the church has received as been “unbelievable.”
“We never anticipated this work that God was prepared to do,” Powell said. “So what we did is we said, ‘Lord, this is what we got.’ We offered our fish and loaf, so to speak. God has multiplied and cast a seed far beyond what we could imagine. The past three weeks, did you know we have had over 1 million people that have joined us online for Harvest at Home.”
“Literally around the globe, from Texas to New York, from Hawaii to Germany and France,” he added.
Laurie contended during his sermon that there is a historic “opportunity” presented to Christians today.
“There is an open door for us right now into the world with the Gospel like I have not seen in my lifetime,” he said. “I have been preaching the Gospel for 45 years. I have never seen an opportunity like this, where people are open. We have the technology to reach them. Sure, we have always had satellite television and radio. But everybody carries [cell phones] around … and you can access information that we are beaming across phones, tablets, and television screens. We can reach them with the Gospel.”
Laurie also used time during the service to voice his displeasure with people who don’t seem to be “responding appropriately” to the threat of the coronavirus.
“We have been asked to maintain social distancing. So we are trying to do that up here [on stage]. But I hope you are doing it as well,” the 67-year-old pastor said. “Sometimes people are just ignoring it as though it has not been asked of us. I think we all want to be considerate of others. You could be a young person. You could get COVID-19 and not even be aware of it and pass it on to grandma without even realizing it. Let’s respect one another.”
He also spoke out about people hoarding commodities like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and food items.
“Here is a great time for us to be selfless and not selfish to think of others,” he said. He recited Ephesians 4:32: “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.”
Palm Sunday is the first day of the Christian Holy Week leading up to Easter, which will take place next Sunday. Palm Sunday specifically celebrates Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem before He was crucified.
Many churches across the globe are holding online-only services to observe social distancing in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
This is not the first time that Trump watched a church service online during the coronavirus outbreak. In mid-March, Trump said he watched a March 15 church service led by pastor Jentezen Franklin at Free Chapel in Georgia.