“We came for Lecrae!” shouts a group of teenage girls, referring to the emerging gospel hip-hop star set to perform at the Harvest America Crusade at the Wells Fargo Center this past Saturday. “And for God,” interjects another girl. They all laugh.
It’s easy to see how priorities could get mixed up given the nature of this religious service/international spectacle, attended by a crowd of 17,500 and simulcast to more than 3,000 venues in 22 countries. The modern presentation (the Crusade has an app) relies explicitly on youth activism and enthusiasm. Founded by Pastor Greg Laurie in 1990, the evangelical crusade has evolved into a 21st-century pop-concert confessional, featuring live performances, spontaneous chants of Jee-zus! Jee-zus! Jee-zus!, youth groups wearing T-shirts with slogans like “Jesus First Bro” and a failed attempt at doing the wave. Saturday’s crusade also included, at the instigation of Pastor Levi Lusko, an attempt to get all those in attendance and watching the simulcast to take, what he called the “largest simultaneous selfie in human history,” using the Twitter tag #HarvestAmerica. Even Laurie’s sermon was littered with pop-culture references ranging from Dave Chappelle to botox, Macklemore to Hugh Hefner.
Eric Mason of local Epiphany Fellowship was asked to give the opening prayer. “I believe Pastor Laurie has a supernatural ability to evangelize,” he said. He later told the assembled in his prayer that he wanted Jesus “to basically show the devil who’s boss.”
When Laurie made the call to the altar, hundreds came to the arena floor, accompanied by “decision follow-up” counselors, most of them in their 20s. Ed Chantigian, from Calvary Chapel in Chester Springs, spoke about the process of becoming a counselor. Trainings started in July. “We learn to pray with people, answer their questions and do some crisis management if it’s necessary.” They also took the contact information of new converts, and plan to distribute that information to local churches.
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