Thursday, January 21, 2010

2010 Memphis Passion Play Cancelled

Last week we learned that the annual Memphis Passion Play, the elaborate dramatic production depicting the last days of Christ on earth, a Bellevue tradition since 1991, is going "on hiatus" for a year. Of course, that's just a polite way of saying the Memphis Passion Play has been cancelled for 2010.

This is the explanation Steve Gaines and Mark Blair gave on Sunday evening, January 17th, for why this decision was made. My purpose is not to criticize or defend the Memphis Passion Play. Rather, it's to illustrate the flawed logic and seeming hypocrisy displayed by the Bellevue leadership Sunday evening when they tried to explain why the MPP is being cancelled this year.

Let's address in more detail some of the things that were said. Steve Gaines began by saying, "One of the best things we do at Bellevue... is the Passion Play. It's one of the greatest evangelistic tools we have. Thousands of people have been converted. And we have no intention of doing away with the... Passion Play. We're gonna... continue it."

Having said that, why would you ever want to not utilize, for even one year, "one of the greatest evangelistic tools we have"? If reaching people with the gospel really is our first priority, why would we not want to use that "tool" for a period of two years (from 2009 until 2011)? If Bellevue Lo♥es Memphis so much, why would they even consider cancelling the Memphis Passion Play? That makes no sense to me.

He went on to explain that the Memphis Passion Play began after the church moved to its present location. Prior to then the Easter presentation was called Living Pictures and was a much simpler production. That is all true. He said before the first MPP "they took a year off... in the spring... to get ready... for the new thing that was coming... that's the Passion Play." As if the circumstances in 1990 were the same as they are today. More about that in a minute, but first a little history.

From the book By His Grace and For His Glory: Celebrating a Century with Bellevue Baptist Church we read that the drama program at BBC goes back almost 60 years. Formed as a result of the "vision" of Dr. R.G. Lee, Bellevue's was the first drama ministry in the SBC. The first production in 1952 was "a three-act character drama directed by Mrs. H. Mahon Crawford entitled The Passing of the Third Floor Back." That was followed a few months later by "a light comedy." (I kid you not.) Four months later "a 25-scene pageant" entitled As I Remember depicting the life of Dr. Lee was presented. I was somewhat surprised that the early years of the "drama ministry" at Bellevue sounded more like a community playhouse than a church ministry, but I digress.

Simon the Leper was performed for Easter in 1953, and Esther was presented sometime in 1958. In 1961 they did Ben Hur, complete with "Broadway sound effects for the chariot race." Okay, I've seen the film version of Ben Hur. While I'm really trying to envision that on a church platform, even with Broadway sound effects, it's just not coming to me.

Two performances of The Robe were presented in 1957 with an "encore" performance in 1959. Not content even that long ago to do anything on a small scale, the church rented the costumes for the production from a Hollywood costume company. The author tells us that one of the rented military costumes was worn by Richard Burton in the film of the same name. Er... are we supposed to be impressed or something?

The auditorium built on Bellevue Boulevard in 1952 was outfitted with a stage fully equipped for dramatic performances, but the size of that stage was dwarfed by the one in the new sanctuary built in Cordova in 1989. I believe this is an important consideration when we compare the justification given for taking off a year to "retool" Living Pictures into the Memphis Passion Play in 1990 to what they're doing (or not doing) this year.

Here are photos of the Singing Christmas Tree in the old auditorium (oh, look, there's the infamous chandelier!) and in the new. Same tree but there's a whole lot more stage around it to fill now.



Beginning in 1981 Bellevue's annual Easter program was called Living Pictures. Here is a scene from that production:

Now, imagine that scene in the middle of this stage:

It would tend to get lost, would it not? So... the church had just moved to Cordova, and it is unlikely there was time to do all the preparation and build the large sets used in the MPP by Easter 1990. Therefore, the church took a year off from producing an Easter drama to prepare something new and on a much grander scale, and so the Memphis Passion Play began in 1991. Just as the church is doing this year, there was an Easter music program in 1990. We didn't just skip Easter that year!

According to this 2008 OneNewsNow article, "This year's Passion Play debuts February 29 when music, drama and message will fill Bellevue's huge auditorium in six presentations to a total of some 30,000 guests." That would have been the 2008 performance which was scheduled over the weekend of March 2nd, three full weeks before Easter (March 23rd). In 2009 the MPP was scheduled over the weekend of April 5th, just one week before Easter (April 12th). Could this have made any difference in the attendance numbers? Did the weather conditions any year play a role? In 2008 a Monday evening performance of the SCT was cancelled due to inclement weather. I don't know the answers to these questions regarding the MPP. I'm just wondering if there were unique factors in 2009 which negatively affected the attendance numbers. Perhaps the NCAA Final Four tournament which was scheduled for April 4th and 6th? (Basketball, even when the Tigers aren't playing, is big in Memphis. It probably wasn't a factor at all, but it makes as much sense as blaming the release of a movie.)

Steve Gaines said, "We... have come to a point... Brother Mark... has been talking to us about it... and you need to understand something... as much as we all love it.... " (The body language was very interesting during this monologue.)

He haltingly continued, "So... and I love the Passion Play... and... and we... we're... but here's the deal. The facts are the facts. For the last ten years it [the MPP] has steadily been going down in attendance... steadily. I'm not talkin' about a little bit. I'm talkin' about a lot. It's gone from 40,000 people watching it that first... that... in back in 2000... 2001... last year we only had 18,000. The biggest drop was around the year 2003, we believe... it was either 2003, 2004... it's before I ever came here, but the year they had The Passion of the Christ it dropped... about 10,000 in attendance... that one year. Brother Mark feels... and after... after he showed us the data and we've looked at it and... we feel like we're not in any way going to... do away with it, but we need... and we don't have the time... to do it... between now and Easter... we need... the time... to redo it to make it better."

"That first... that... in back in 2000... 2001.... " What? Spit it out! What are you talking about? Was that the "peak" attendance year? It wasn't the first year. We've already established the MPP began in 1991, not 2000 or 2001... or 1990.

So they're blaming a large decline in attendance at the MPP one year on the debut of a movie, The Passion of the Christ. Really? I find it difficult to believe that would cause an immediate 25% drop in attendance which lasted for the next five years. Actually, I would think the movie would increase interest, not decrease it.

The facts are always the facts, but are those really the facts? We don't know all the facts because, like detailed membership and SS and worship attendance numbers, those are well-guarded statistics. For example, is anyone privy to the total cost of the MPP or the SCT? Have they ever made enough on ticket sales and the ubiquitous "love offering" collected at every performance to cover the cost, or has the church always had to make up the difference from "undesignated tithes and offerings"? Who knows? All I see here is a man tripping over his tongue trying his best not to accept any responsibility for the declining attendance at Bellevue, not only at annual productions but in general.

This graph shows the decline in overall attendance in SS and worship services. These numbers were in the 2009 annual report which I dare say most members did not see. (And not because they were denied. They simply didn't care.) It has not been a "steady" decline. If the church's own numbers are to be believed, there was a sudden and precipitous decline in overall attendance beginning in 2006. That, combined with the recent practice of charging everyone, member and non-member alike, to attend these performances, has probably contributed the most to the decline in attendance at the MPP and SCT. Not to mention it's just plain tacky. I've said it before, and I'll say it again... if you can't afford to present the gospel without charging admission, scale down the production. Period.

In 2007, Alex Edward Plasschaert, a Hollywood choreographer hired by Bellevue, died while in Memphis for rehearsals for the 2007 MPP. Plasschaert "traveled here from his California home several times a year to be a choreographer at Bellevue, where he helped stage such annual productions as the Singing Christmas Tree, the 'Celebrate America!' Independence Day show and the Easter season Passion Play." Aside from the obvious -- why does a church need to hire a Hollywood choreographer in the first place? -- the Commercial Appeal article contained this quote:

Barnwell said 30,000 people will see the production this year [2007]. The even more popular Singing Christmas Tree is seen by about 49,600 people a year.

So in 2006-2007 about two-thirds more people attended the SCT than attended the MPP.

In 2008, on the day of the first performance, according to the OneNewsNow article above, they were expecting some 30,000 people to attend the MPP. (I assume this was based on ticket sales.) If I'm correctly deciphering what Steve Gaines was trying to say, if the peak was 40,000 in 2000 or 2001, and if attendance dropped about 10,000 after The Passion of the Christ was released (in February 2004), then it sounds as if attendance was steady between 2004 and 2008 -- at about 30,000, not "steadily declining." Either the press releases were inaccurate, or Brother Steve misread the data. Surely there's no "embellishing" here!

According to the May 2008 volume of The Messenger (BBC's bimonthly magazine), there were 855 people saved at the 2008 MPP, and there were 1496 rededications.

In the May 2009 Messenger, we read that 18,973 people attended the 2009 MPP. There were 1041 "decisions" which likely included POFs and rededications. I couldn't find a breakdown of the numbers, but let's assume for argument's sake the percentages were approximately the same as the year before. That would translate into approximately 379 POFs during the 2009 MPP. Or about 63 POFs per performance. Remember that number. There were about 63 POFs per performance during the 2009 MPP. Definitely a lower "return" than in 2008, but still pretty impressive.

Now, contrast that with the Singing Christmas Tree which has become more and more secularized with silly characters (to the point of pain), bad writing, corny schtick, unfamiliar music, and a bunch of disjointed dance routines by the youth while Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have been relegated to much shorter appearances near the end -- kind of like they're just an afterthought now. I've heard it referred to recently as the Dancing Christmas Tree. Several of the traditional songs have been dropped including No Room, Shine Down, and It Is Finished.

As an aside, I was appalled to read about the competitions that took place every year for the "plum" spots in the tree -- the top and the intersection of the cross -- the latter which has now been eliminated from the tree entirely, and the former doesn't matter either since the elimination of No Room. Can you say "pride"? I'm sorry to say Bellevue has had some major "pride" issues for many years.

In 2008 the SCT was advertised as follows: "A chill is in the air. The department store windows are decked out with imaginative displays capturing the excitement of the season. In Rockefeller Center, the biggest Christmas tree you’ve ever seen is glowing with lights. There’s no place like New York City at Christmas, and the 2008 Singing Christmas Tree will once again bring a New York City-sized celebration right here to Bellevue. Join Kate, Luigi, and the cast for an unforgettable musical celebration." I can't put my finger on it, but something seems to be missing there. Could it be the thing that has historically resulted in fewer POFs during the SCT than during the MPP?

On Sunday morning, December 20th, Steve Gaines stated that during the seven performances (he thinks there were seven) of the 2009 SCT which some 32,000 people attended, there were a total of 1100 "decisions" with 444 of those being POFs. That's about 63 POFs per performance.

Does that number ring a bell? There were about 63 POFs per performance during the 2009 MPP, too! So it sounds to me like they got exactly the same "return" (i.e. POFs) per performance of the MPP during 2009 as they got for the SCT. Exactly the same. That's the bottom line, right? And considering over 12,000 fewer people attended the MPP than the SCT, it was really a greater return! As in most, if not all previous years, a larger percentage of people in attendance at each performance of the MPP made POFs than those attending the SCT. Considering the content of the MPP versus that of the SCT, that's no surprise to me at all. Yet we haven't heard any announcements about taking a year off to "redo" the SCT.

In fact, according to this advertisement for the 2009 MPP, it had just been "completely reworked with dynamic new music and inspiring scenes."

Wow. Having to return to the drawing board so soon?

Another quote from the OneNewsNow article:

Blair said the church sees their seasonal dramatic productions as bridge builders to the community. "We very much see this as a step in an evangelistic process," he explained. "For people who become a part of the church, the top response [in surveys] is that their first time to attend Bellevue was one of our major productions."

Bellevue members believe the time and effort invested in such programs are worth the effort. They don't want to measure the "success" of a production in numbers alone, but the fact is, the harvest is impressive and abundant. The productions are unashamedly evangelistic and include a clear invitation to follow Christ. Blair said last year's Passion Play
[2007] saw more than 1,100 people say they accepted Christ at the event, and almost 600 did so during the Christmas program.

Pretty impressive, I'd say! In 2007 there were almost twice as many POFs during the MPP as there were during the SCT. In 2009 there were, on average, the same number of POFs per performance during both productions.

I couldn't find attendance numbers for the SCT for the past few years (and didn't knock myself out trying), but if I recall, they've recently been in the 40,000/year range. When By His Grace and For His Glory was published in 2003, the average was said to have been 50,000/year, and Barnwell quoted right at 50,000 in 2007 (I assume based upon 2006 numbers). That's a drop from 50,000 to 40,000 to 32,000 in three years! In other words, those numbers have followed the same general rate of decline as overall church attendance, but if previously published numbers are to be believed, the MPP did not see a significant decline between 2004 and 2008, and there were just as many POFs per performance during the 2009 MPP as there were during the 2009 SCT.

In 2009 about two-thirds more people attended the SCT than attended the MPP. Exactly the same ratio as three years earlier. Therefore, the problem is not simply declining attendance at the MPP. Attendance has declined by about one-third over the past 3-4 years at both the SCT and the MPP and even more in SS and worship services.

So why take off a year to "retool" the MPP? Why now? Steve Gaines said, "You know, if you have a flat tire... it's kind of hard to change it if you keep the car going. Don't you have to pull the car over?" I'd say yes, unless the wheel is falling off the car. Then you pretty much have to stop in your tracks. There's been a drop of about 20,000 in attendance at the SCT but only about 11,000 at the MPP. Sounds to me like the flat tire is on the SCT.

"And so... we're losing momentum with it. It is not as effective as it's been."

Really? Looks to me like it's been more effective than the SCT has ever been. But, of course, that depends on one's definition of "effective."

"We feel like that it's time to retool it. And you have some... all that runway from July to uh... December to make changes with the Singing Christmas Tree. You don't have that with the Passion Play. You come right out of the Christmas Tree, and you've got three months... and there is no way anybody can change the whole set in three months."

You've had the "data" since April. If you're just now figuring out that changes need to be made, someone's been sleeping on the job.

So how is this year different from 1990? For one thing, we already have the sets. We didn't in 1990. If they're not going to start working on the new sets until July, what's stopping them from using the sets and costumes they've already got and letting the show go on as usual in March this year? We don't have to do six performances. Do three. Or two. Don't use the flying angels this year. (You know that's got to cost some money for what amounts to about 2 minutes of hang time.) Or live animals. There are ways to cut down on the expense without detracting from the "show."

The excuse, and I believe that's all it is, that you have all that "runway" from July to December to change the SCT and only the time between the SCT and Easter to make changes in the MPP is irrelevant. They've apparently known since April 2009 that they needed to make changes in the MPP. Why is this being presented as if Mark Blair just had some sort of epiphany?

"So, Brother Mark, tell us what your plans are, and I want you to know I... I support this man a hundred percent. I think he is God's gift to this church, and I believe with all my heart he is leading us the right way." {applause}

Mark Blair then explains his "dream" for the future. He seems sincere, and I believe he's only doing as he's been told -- fix it! I could be wrong, but I do not think Mark Blair initiated all this. The MPP was under his direction when it was "completely reworked" in 2009, so all I can think is, Mark had better get it right this time or he may become as expendable as Jamie Parker.

I propose there's one reason why they're cancelling the MPP this year, and that is indeed effectiveness. Cost effectiveness, that is. Money... or the lack thereof. It's the same reason they cancelled the "Family Fun Festival" on Halloween (which in its last incarnation needed to be cancelled as far as I'm concerned). Steve Gaines was overheard last fall telling someone they were cancelling that event because "the money pit is awfully shallow." (Here's some free advice. May I suggest not booking some overpaid CCM artist and blowing up thousands of dollars in a 20-minute fireworks show this summer? Thank you.) It's the same reason Steve Gaines has been harping on giving for the past two months. Thousands have left, and they took their money with them. The economy has tanked which hasn't helped, the people in the demographic they're now trying to attract are not generally the big givers, and the church appears to still be spending money like there's no tomorrow. The facts are the facts.

Until year before last members paid $10, and the church provided up to ten complimentary tickets to each member (more recently 8) for the SCT and the MPP to distribute to non-members and encouraged people to invite their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They would let people without tickets line up an hour before each performance, and they were admitted before the program began to fill empty seats. I saw those lines at the SCT and will be the first to admit it was not the ideal setup, but at least it got people through the doors and into the seats.

If most of the complimentary tickets were handed out, probably no more than one or two people out of every 10 paid to get in. Then they changed the ticket structure to where everyone had to have a paid ticket to get in, and tickets cost $3, $6, or $12, depending on the location of the seat. That's an average of about $7 a ticket. Many of the people who used to receive complimentary tickets or who would line up at the door before the show and get in free can no longer do so. How many of those same people are going to be willing to go to the trouble and/or expense of buying tickets?

And what about advertising? How many thousands of dollars were spent on TV, radio, electronic billboard, and print media advertising for the SCT in 2009? It must have been a lot because I saw frequent commercials for it on TV during November and December. And still they managed to attract "only" 32,000 people this year. I don't ever remember seeing that volume of advertising for the MPP.

I would have so much more respect for the "leadership" if for once, just one time, they'd not go through all the mental gymnastics they seem to think are necessary to justify their decisions. Just say, "We're strapped for money this year and need to explore ways to reduce the cost of our programs." Or just, "We don't have enough volunteers this year, and everyone is pooped. We need to take this year off to recharge so we can come back strong next year." Whatever the real reason(s), just be honest. As someone once said, we didn't just fall off the cabbage truck.

Mark Blair mentioned Noah. Great Evan Almighty! Please tell me Bellevue doesn't have aspirations of competing with this!

Adult tickets cost $47!

I agree it's time to stop and "retool" something all right, but it's not necessarily the MPP. Here's a challenge to the leadership of Bellevue. Since money is apparently not the issue, why not take the funds that would have been spent producing the 2010 MPP plus what would have been collected on tickets plus what was projected to be collected in the six "love offerings" (last year's actual numbers will be fine) and write a check to the Haiti Relief Fund for that amount? It's just a thought.


Keeps Living It said...

It saddens me to say that you've done an excellent job on this thread. It's sad because our leaders (SG, MB & co.) think we buy their over-talked explanations, when actually we see right through them. Oh how I wish they would tell us the truth!

You've got this 99% correct, my only comment is MB is not innocent in all of this. As a matter of fact, he may be the driving force.

More later....

32yrs@bbc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
32yrs@bbc said...

NASS, I am always amazed at the thoroughness of your research and the way you can dig through the maze and get to the root of the problem.

In my opinion, the explanation for the cancellation of the 2010 MPP is nothing but spin - similar to what we hear from our politicians.
However, the faithful followers will blindly accept whatever they are told and the leadership knows it.

I am with you that a church should never charge for an evangelistic tool. When tickets have to be purchased it is no longer a ministry or gift to the community, but just another business venture and it is tainted. If BBC cannot present the SCT without charging for tickets then it just needs to shut it down.

BkWormGirl said...

I often get so bored listening to SG comments or reading his comments I just scroll on past them. But I really tried to pay attention for the who lot of them this time. Did he define what "re-tool" and/or "re-do" meant to him? In my mind I guess I can understand re-tooling the Easter story. If we are going to have a similar BROADWAY style Passion play you know like the Easter Bunny comes to Calvary or something, I think that is a very silly (if not outright hurtful)idea for the Easter story. But perhaps, they mean they are going to choose a different approach of telling the Easter story. From a different perspective. And in that sense that could be very interesting. However, when he says they are going to "re-do" it that is what really scares me. What does that mean??? I think the point of Easter is one point! I don't think we are supposed to re-do that. Did I miss it, but what are they going to do instead? A lot of peopole only attend church a couple of times each year. So many CEO attenders in this world. And it is a shame to not even try to reach them for half of their annual attendance.

New BBC Open Forum said...

"... my only comment is MB is not innocent in all of this. As a matter of fact, he may be the driving force."

You may be correct. I haven't seen enough of Mark Blair to have much of an opinion, and I was trying, for now at least, to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Junkster said...

All that math made my head hurt.

New BBC Open Forum said...

"All that math made my head hurt."

I have more, but it might make your head explode.

Junkster said...

Amusing story -- back in the mid-1990s, I was present when two friends were discussing the BBC Passion Play. One was in the BBC choir, and the other was not a member of Bellevue. The choir member asked the other, "Are you coming to the Passion Play?" And the other said, "No, I went last year, and it was good, but I wasn't planning on coming again this year." The choir member, referring to some new songs added to the play, said, "Oh, you have to come this year -- they changed the ending!" My comment was, "What, Jesus doesn't rise from the grave this time?"

Well, it amused me, anyway.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Here's some more hypothetical math. Consider proceeds from the MPP back in, say, 2005, when members were charged $10/ticket but were provided 10 complimentary tickets to distribute to non-members, and people without tickets were allowed to fill empty seats right before each performance. Assuming quite a few of those complimentary tickets were handed out and a fair number of people without tickets came late, with an attendance figure of 30,000, if 20% of those attending paid $10 for their tickets, that's $60,000 net. (If that's anything close to accurate I think that answers my question about whether the proceeds from tickets ever covered production costs, but of course we have no idea how much they collected in the offering each night.)

Flash forward to 2009 when attendance was 19,000 (rounded). Assuming only 10% of those in attendance did not pay (ushers, staff, etc.), then 90% or approximately 17,100 people paid, on average, $7 for their tickets. That's $119,700 or double what they took in before (not counting offerings). So even though total attendance has gone down, it's likely they made more money from ticket sales last year than in previous years.

Except for ticket cost and total attendance which are knowns, those are nothing more than "what if" numbers, but since few people are privy to the actual numbers, we're left only to speculate. When they went from the $10 ticket structure to the $3-$6-$12 structure they claimed this actually reduced the average cost per ticket, but they conveniently forgot to factor in all the complimentary tickets from previous years. From our hypothetical example above, it's apparent that more money has been taken in with the new ticket structure than with the old. Otherwise they wouldn't have changed it!

How's your head feeling now, junk?

Junkster said...

Thanks, NASS. As Chevy Chase, imitating Gerald Ford in a debate, said, "It was my understanding there would be no math." :)

Even with increased revenues from ticket sales, with fewer people attending, the offerings would most likely be less. Thus getting the numbers up becomes paramount.

An organization with leadership with integrity would make public the budget details (all revenues and expenses for all ministries and activities). It is amazingly easy to recklessly spend other people's money.

New BBC Open Forum said...

All the folks who wrote last week and requested I start a discussion about the cancellation of the Passion Play have gotten awfully quiet now. Just sayin'.


32yrs@bbc said...

New BBC Open Forum said...
All the folks who wrote last week and requested I start a discussion about the cancellation of the Passion Play have gotten awfully quiet now. Just sayin'.


I've been thinking the same thing.
Wonder where everyone went?

Junkster said...

NASS, I was just thinking the same thing. But maybe they still haven't finished reading your post. I had shorter literature assignments back in college. :) Or maybe they just can't get past the math.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Well, I admit I did cover the topic in greater depth than usual, but I'm sure others still have much to add. "Keeps Living It" said in the first comment, "More later...." Most of those who wrote haven't commented, but hit totals are up. Maybe they've all been intimidated into silence... or as you said, still trying to get past the math!

WishIhadknown said...

Where do you begin?
The graph of declining attendance breaks my heart. In the business world, we consider that a failed strategy and would be looking to a change in leadership.
More than that is the sheer number of people who have been terribly hurt by this ordeal.
How does Jim Barnwell spin this into a positive?
Words simply fail me when my heart is so heavy.
May God bless all of you.

New BBC Open Forum said...


gopher said...

"I've been thinking the same thing.
Wonder where everyone went?"

Well 81 people went to the Holy Land

100 plus moved to the Arlington Loction

Others have moved out of town

While others have just plain moved

as the membership is creeping downward to the 12,000 mark

Steve is attempting to Stem The Tide as he has started a new radio ad blitz that was heard on AM 600 (not AM 640) at about 8:02AM right before Glenn Beck.

Hmmm, what will they think of next?

November: Love Offering
December: Deacon Tithe Videos
January: Prove the Tithe Sunday
February thur April: Operation Andrew


32yrs@bbc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keeps Living It said...


Normally you and I are on the same page, but this time you could not be further from the truth. I am speaking specifically about this comment:

Some are hoping against hope that by some miracle if they hang on long enough things will revert back to the way it was.

Please let me speak directly to this:

For those of us who are called to stay I don't know anyone, not one person, who is there just waiting for things to "revert" back to the way they were. Our hope is in God alone for we know He Is Able - it's the only way we can survive.

While many of you have run and left to something more comfortable, there are many, many of us who are still there - in Egypt. I don't know why God has called us to to stay, but he has and we stay obediently. Is it easy? Of course not - personally speaking it is one the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I say all of this not for your pity, sympathy or empathy - truly I am saddened because I covet your prayers and realize now that instead we as a people, a remnant so to speak, are simply being dismissed.

New BBC Open Forum said...


Any more word on the MPP?

New BBC Open Forum said...


In all fairness, "32yrs" said "some," not "all" or even "most." Perhaps s/he knows someone who is in that boat. I've actually heard people express what seemed to me to be less credible reasons than that for staying, but it's not my place to question someone's motives for leaving or staying. Not saying I don't wonder sometimes. I find it difficult to understand how people can subject themselves to, among other things, SG's sheep-beating week after week, but I try to respect the decisions of those who say they have been led to stay, just as much as I respect the decisions of those who've left.

To say those who've left have "run to find something more comfortable" is akin to saying those who have made the decision to leave are "abandoning" the church and are in some way weaker than those who've chosen to stay. I've no doubt it was just as hard for some of those who left as it is for some who have stayed. I don't like the whole idea of "us" and "them." The Church is the Church. Moving one's membership from one church (lower-case "c") to another, doesn't mean one has abandoned the Church.

32yrs@bbc said...

KLI, you have my apologies for making any judgmental statements.
If I could find my hidden trash can I would delete those comments.
I should have also mentioned there are some who are staying because they feel they are led of the Lord to stay. As NASS said, whatever our reasons for staying or leaving, we are all part of THE church of Jesus Christ. It is no easier leaving than it is staying
because of serious doubts about the integrity of the leadership.

Another reason for deleting my comments is that I am off subject!
Sorry NASS.

gopher said...

Bellevue - Cancellation's Update

"Winter Weather Announcement"

"Due to inclement weather, the church offices, Library, Bookstore, and GRACE Family Life Center are closed on Friday, January 29, and Saturday, January 30.

Soul Mate Live and all other activities are cancelled for Friday and Saturday."

Many flights into Memphis International Airport have been Canceled.

Anyone know when the Anointed was due back from his HOLY LAND trip?

Whatever precipitation arrives in Memphis won't be going away quickly, as any warm up won't be till Monday.

So is Steve back?
Will Steve preach on Sunday?
(another snow sermon?)
What will happen to PROVE THE TITHE Sunday? (canceled and rescheduled for next year?)

WishIhadknown said...

The graph also reveals the heart of SG. Declining attendance does not concern him, only the decline in revenue. The revenue decline, he concludes, is due to the lack of financial faithfulness of the members so he beats the sheep up about tithing. It always hard for a preacher to see the truth when the $$$ obstruct their view.

BkWormGirl said...

32 years - I think you might be right on topic. I wonder how much of this has to do with tradition. Why has "tradition" become such a bad word? Why does tradition mean that it is out of date or needs to be reworked? It seems if it was something that was part of the Adrian Roger's years it must be changes, altered, revised, reworked, retooled, or just done away with. After all, that was the promise SG made the search committee was it not? That he would change BBC? I think the reason that there is so little discussion on this topic is because nothing is surprising to anyone anymore. And like someone mentioned. Those who have stayed have done so because they feel God had led them to do so for whatever reason that may be. And those who have left have moved on and have given up hope of anything changing for the better at BBC.

32yrs@bbc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gopher said...

Sunday Services Canceled

Winter Weather Announcement
"Due to inclement weather, all Worship Services and activities are cancelled for Saturday, January 30, and Sunday, January 31."

"Bro. Steve will preach a message via live webcast on Sunday at 10:00 a.m."


ezekiel said...

Keeps living it,

Stop. Stop. Stop.

"While many of you have run and left to something more comfortable, there are many, many of us who are still there - in Egypt. I don't know why God has called us to to stay, but he has and we stay obediently. Is it easy? Of course not - personally speaking it is one the hardest things I have ever done in my life."

If you are still in Egypt, you need to start looking at the reason you went back. Fear of change, fear of loss of comfort, standing, power, position or you just like the food.(Num 14:1-4)

You were once delivered from captivity but you have returned there and you say that it is God's will that you stay and sacrifice, the hardest thing you have ever done.....

Check out Isaiah 1, Hosea 6. Take a look at Mat 9:13 which ties back to Hosea 6 along with these other references.

I desired: 1Sa_15:22; Psa_50:8; Pro_21:3; Ecc_5:1; Isa_1:11, Isa_58:6; Jer_7:22; Dan_4:27; Amo_5:21; Mic_6:6; Mat_5:7, Mat_9:13, Mat_12:7
the: Hos_4:1; 1Ch_28:9; Jer_22:16; 1Jo_2:3, 1Jo_3:6

Mat 9:13 Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy [that is, readiness to help those in trouble] and not sacrifice and sacrificial victims. For I came not to call and invite [to repentance] the righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with God), but sinners (the erring ones and all those not free from sin). [Hos. 6:6.]

You and many more are miserable, sacrificing like SG says you are supposed to, staying in Egypt.

That is certainly not God's will. You can say it is and justify your inaction all you want but the fact is that HE delivered you from bondage. You sit there in it and that is your choice. Not His.

Look at it this way. You are doing what you are doing out of a sense of duty and responsibility. Much like a dutiful wife, sacrificing your life for your husband and children. Doing laundry, cooking, cleanining and hating every minute of it. All that leads to is bitterness and resentment. What is worse is that is not what HE wants. (Isaiah 1) What He really wants is Hosea 6:6. He much preferes that you simply know him, desire him, and love him.(Luke 10:40)

New BBC Open Forum said...

Question: Did the group of 80+ who went with Steve and Donna Gaines to the Holy Land last week (a trip that had nothing to do with the church or church business), who got stranded at the Atlanta airport when they returned Thursday and their flight to Memphis was cancelled because of the weather, reimburse the church in Birmingham and Bellevue who both provided bus transportation back to Memphis? Or did Bellevue pick up the tab? (The B'ham church reportedly sent buses to Atlanta, picked them up, and took them to B'ham where buses from BBC met them and brought them back to Memphis.) Often an airline will provide motel vouchers for people whose flights are cancelled or will allow them to take the next available flight out. I could be wrong and hope I am, but I doubt the airline or travel agency would pay for chartered buses for a group of 80+ people.

New BBC Open Forum said...

"Due to inclement weather, all Worship Services and activities are cancelled for Saturday, January 30, and Sunday, January 31."

I think this is a very wise decision. It is very slick out there, even on the grass! They can salt down the sidewalks, but the parking lots are big and there's no way they could de-ice every square inch of them (even the fraction that would actually be used), and people would track all that salt through the building. It would definitely be an accident waiting to happen and a big mess to clean up afterwards. Stay home and stay safe!

Kind of puts a crimp in "Prove the Tithe" Sunday though.

Also, the "annual" Homecoming Concert was supposed to be tomorrow evening. Of course, they haven't had one since 2008, so "annual" is kind of a misnomer. It'll be interesting to see if Jamie Parker is invited back when they reschedule it.

gopher said...

"Much like a dutiful wife, sacrificing your life for your husband and children. Doing laundry, cooking, cleaning and hating every minute of it."

Oh, but some love it, yum yum

Just watching God at work is just amazing, well sometimes He's been busy elsewhere, so we just have to be patient.....

Keeps Living It said...


Did you not get my post from 6 or 7 last night to 32yrs?

New BBC Open Forum said...


No, I've published every comment that's come through. Hope you saved a copy. I was hoping Blogger had fixed whatever the problem was.

Keeps Living It said...

All: this is a post I wrote yesterday morning, lost it when my computer rebooted, re-wrote it late yesterday and then submitted to publish. Somehow I think Blogger ate it, so here it is again about 36 hours late - very sorry for the delay.

32 yrs -

Oh my - of course I accept your apology! I am so thankful for your post and your desire to clear things up quickly.

If 32 yrs and NASS will allow - I'd like to clear up a few things myself :-)

First of all the only reason I responded so strongly was I believed your post read that everyone was either at BBC because they are (I'm paraphrasing here) happy with the ways things are, somewhat clueless, or still at BBC for their own selfish / opportunistic reasons. Now the latter I believe is definitely true, but that is a whole other post! I am very grateful to know that you agree there is another group of people who, for this time as God's called, must be there.

Secondly, and this is most important, I was completely wrong to say Bellevue is Egypt. It is not that all. The Word of God is being preached and there are Godly men and women serving there every day. Now, there may be times when events or circumstances feel dry - but BBC is not a place of heresy. I most sincerely apologize for this comment and to all I have offended.

Lastly, I stand by my statement that some left because they were not comfortable. I do believe that some, maybe many, left because things were not nearly as easy if they used to be. It is hard to stand apart. I know this statement will not be popular.

32yrs - I love you as a brother or sister in Christ and again thank-you so much for your apology, it really does mean a lot.

gopher said...

Steve Cancels the "Passion Play"

God Cancels "Prove the Tithe Sunday Service"

So...Steve will try doing a "Jim Bakker" Webcast Telethon on Sunday, as BBC is running short and they need these offerings to shore up the January shortfall.

Steve , we can only hope that you are spending the night at the church in order to do this "live webcast" whatever,

as now your going to have to deal with "Freezing Fog" if you plan to drive in the morning. Please be you probably won't .... as you can walk on anything, isn't that right...?

New BBC Open Forum said...

God Cancels "Prove the Tithe Sunday Service"

Well, God does work in mysterious ways.

"... you can walk on anything, isn't that right...?"

I don't think SG has ever made that claim, but if he walks anywhere outside in the morning, he's going to be walking on water all right. Frozen water, that is.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Yay, KLI! This one came through!

"I stand by my statement that some left because they were not comfortable."

Now that you've explained further, I agree with this statement. There were some very influential people who, as a group, I think might have made a difference, but for whatever reasons they zipped their lips (at least in public) and left. I think a lot of it had to do with wanting to avoid confrontation which is never "comfortable."

And speaking of that subject, here's a long overdue word to those who left, some voluntarily and some not, who claim to this day to have "smoking gun" evidence of grievous wrongdoing by certain parties currently or formerly in leadership positions. The time has come to "put up or shut up." I'm tired of hearing people say they've got enough dirt on ______ to ______ tomorrow, but when they're asked to step up to the plate and provide proof, they clam up. Please, either cough up the evidence now or burn it and never speak of it again! Thank you.

Someone actually said to me (and I didn't think it was tongue-in-cheek) that maybe the people who left wanted to "suffer for the sake of Christ" and "not to give back evil for evil." That makes about as much sense as saying those who stayed wanted to "suffer for the sake of Christ" Puhleaze.

As I said before, I refuse to question the motives of anyone who simply says s/he was led to stay or go (doesn't mean I can't wonder), but I can't help but question why anyone would think leaving or remaining in a church in the United States of America today could in any way be considered "suffering for Christ." Let's face it, I seriously doubt anyone reading this blog knows what real suffering for Christ is! To equate leaving or remaining in a church with "suffering for Christ" cheapens the gospel and is approaching blasphemy. It may be suffering all right, but it's not for Christ's sake. And as far as returning evil for evil, I hardly think calling evil evil is the same as returning it. Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.

32yrs@bbc said...

KLI so glad we are pretty much on the same page again.:0)

Seems no matter what subject NASS publishs, we always come back to the same one: the division between those who stayed (for whatever reason) and those who left (for whatever reason). And I believe there are as many reasons as there are personalities. My family personally struggled for 2 years and did all we could to turn the ship back around. But when it became obvious the leadership was not listening and was determined to continue on, when we knew for a fact some of what was going on behind scenes was just plain wrong, when we could no longer respect or support our pastor, when we became increasingly discouraged/depressed and lost all joy in our church attendance, that's when we knew, for us, the right thing was to move on. We left behind many friends who decided to stay for their own reasons. It's a choice each has to make and I respect their right to make that choice as I would want them to respect mine even though we may not agree or understand the other's reasoning. The main thing is the main thing - keep loving and serving the Lord wherever you are. Life is too short to get stuck in our grief over what happened at BBC. Joyce Rogers in my opinion is a good example for all of us. She not only lost her husband and best friend but she lost her pastor and her church. And yet she refuses to let anyone or any circumstance rob her of her joy in the Lord. She has re-established herself in another church home and is serving the Lord there.

ezekiel said...

All this leaving and staying and such is just a sign of the problem.

The religious system in place at BBC and some other places is the same as it was in Israel. It is built on a system of sacrifices. Just look at "proving the tithe"...

It is built on dead works of men rather than the completed work of Christ. Obedience to the law and its demands. Folks that stayed are working, obeying and sacrificing based on their interpretation of the Bible or the preacher's interpretation if they don't want to read it for themselves. Folks that left are more or less doing the same thing, just somewhere else.

Pro 21:3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. [I Sam. 15:22; Prov. 15:8; Isa. 1:11; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:7, 8.]

We, fellow christians are free. Free from the demands of the law (Gal 2:19) and free to serve one another. (Gal 5:13.

If you will take a close look at it, most if not all you are getting these days at BBC is law and sacrifice. That burden wasn't ever successfully carried by Israel and the Church can't carry it either. (Acts 15)

His yoke is light and easy to bear. If it is hard you need to look at again.

Mat 11:30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good--not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.

Pro 21:3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. [I Sam. 15:22; Prov. 15:8; Isa. 1:11; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:7, 8.]

32yrs@bbc said...

"Folks that left are more or less doing the same thing, just somewhere else."

I'm assuming we are now back on the subject of the tithe - to tithe or not to tithe, that is the question.

My family tithes because we believe it is scriptural and because it is a good discipline for giving to the church. And it is just the beginning because we then give offerings above the tithe
for special ministries - like the
Lottie Moon Offering, Samaritan's Purse, etc. In giving this way, we do not feel a heavy yoke of the Law. We give because it blesses us to give.

The problem comes when a pastor puts a heavy yoke on his people that God never intended. No one should be pressured to give anything. God owns it all, He needs nothing from us but our love, and if one cannot give out of a heart of love, willingly, then
God doesn't want it. He loves a cheerful giver - not a disgruntled
or guilt-ridden one.

Ezekiel, if I have misread you, please forgive me. It seems easy to do on this blog.

fogmachine said...

Bellevue Baptist Church and now The Crystal Cathedral!,0,396749.story

I see some similarities here.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Wow. Loved the comment, "A crystal cathedral with no crystal ball? How did Rev. Schuller miss that one?" I thought the same thing when I read the article!

I admit I watch Hour of Power on Saturday nights sometimes because they usually have some good music. (It sure ain't for the preaching!) I've noticed an increase lately in the time devoted to asking people to give. Recently during a service Schuller's daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, was talking with Bruce Wilkinson, the Prayer of Jabez guy, and at one point in the interview he said, "Miracles come through people. And I wanted to find out years ago if you need a miracle and God wanted to give it to you, I wanted to find out how can I be the person who helps the miracle come to be. Let's say this represents the miracle you need, whatever it was. Let's say it was money."

She replied that the ministry needs money. "You do?" he replied. And with that he pulled out his wallet and emptied it on the pulpit. Then a woman in the congregation came forward and dropped money on the steps. This was followed by a line of people doing the same. Miracle? Or pre-written script? You can read it for yourself.

I've heard of the same thing happening in a Kenneth Copeland service (I read a newspaper article and remember a photo of a pile of money on the steps), and I'm really surprised SG hasn't pulled a stunt like this yet.

This is the Star Tribune article to which one of the commenters referred. It gives more information.

New BBC Open Forum said...


One of the similarities I see is not only the layoff of staff, there's the breaking of a "covenant" between Robert H. (father) and Robert A. (son) Schuller. Apparently Robert A. who had had taken the helm of the CC in 2006, was trying to lead the church in a more evangelistic and not as much of a strictly "positive thinking" direction as his dad had, and in a nutshell, Robert H. didn't like this and gave him the boot. Sort of reminds me of another broken "covenant" we've heard of.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Re my 3:53 p.m. comment yesterday, it just occurred to me I meant to say Friday, not Thursday. Still curious about that.

ezekiel said...

32 years,

Not really back on the tithe, just the way it is used these days. It is an indicator if you will. If you have a preacher steadily and persistantly preaching and demanding a tithe then I would expect that you would get the rest of the law preached at you at other times.

There is no scriptural warrant for a tithe. There is for an offering and a cheerful giver. I think it is important to distinguish the difference.

In one case you have a sacrificial system of religion the other is a love and devotion for your redeemer.

If you realy boil it all down, in your daily witness and life as you go about making disciples and telling or showing folks the Jesus you know. How do you do that by constantly and persistently showing them sacrifice and law?

That just confuses folks and makes a simple but glorious Gospel out to be just more law. Folks aren't leaving churches or refusing to go into one because they feel the love of Jesus when they enter one but because the preacher and pew immediately begin to load them with burdens too heavy to bear and a sacrificial system that all Israel couldn't ever do.

We do the things we do because we love Jesus and what He did for us. The works we do are His works that we were destined to do. We give cheerfully because we want to show our love, care and consideration for our brother. As we do it, we get closer and closer to Him and His people. The bond of love and unity.

When you listen to SG do you get an overwhelming sense of love? Redemtion, Grace and unmerited favor of GOD? A chosen people, bought and paid for having been reconciled to God by the blood of the Cross? Free from the law and its demands? Free to love to and for God?

That isnt what I get out of his messages...All that I get is the rules you have to follow to be part of BBC. Those seem to many and they seem to start with a tithe. LAW