The good and the bad about Elevation Church.
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The Good, The Bad & Everything In Between About Elevation Church

By: Nichole Jaworski and Sarah Obeid
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Photo by: Nichole Jaworski

Photo by: Nichole Jaworski

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In and around Charlotte, Elevation Church has grown in popularity in recent years — and has quite a large following today. Close to 15,000 people attend Elevation. In total, old and new members alike contribute roughly $400,000 every weekend — yes, every weekend.

But, for as many people who believe in the church, there are just as many people who don’t believe in the concept of the church — or the church’s pastor, Steven Furtick.

Both Elevation and Furtick are no stranger to the press — in fact, the church and the celebrity pastor have made headlines often over the past year.

Let me take a step back for a moment. I am not religious, however, I used to believe that church was the one place you could go where it didn’t cost anything to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

Fast forward to today, and it’s pretty evident that mega churches have replaced small churches — just as celebrity pastors have replaced humble community pastors.

What’s even more interesting, is that communities all across the country have embraced mega churches and their well-known pastors. But why?

(Related: Charlotte Pastor Quietly Tries To Build Million Dollar Home)

Despite widespread negative opinions regarding the credibility of mega churches, Elevation Church still continues to uplift and inspire many around the nation.

But critics of the church hold a different view — and many speculate about what really goes on behind the scenes at Elevation. Of course, there will always be haters in the world, but are these critics justified? Regardless of whether or not critics of Elevation are right or not, Furtick didn’t do himself any favors by responding to his critics in this “Hey Haters'” video:

After months of investigating and interviewing, here is the good, the bad, and everything in between about Elevation Church.

Nathan Rice, a UNC Charlotte senior and former elevator, was the first person we spoke with about his time at the church. Rice, does not regret leaving the church.

“My biggest issue with Elevation Church is the lack of transparency with the way that they manage their funds. I attended the church for several months and worked hard to give as much to the church as I possibly could,” said Rice.

Rice expressed concerned that Elevation Church is vague when it comes to Furtick’s salary and how the church spends its “tithe” money. Church members should always be involved in the financial matters, especially the church budget. As far as what organizations or individuals benefit from the funds should not go unnoticed.

“I looked up to Steven Furtick, and I was proud of the giving that the church claimed to do. Make no mistake, I’m sure that they have done good work in the community. I would hope so anyway, but that doesn’t diminish the scary reality that I faced as a member,” Rice continues.

“Furtick even said on numerous occasions that volunteering was encouraged. He told the congregation that he wanted us to all get involved, to give, so that we could be given better positions of authority within the church,” Rice said. “Let me put it this way: I tithed and I filled out numerous applications to ‘get connected’ and volunteer, but no one ever contacted me. No one reached out.”

Rice also said, “On top of everything, there were several incidences when he referred to the church as his church. On one occasion in particular, Furtick said that if anyone in the congregation thought that his sermon’s message was an emotional appeal, and I quote, ‘I don’t want you in my church.’ I was disappointed. What happened to reaching out to the community? What happened to the message of love,” Rice exclaims. It left us wondering, isn’t church supposed to be the one place where you are supposed to leave your judgement at the door?

“I don’t know about Steven Furtick, but last time I checked, the church was about God, about Jesus, not Steven Furtick,” Rice said. “I really do not regret leaving the church. It was the right thing for me to do.”

After months of criticism from the press, Elevation finally released its financial statement to the public.

Money, money, money

Furtick, along with other mega church preachers make a profit off of the product they are selling — in Furtick’s case, that would be his books. His book sales and any money he makes off of them should be private right up until he chooses to cite them when questioned on where the money came from to build his mansion. However, this is where things get murky. Elevation participated in the marketing process of Furtick’s books, and in doing so, they used tithe money during the process — in short, Elevation participated in the laundering of charitable money in exchange for a profit.

And it seems that where Elevation and Furtick are concerned, everything relates back to money. When you look at the service from the outside, you’ll notice the gross expenditure of money on making the “show” bigger and more appealing. The money spent on the sound and light systems could easily have fed thousands of meals to homeless people. The production is set up exactly for the purpose of selling the product. Aside from the show, it’s impossible not to notice that Furtick definitely likes to wear nice things. Undoubtedly, 90 percent of his followers couldn’t afford the watch that he was wearing that Sunday.

The Good

Since founded, Elevation has given away millions of dollars to charity. The church regularly organizes volunteer opportunities, such as “Love Week” where members of the congregation can give back to the community. If you are looking to belong to something and do good works, Elevation is a good fit for you. But then again, a lot of smaller churches do similar good deeds, but seldom get the same kind of recognition that mega churches do.

The Bad

As it stands, many people are left in the dark about whether Furtick personally gives back to the community, and unfortunately, at least from the outside looking in, it looks like the community is giving back to Furtick. Celebrity aside, as a pastor, Furtick is supposed to set an example. Perhaps, Furtick works hard for his money and in theory he should be able to spend it how ever he chooses, but the argument surrounded this mentality is valid — Is this really what Jesus would do?

Next, we spoke with Dominick Mucci. Mucci, who has never attended a service at Elevation, heard that the children attending Sunday School at Elevation were coloring pictures that eluded to Furtick being their leader, almost as if he was their god. After doing a fair amount of research, Mucci decided to protest outside the Elevation Church in Matthews, North Carolina. We met up with Mucci on a rainy Sunday outside the church. While he was protesting outside of Elevation Matthews, members of the congregation were torn by his defiance against the church. While some of the members brought him coffee, others told him he was “going to hell,” just for actively standing against them.

We spoke with Mucci again a few days after the ordeal, and here is what he had to say:

“If you go by the definition of the word pastor, according to dictionary.com, a pastor is someone who has spiritual care of a number of people. In order to have spiritual care of anyone, you should be a leader, a person people can look up to, learn from and trust. When you spend an entire sermon discussing why you should “give” to and “financially plan” with the church using fancy money lingo and persuasive stories, well, that just has con-artist written all over it. Can we really associate the word “preacher” to Furtick,” Mucci wonders.

He continues, “Religion in my opinion does not make people happy as much as it fills an inherent need in them. The need being, an answer to unanswerable questions. It’s a form of pulling the wool over their own eyes. I don’t know what happens when I die but these people say they do so I’m supposed to believe them,” Mucci explains.

(Photo by: Nichole Jaworski/CBS CLT)

(Photo by: Nichole Jaworski/CBS CLT)

We attended a service at the Elevation Church in Cornelius, and members shed light on another side of Elevation — the positive side. Jennifer Ponce is a Cornelius resident, and has currently been a member of Elevation for four months.

Ponce credits Elevation with getting her back on the right track in life. “The first time I visited Elevation Church, I got baptized that same night,” Ponce said.  “I felt so spontaneously moved by Furtick’s word.”

“I really love Elevation — it has helped me become a better Christian. This church is certainly for everyone,” Ponce said. “I was once a drug addict and this church has cleansed me for the better.”

She elaborated, “No matter what your past, Furtick says to bring the broken.” “There is no judgment at this church.”

She continues, “I come every Sunday now, as well as my family. I stay away from drugs and I recommend this church to everyone who is looking to explore the Christian faith,” she said.

Regarding the Controversy

“Furtick has done a lot to benefit the community. And if you do good, good always comes back to you.” (Ponce believes it’s okay for Furtick to have a mansion.)

Ponce said, “I know Furtick uses my money for the church. Every time I come, I always get new pamphlets, pens, and an even better experience. The maintenance of a church and everything members receive costs money. It’s expensive. I know all the funds go to support the church.”

In Regards to Furtick’s Message

Furtick preaches in a way teenagers or young people will understand. He talks like a real-world preacher,” Ponce said. “I learn from his message and it’s easy to relate to.

“His message has gotten me closer with God and inspires me in a positive way,” she said, “When I tithe, I know I am giving to God.”

Our Experience

As soon as we drove to find a parking space at Elevation Church’s Cornelius location, we heard techno music as policemen were guiding the traffic and teenagers waving their arms.

Booths were set up outside the church. On this particular Sunday, Elevation had partnered with an organization offering a blood drive.

When we entered the church, multiple church staff welcomed us in as if we were royalty. They asked us if we were new to the church. Naturally, we said yes. As soon as the “y” sound came out, one lady jumped for joy telling us to go back outside and find the tent hovering over a VIP booth for new members where they hand out Bibles, t-shirts, and a cd enclosed in an Elevation pamphlet.

Once we made our way inside, the scene overwhelmed us. On the left hand side, members can purchase Furtick’s books. Roughly six or seven were on display for members to glance at and hopefully purchase. The place looked like a disco, or rather, a club with fancy, lights overhead, gigantic computer screens, and catchy, danceable music.

Eventually, we made our way into the auditorium hallway. Little girls handed out pens and eggs (Easter was approaching) to members or new guests. Once you enter the auditorium, classy, well-dressed men guide you with a flashlight and point to your gray, movie theater-like seat. The whole place is lit with rotating, neon, flashy lights with fog machines and loud, black speakers.

The ceremony begins with music. The band, which was extremely diverse, started to rock the show. With their fancy guitars, drums, tambourines, and microphones, they definitely put on quite the performance. Almost everyone in the audience moved their hands back and forth singing the modern-day Christian music. People were shouting the lyrics and some even had their eyes shut.

Once the concert came to a close, the Cornelius preacher made his way to the stage. He talked briefly about an upcoming Easter Egg event at Elevation. Almost five minutes later, Furtick came up on the big screens on both sides of the auditorium. Fans gazed up as if he were some kind of miraculous hero — as if he was their God.

Before Furtick began his sermon, the tithe pot made its way through the rows of followers. Afterwards, Furtick first directed the audience to a man getting baptized at the Gaston location.

After the man finished his baptism, Furtick continued with his sermon or better yet, his persuasive message. Right now, Furtick is carrying out a series called “Consider the Source.”

We were waiting to be inspired, waiting for something meaningful to grab our attention, if nothing else but to erase the doubt that we had about Furtick — but sadly, that inspiration never came — but rather, the entire sermon was based on money. Furtick proceeded with preaching to his followers, “bringing the tithe” and the importance that has for the church. Using a touch screen television, he covered the ideas of relationship vs. reluctance, entrusted vs. entitled, obedient vs. optional, and multiply vs. maintain – all around this concept of “God is the source and he gave you the ability to do what you can do — so you should give as much as you can to him.”

He kept on emphasizing that “we don’t give a tithe, we simply return it” because God is the one who gives what surrounds us. In order to further prove his point, Furtick used pomegranates. He chose that fruit because its inside is loaded with many seeds. He told his followers that morning that regardless of the amount they give, God will bless it, multiplying it, so the church will put it to good use. Furtick said, “The devotion to God is not optional and it takes faith to put God first, so we should budget so that we are not only leaving a tip for God.” Furtick did make references to the Bible. He knows his Bible, he knows his versus, and he knows his stories. He mentioned the Sea of Galilee, Jesus dying on the cross, his resurrection, and the promise land.

But through it all … it was all about money. Why do people even say, “it’s God’s money.” Is that really true? Because religion, at its core, was not about money … or at least it didn’t used to be. But Furtick had more to tell us about money. He told us how to budget, tip, what percentage we should be giving, and even the mention of the website right at the start of the sermon to ‘financially plan’ with Elevation. It all makes sense. Elevation Church is a business, we get it … perhaps it should have been called Elevation, Inc. instead of Elevation Church. To us, it was pretty obvious that Furtick’s main focus was obtaining money — and a lot of it.

Furtick used a lot of real life experiences and humor throughout the service to convey his message — but really all it demonstrated was that his mind clearly circles around pretty pennies. He started to play “Ice Ice Baby” to explain that the song had already been recorded by someone else, just like we are all sampling “God’s stuff” that everything around us originally belonged to God — and still does. Another way to teach what it means to “tithe.”

He even mentioned his wife, Holly’s ring, saying how he spent a fortune on it at a reputable place because he loves to “give.” He said immediately following this remark, “Hey ladies, if a guy says he loves you, but doesn’t give you anything, watch out for that.” Lacking from this service was anything that could relate to loyalty, honesty, or purity in everyday life, such as the simple things that many people take for granted. Life and love are not supposed to be about money. You cannot put a monetary value on either.

At the beginning of this investigation, we pondered about whether or not Furtick really gives back to the community, or if the community was giving back to Furtick? We’ve given you both sides of the story … ultimately, the decision is yours and yours alone.

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