|Denomination||Southern Baptist |
|Weekly attendance||15,000 (2013)|
|Senior pastor(s)||Steven Furtick|
(Associate Campus Pastor, Blakeney)
(Campus Pastor, Matthews)
(Campus Pastor, Providence)
(Campus Pastor, Rock Hill)
(Campus Pastor, University)
(Campus Pastor, Uptown)
(Campus Pastor, Gaston)
|Music group(s)||Elevation Worship|
Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a Southern Baptist multi-site church pastored by Steven Furtick. From 2007 through 2010, Elevation was consistently cited by Outreach Magazine as one of the Top 100 fastest growing churches in the United States. It has been described as "a pop culture-friendly church with an orthodox Christian message". Elevation has faced criticism over its financial and other practices, and the personal wealth of its senior pastor.
The church began as a church plant of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. As part of a church planting team, Furtick and seven other families from Christ Covenant Church in Shelby, North Carolina, relocated to Matthews, meeting in Providence High School. Over its short history, it has experienced notable growth. On February 5, 2006, the first Sunday worship service, 121 people attended. Since then, the church's regular attendance has grown to over 15,000, currently meeting in 10 different locations.
At the beginning of 2012, Elevation Church hosted a 12-day "Holy Ghost, Old-School Revival" called 'Code Orange Revival' to kick off the year. Guest preachers included LifeChurch.tv founder Craig Groeschel, Jentezen Franklin of Free Chapel, Matt Chandler of The Village Church, Christine Caine of the A21 Campaign, Ed Young Jr. of Fellowship Church, Kevin Gerald of Champion's Centre, Stovall Weems of Celebration Church, Perry Noble of NewSpring Church, T. D. Jakes of The Potter’s House, James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel, and a special night of worship with Grammy award winner and worship leader of Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, Israel Houghton.
Elevation is a multi-site church. Services are held at nine Charlotte-area locations, one Raleigh/Durham area location, and one Toronto, Canada location:
- Elevation Blakeney, a permanent facility that also serves as a performance arts center available for rental to the community.
- Elevation Matthews, a permanent facility in a renovated furniture warehouse in Matthews.
- Elevation Lake Norman, a permanent facility in a renovated theatre in Huntersville.
- Elevation Providence, meeting at Providence High School.
- Elevation Rock Hill, meeting at Sullivan Middle School in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
- Elevation University, meeting at University City YMCA in the University Area of Charlotte.
- Elevation Uptown, meeting at the McGlohon Theatre in Uptown Charlotte.
- Elevation Gaston, meeting at Forestview High School in Gastonia, NC.
- Elevation GTA, meeting at John Fraser Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
- Elevation Concord, meeting at Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord, NC.
- Elevation RDU, meeting at Daniels Middle School in Raleigh, NC
Outside of the Charlotte area, there are 16 extension locations.
Currently there is one more location planned in Ballantyne, NC, as well as a permanent facility planned for Elevation University.
In January 2012, Elevation Church launched a 24/7 online video platform called the Elevation Network. According to Furtick, the vision behind the Network is to provide free access to around the clock Gospel preaching "with the sole purpose of reaching people far from God all over the world." The Elevation Network has been cited as a "first-of-its kind" church-based video platform and that it "is just the beginning of an entirely new movement of full-time media outreach on the Web." The content on the Network consists of sermons from the church's archives, creative elements from sermon series, and worship songs created in the church.
Since 2006, Elevation Church has given more than $10 million to local and global outreach partners. In 2011, a partnership with Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx was established to give 100,000 hours and $750,000 to serve Charlotte people in "The Orange Initiative." In 2012, the church completed The Orange Initiative with over 102,000 hours served.
In 2008, Elevation Church made headlines when it gave out $40,000 to members, in envelopes filled with $5, $20, even $1,000, and told them to spend it kindly on others.
Since 2010, Elevation Church has hosted a week long outreach called "Love Week." During the church's 2010 "Love Week," thousands of Elevation members packed more than 10,000 sandwiches for the homeless, helped single mothers get their cars serviced, donated blood, cleaned up parks and streets, built a soccer field for local ministries and renovated buildings. In 2011, Elevation and over 25 other local churches served more than 34,000 hours in a single week. In 2012, Elevation partnered with 31 local churches to serve 62 outreach organizations for a total of 50,340 hours around the city of Charlotte, N.C.. More than 4,800 volunteers from Elevation Church and other local churches served at more than 400 events, building houses, stocking food pantries, feeding the hungry and homeless, and holding a senior prom for elderly nursing home residents. Elevation also partnered with Presbyterian Hospital-Matthews to pledge $80,000 to help fund enhancements and expansion at a local free clinic.
In 2012, in response to a need of 1,000 mentors for students in Charlotte-area schools, Elevation Church launched an outreach program called the M1 Initiative, to support the mentoring initiatives of their partner organizations. Lead Pastor, Steven Furtick, seeking to fill the gap of 1,000 needed mentors solely with Elevation members, said, "We have always said we want to be a blessing to our city and support our leaders with a volunteer force they can count on." More than 1,600 members responded and committed to mentoring a child for the 2012-2013 school year. The school outreach program was criticized in local LGBT media.
Elevation Church—and, in particular, senior pastor Steven Furtick—have caused controversy over the church's lack of financial transparency, Furtick's personal wealth, and questionable practices by the church.
In 2013, Furtick and his wife built a large house (8,400 sq. ft, heated, 16,000 sq. ft total) on 19 acres of land in Waxhaw, NC, a suburb of Charlotte. The house and land are valued at just over $3 million. Furtick has stated that his home was paid for with money from his book sales and publisher advances, rather than his salary from Elevation Church. The church has refused to answer questions about Furtick's salary, his tax-free housing allowance, how much he makes from books and speaking fees, with Elevation only saying that Furtick is generous to the church with the money he receives from writing books, arranges for the church to purchase his books directly from the publisher at the author's discount and keep the money from sales, and that the publisher pays the church to produce marketing materials to promote Furtick's books. Elevation has confirmed that Furtick's salary is set by a Board of Overseers composed of other megachurch pastors, who vote on his salary based on a compensation study conducted by an outside firm, and that Furtick does not vote on his own salary. In response to the news report, before his sermon on the weekend of October 27, 2013, Furtick addressed the congregation directly, saying he was sorry if the house and surrounding questions caused them to have difficult conversations with co-workers, friends and neighbors. However, he defended the building of the house, calling it "a gift from God".
Elevation Church has also been criticized over its practice of false "spontaneous baptisms". In these staged events, a number of pre-chosen people are planted in a crowd and instructed to respond immediately to Furtick's calls for volunteers to be baptized with the intent of inspiring genuine spontaneous baptisms (a statistic kept by the church). Charlotte resident Warren Cole Smith, writing about Furtick for World magazine, said “People were willing to excuse his flamboyance and extravagant lifestyle by saying but ‘He’s doing such great work.’ Now, this new controversy calls into serious question the legitimacy of conversion rates the church have been claiming.” In response to the initial coverage, Elevation released a statement, which reads in part: "We are confident that those who attend Elevation Church know and understand our mission and vision for reaching people for Jesus Christ. As attendees, they are provided, through weekly teachings, biblical context for everything we do and practice, such as baptism, giving, serving and inviting friends to church."
Elevation has also been criticized regarding their similarities to a cult. In one instance, children enrolled in Elevation's Sunday school classes were given church-produced coloring books entitled The Code. Furtick's image appears on one of the coloring pages, with the captions, “We are united under the visionary,” and “Elevation Church is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will protect our Unity in Supporting His Vision.” When made aware of the book, Furtick tweeted, in part: "Blown away. Our ekidz team & @ryansworth made a Code coloring book. I have never seen anything quite so awesome." An infographic produced by the church designed to attract new employees was also criticized for its focus on Furtick, including: "1. We serve a Lead Pastor who seeks and hears from God." "3. We serve a Lead Pastor we can trust." "7. We serve a Lead Pastor who pours into us spiritually and professionally." "16. We serve a Lead Pastor who goes first."
Local members of the LGBT community and LGBT media have also criticized the church for its general stances on homosexuality. A former attendee who is gay spoke out after the Elevation hosted Ted Haggard, a former evangelical preacher who stepped down from his position after being accused of a gay affair. Another former attendee who is gay said Elevation has a "problem with privilege" and that Furtick "leaves LGBTQ people with no answers and no hope, just the sense that something is wrong with them for missing the obvious." 
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- Joe Marusak (2013). "Elevation Church eyes old Palace Theater in Cornelius for another location". Retrieved 2013-05-16.
- Outreach Magazine (October 8, 2007). "2007 List of Fastest Growing US Churches". Archived from the original on 2008-04-10. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
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- Hallowell, Billy. "Should Pastors Live in Extravagant Homes? Preacher's 16,000-Sq.-Foot House Sparks Debate". Retrieved October 28, 2013.
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