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Religion

Mountainous goal, mustard seed faith

Nothing, not even planting 5-million churches, is impossible with God, says a group of church leaders.

By EBONY WINDOM
Published October 5, 2005


WESLEY CHAPEL - The Global Pastors Network has simple, yet mammoth goal: start 5-million new churches and convert a billion people to Christianity.

All in a matter of 10 years.

That's the idea behind the Billion Soul Campaign. And the group is calling on church leaders worldwide to join in.

On Tuesday, more than 800 of them answered the call.

Pastors came by the carload. Others poured out of church vans. They traveled from all over Florida, some wearing starched suits and colorful neckties. People came toting Bibles.

They gathered at Victorious Life Church in Wesley Chapel for a summit. It was a jam-packed, 12-hour day of speakers offering messages on topics such as getting fit for God and biblical budget coaching. One pastor, the Rev. Ed Russo of Victorious Life Church, showed folks how to creatively reach "the unchurched."

Russo took to the pulpit carrying a white bag. Then, he pulled a few items from it: a lightbulb, a bottle of water and a bag of popcorn. If pastors want their membership to swell, he said, they must invite strangers to church. For example, Russo said, stick notes that read "Pop in on us" on popcorn bags, hand them out, and watch the newcomers trickle in.

But it's hard to fill church pews these days, Russo said. Church attendance is slumping nationwide, he said, pointing to research by the Barna Group, a Christian marketing research firm.

So, it's up to church leaders to help "build the kingdom of God," said the Rev. James Davis, who heads the Global Pastors Network.

That's where the 800,000-member Global Pastors Network comes in. The group is taking its Billion Soul Campaign from coast to coast. Victorious Life Church is the third stop on the eight-city tour, which also includes Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas. And the Global Pastors Network hosts other summits around the world. Its members want to raise money to launch millions of churches in poor counties. And make believers out of 1-billion people.

That's an enormous number. But organizers say that if pastors worldwide band together, that goal can be reached because "history has proven there's always strength in numbers," Russo said.

Much like the ecumenical Global Pastors Network, the crowd on Tuesday was composed of folks from various Christian denominations. Some churches claim denominational territory, Davis said. But the Billion Soul Campaign is all about "building bridges rather than fences," he said.

Tuesday's summit drew Baptists, United Methodists and Independent ministers. The host church is Assembly of God.

A few of the speakers offered minisermons, which garnered a few "amens" and hand claps. Others seemed more like infomercials. One man hawked Bible software. It was worth $1,500, he said, but for one time only, attendees could snap it up for "only $450."

One speaker, the Rev. Tom Mullins, a football coach turned pastor, offered $10 copies of his book Coaching at the Championship Level. Then, he paused to sign autographs. All 1,600 copies sold in less than 20 minutes.

The Global Pastors Network uses summits such as Tuesday's to raise money and awareness about the Billion Soul Campaign. Mullins offered to donate all of his book proceeds to the cause. Launching 5-million churches will take a lot of money, Davis said. On Tuesday, he urged folks to pull out their checkbooks and make a donation.

"Don't think it, ink it," he told the crowd. "You can give one-thousand dollars, five, ten ..."

The Rev. Reinhard Bonnke, a popular international evangelist, was scheduled to wrap up the summit at 9:30 p.m. When he speaks, folks listen, Russo said. Bonnke is known to draw huge crowds. Last January, Bonnke hosted a revival in Nigeria that drew 1.6-million people, Russo said. One-million of them became Christians right then and there, Russo said.

If Bonnke can reach millions by himself, imagine what a network of pastors can do collectively, Russo said.

"A net is a bunch of nothing tied together," he said. "By ourselves, we are nothing, but when we are linked together, we are significant."

Ebony Windom covers religion news in Pasco County. She can be reached in central Pasco at 813 909-4609 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4609. Her e-mail address is ewindom@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 5, 2005, 01:14:17]


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