A megachurch pastor whose Palm Sunday service was watched online by President Trump says that amid the COVID-19 pandemic an increasing numbers of young people are starting to embrace the Gospel.
Due to the public health crisis that's besetting the United States and other nations around the world, many churches have been livestreaming their services online as large physical gatherings are temporarily halted due to government-issued social distancing orders.
But the move to digital means of worship might portend a Great Awakening, according to Greg Laurie, the longtime pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, who wrote in an op-ed published in Newsweek on Tuesday that he and his team were pleasantly surprised to see that their first week of shifting services to online-only drew over 250,000 viewers and has been growing ever since.
"Last week, we had over a million people tune in for church. These are people literally from all around the world, from every age and background, who are missing church. So, to the best of our ability, we are bringing church to them. What’s more, hundreds of thousands of them are people whom marketers would refer to as the 'target demographic' between the ages of 18 and 34."
Ever since the shutdown began, viewership among millennials has increased 235%, he said.
Churches have been attempting to reach younger generations with the Gospel for decades, seemingly in vain, Laurie elaborated, highlighting the plethora of news stories and surveys in recent years about declining church attendance and the rise of the "nones" — those who never have or no longer affiliate with any particular religious tradition.
But the worldwide coronavirus outbreak has fundamentally changed the environment.
"Could it be that simply by responding as best and as quickly as we could to something no one saw coming, we’ve unwittingly stumbled into part of God’s answer to a generational riddle?" he asked.
"We touch our phones a shocking 2,617 times a day, and 84 percent say they can’t go a single day without their phone. Most people under 30 can’t even remember a world before cell phones. Perhaps this is why some psychologists refer to millennials as 'Generation Panic.' They have been so inundated by a world of unrealistic comparisons and 'excessive expectations' online that they are afflicted by 'a harsh inner critic and an obsessive need to achieve.'"
A millennial friend reportedly told Laurie that he believes it only makes sense that God would bring revival through laptops and phones now and that he had an encounter with God while watching a broadcast in the privacy of his home with no one watching and no pressure to behave or perform.
"But here is the most surprising thing to me about this new, burgeoning online congregation. At the end of my message, I extended an opportunity for people to pray and ask Jesus Christ to come into their lives. At last count, over 31,000 have responded. That’s in four weeks," Laurie said.
"You’ve heard of 'life imitating art.' Well, this is virtual reality becoming actual reality."
Laurie went on to note that while his congregation is looking forward to gathering physically again they are presently seeing something which looks like a great awakening as they continue to shelter-in-place.
"Let’s hope and pray that it continues. America is long overdue," Laurie concluded.
The president announced at the end of the April 4 White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing that he would be watching Laurie's Palm Sunday service.
Later that day, Trump also tweeted that he would be watching the livestream. In an April 6 tweet, Laurie thanked the president for joining and noted that approximately 1.3 million tuned in to the service and that 11,207 people indicated a desire to know Christ.