Pastor Shares How to Identify a Prosperity Gospel Church

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While there are numerous prosperity gospel churches around the world, they don't advertise themselves as one. But one pastor is offering some guidance on how to tell if a church promotes the "health and wealth" gospel.

Tim Challies, a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Canada and an author, cited Kate Bowler's book, Blessed, to compile his list and the first thing people should watch out for, he said, is the church's name.

"Words like 'victory,' 'abundant,' or 'conquerors' provide what may be key information," Challies wrote in his blog.

During church services, people can also determine whether the language used emphasizes "their core conviction that faith is the instrument through which believers attain their desires." Key phrases that may be used include "releasing your faith," "speaking your faith," or "believing God for" things.

A church's website is another place one can gain clues as to whether the church may be a prosperity gospel one. Challies noted that if a website "prominently features the pastor," that may be an indication that it's part of the prosperity gospel movement.

"Prosperity churches tend to align their identity with their senior pastor," Challies said, noting that "71 percent of American prosperity megachurches use the image of the senior pastor as the primary advertisement on the church's homepage."

Also, prosperity gospel churches usually offer books by some of the leading personalities of the movement. Challies identified Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Benny Hinn, or T.D. Jakes as among those leaders.

He also noted that the "few superstars" who are in the prosperity gospel movement "tend to appear at the majority of the big events."

Education is another indicator. Prosperity gospel preachers usually come from a "limited number of educational institutions such as Rhema Bible Training College or Oral Roberts University."

Furthermore, prosperity gospel churches are not affiliated with denominations, but to less-formal networks or associations, including the Association of Faith Churches and Ministers and Creflo Dollar's Ministerial Association.

Bowler's book was released in 2013 and is described as "the first comprehensive" American history of prosperity gospel.

"Introducing readers to its most famous faces—celebrities like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, and Paula White—this book gives an intellectual framework for understanding the theology and everyday lives of people who tune in to hear its familiar message: God desires to bless you," says an introduction to the book posted on her website.

Influential evangelical John Piper, the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, has also spoken about ways to identify prosperity gospel churches.

Piper said to look for the absence of a serious doctrine of the biblical necessity and normalcy of suffering, the absence of a doctrine of suffering; the absence of a clear and prominent doctrine of self denial; the absence of serious exposition of Scripture; the absence of dealing with tensions in Scripture; exorbitant lifestyles of church leaders; and preachers' prominence of self and a marginalization of the greatness of God.