Australian Pastor Jane Evans has the 600 strong congregation in the Atlanta convention centre swaying to the music with their eyes closed.
“Can anyone feel the spirit of Jesus in the building right now? Raise your hand if you feel him move through you.”
Those that raise their hands are whisked through to the Influencers Church “Blue Room” where they are welcomed to the house of the Lord with a special gift.
Meanwhile Pastor Jane is explaining, with the help of stirring background organ music, how Jesus is “not saying I want your money”.
Rather, she explains: “Jesus is saying I don’t want you to be disappointed.”
According to the new Australian Influencers church in Atlanta, Georgia, that means putting your “treasure” into God’s Kingdom rather than following your own earthly desires.
“Treasure and invest in God’s Kingdom because that is eternal,” she says.
[Blog Editors Note: After all they are in the heart of prosperity country by setting up shop in Atlanta]
And special pastors are busy walking around the church to help you do just that. They have envelopes marked Building God’s House on the front with suggested offerings on the back beginning with the big one, tithing a 10 per cent slice of your salary to the church every month.
Religion is big business and two of Australia’s most successful Pentecostal preachers have moved to the heart of the Bible belt in the American south to open a church. It is the religious equivalent of taking coals to Newcastle.
Husband and wife team Ashley and Jane Evans are the driving force behind the hugely successful Influencers Church in South Australia, which is second in size only to Australian mega-church Hillsong. Pastor Jane said God had told them to also set up in Atlanta.
“It would take three hours to explain the miraculous circumstances that brought us here,” she said.
But critics point to another big reason for an Australian mega-church to move to Atlanta in the heart of the US bible belt — money.
Professor Marion Maddox, religious studies expert at Macquarie University, said: “If you are looking for a reason other than “God told us to move there” you would automatically think this is the church showing it has hit the big time.”
According to income returns filed in America, in its first year in Atlanta the Influencers Church had an income of $631,728 and – as is the case with churches in Australia – the money was all tax free.
Professor Maddox said Pentecostal churches preached a prosperity gospel that says you can have riches and wealth on earth as well as in heaven.
“It is certainly at odds with a lot of historical interpretation of the Christian message. Jesus said give your money to the poor but he didn’t say that you can expect to get rich yourself as a result,” she said.
“The prosperity gospel needs growth and money to show the material signs of success. It is the American business model applied to church.
God’s servants in Atlanta are perfect role models. Pastors Ashley and Jane Evans and the youngest of their three sons arrived in Georgia and moved into a three-storey $1 million, five bedroom, five bathroom mansion with a wine cellar and theatre in one of Atlanta’s most exclusive enclaves.
A new black BMW X-3 with an Influencers sign on the door is parked outside each service, which is held in Atlanta’s Gwinnett Convention Centre. The services resemble TED conferences with bass pounding, nightclub style, laser lit music interludes.
Video screens show polished messages from people who have given their money to the church and seen their lives blossom as a result.
Thou shalt give generously
“They preach a prosperity gospel and we hear stories from people whose lives have turned around but we never hear from the people who tithed their money and that’s the last they saw of it,” said Professor Maddox.
Pastor Jane has no problem asking for cash. “I am unashamed about money … you cannot get anything accomplished without money,” she said.
“I don’t see how people ever could point a finger. Every single business is the same, every school wants your money for something,” she said.
“My son’s school is ruthlessly after me for my money. We give to the building fund but I choose just where I put my money.”
For her the cash people give to the church is all about putting on a show and helping people.
“When I give my money to the church I know it goes to put on wonderful services and events where peoples’ lives can be enriched and turned around,” she said.
This Sunday the church in Atlanta will be doing an Easter egg hunt – with a difference. Ten thousand eggs are being dropped from a helicopter.
Pastor Jane said: “It’s about people’s lives changing, it’s about the orphanages we are supporting in South Africa where our team leader takes the children of parents who have died from HIV and puts them with extended family. They take them in because she says ‘you take them in and I will pay to feed them’.
But she said the pastors themselves do not benefit. “No offerings go to us ever. We are paid a teacher’s salary set by the board of directors in Australia.”
The Influencers Church in Paradise South Australia could afford to be generous.
The last accounts filed with the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission show the Evans’s Australian church had a total tax-free income last year of $6.2 million. It had assets of almost $20 million.
But what is far from making any sense is this desire to influence through such events as buwomen, a cultural event like Hillsong’s sisterhood. Its entertainment wrapped in psychology.
IS ALL THIS SOUGHT OF THING REALLY NECESSARY?
Check out some of our highlights from bU 2016!