Elevation Church

Church Trip: Elevation 2013

Do people line up to get into your church? They do at Elevation.

Last Sunday a visit to the famous Elevation Church prompted my article Why You Shouldn’t Use Secular Songs In Worship. This week I’ll share some of my impressions of the church.

Elevation follows the same pattern as several other ministries across the country: a rock star, magnetic preacher and top-notch music. I’ve noticed even the buildings of these ministries are similar – an industrial style with polished concrete floors, high tech screens flickering in every direction and modern furnishings in the lobbies.

These types of churches might look and act the same but there are subtle differences. One Midwest clone is more high-brow: deeper, thought-provoking sermons with a specialization in video and films. Another has a proud southern sensibility and is known for their AC/DC cover songs.

Elevation has a taste of a Pentecostal service mixed with high octane pop music (Pastor Steven Furtick’s delivery reminds me of the cadence of an old-time preacher, and the congregation often responds verbally to his preaching.) I was surprised by Elevation – I expected a cool, detached hipster vibe and instead experienced quite a warm, praise-filled service.

Elevation wins the hospitality award. As I approached the church a greeter asked me if I had ever attended. I hadn’t so he gave me a welcome pack with a CD containing a message from Furtick along with some of their original music.

LISTEN: Steven Furtick Welcome  
A friend advised me to get there early – I arrived 20 minutes before the service and stood in a line of about 100 people waiting to enter the building. Why the line? Crowd control, I guess. The main Elevation campus meets in an office park and they’ve turned one of the buildings into their sanctuary.

By the time I got to the lobby, still in line, I wondered if I’d even get a seat. A volunteer greeter spotted my visitor packet and insisted I come with her – she took me to a special first-time visitor’s row and I had a prime seat for the service. The place was extremely friendly and very well organized. The greeter also made it a point to hand me earplugs.

Elevation’s music is as loud and perfect as their industrial megachurch counterparts. However, I noticed their intention to have a worship experience with a traditional praise set format that opened with upbeat songs and simmered to worship ballads – something I don’t see in most performance megachurches. A worship leader from a similarly styled church famously told me they discourage worship from happening to give more time to that all-important sermon. Elevation evidently takes their music cues from Hillsong with a longer, more meaningful worship time.

Here’s their set from that Sunday:

Can’t Hold Us (Macklemore)
Relentless (Hillsong United)
God’s Great Dance Floor (Smith, Tomlin)
Great And Mighty King (Elevation Worship)
Grace So Glorious (Elevation Worship)
Only King Forever (Elevation Worship)

Let me say I really like seeing the Church (financially) support the arts for a change, especially since the Christian music industry has, for the most part, collapsed. Elevation has assembled a talented team of four worship leaders who write, produce and record their own music.

A view from another visitor:

I attended Elevation with my friend BJ who’s recently moved to Charlotte and is looking for a church. He disliked the service and told me he would have been out the door after Can’t Hold Us if I wasn’t with him.

At lunch he told me he’s always had a negative impression of Elevation, although he admittedly didn’t know why and didn’t have a specific reason. He also felt Furtick came off as a “cocky prick.” Any popular ministry will come under attack, but videos like Furtick’s infamous “Hey Haters” clip fan the flame of a negative perception (although after reading the nasty comments here at WorshipIdeas over the years, I tend to agree with Furtick!)

Elevation, and other churches like them, are personality driven. Their preachers can (and often do) deny that fact but it is what it is. Some denominations shuffle pastors every few years to avoid the rock star syndrome, but the truth is a consistent, compelling preacher will draw crowds. And that’s exactly what’s happening at Elevation.

Take a virtual tour:

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