Megachurch’s 10th campus opens in Lake Norman area by Angie Moses

 

CORNELIUS – The first Elevation-Lake Norman worship service drew an energetic crowd of more than 1,400 people Jan. 11 and many more at the two services Sunday morning, but the founder and lead pastor of the 10-campus church, Steven Furtick, did not visit in person.

 

An enthusiastic bunch

A half hour before the start of the Elevation-Lake Norman service, a crowd had already gathered, stretching across the front of the old Palace Theatre, just like the old days when people waited in line for blockbuster movies.

Once the doors opened, a visitor could not slip quietly into the Elevation service without being thoroughly welcomed. An army of enthusiastic Elevation volunteers greeted newcomers and gave them slick “VIP” brochures, which included a four-song CD. 

In the lobby of the $10 million building, sphinxes from the Palace days had been replaced with a sleek décor featuring day-glow orange and 15 flat-screen TVs. 

People packed into the 1,200-seat auditorium. When the worship team began, the gathering took on the feel of a rally, with lots of cheering, clapping and hand-raising. The music was loud and led by young musicians with skinny jeans and spiky hair, along with 35 singers who stretched across the enormous stage.

 

A 10th campus

Although the excitement was high for the birth of this new campus, Elevation-Lake Norman was clearly a 10th child and not a firstborn. Furtick was not there in person to launch the maiden service, but instead his wife, Holly, had come to Cornelius to give the welcome. 

When Furtick’s image appeared on the three giant screens, live streamed from the Blakeney campus in Ballantyne, he prayed for three things: the church’s just-released worship album, the new Lake Norman campus, and the Panthers, in that order.

The Lake Norman campus was also not given a tailor-made sermon for its launch but was instead invited to join an already in-progress sermon series about King David.

 

The Furtick draw

The controversy over Furtick’s $1.7 million home and undisclosed salary and lack of elders and deacons did not seem to deter the crowds. Perhaps people were curious about the kind of preaching that attracts 10,000-15,000 people each week.

A Southern Baptist, Furtick preached with the cadence of many African American pastors. When he built to a major point, his voice rose louder and louder, reaching a crescendo that was met with clapping,amens and the occasional standing ovation. He preached for 50 minutes, only glancing at notes a few times.

Furtick’s preaching was also personable, and he made people laugh. He talked about the light blue pants he wore in honor of the Panthers. He showed a photo of his brother-in-law eating a turkey and jelly sandwich to illustrate a point about King David’s disparate gifting as both harpist and warrior. He talked about his own “weird” gifting that does not allow him to preach quietly.

 

Virtual service

Some may doubt how personable a virtual service can be, no matter how charismatic the pastor, but on Saturday night, the big-screen substitutes did not seem to diminish the responsiveness of the audience.

The state-of-the-art technology may have helped by delivering a vivid and seamless picture. Furtick’s directives may have also helped. He would say things like, “Every campus make some noise.”

And he would have people turn to the neighbor beside them and say something relevant to his sermon, such as “You’re wonderfully weird” or “Work that thing.”

Sometimes the Lake Norman musicians played live and sometimes they joined with the Blakeney band on screen, making congregants have to look twice to figure out if the music was live or streamed.

The two campus pastors who addressed the audience at the end of the service, Matthew Drew and Josh Blackson, also added a personal presence.

 

A prayer for Lake Norman

Of the new Elevation-Lake Norman campus, Furtick said, “We don’t just want to pray when we open a new location that God would just fill the place – like butts in a seat has ever been our end goal of why we build these buildings – but that the presence of God would fill the place.”

The presence of God inhabiting the long empty Palace Theatre would indeed be a welcome addition to Lake Norman.