Chapter nine: the triumphant church (1988 1990)

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Demographics For Members Joining Between 1988 and 1990



African American


Total Number




Mean Age in 1991




Mean Age at joining




Gender: Female




Marital Status:









Never Married




Education:College degree or more




Income: +$30,000

























Southern Birthplace




Community of Birth









Mean Childhood Moves






African American


Hours at Church/ Week:

0-3 hours




4-6 hours




7-10 hours




11 or more




New Christian




Mean # CHHC Friends




Giving: 10 % or More




Previous Denomination:





























Live in Church Zipcode




Mean Paulk Books Read




widened to a four lane divided "parkway" complete with mass transit service. During this current period, the church helped maintain a nearby strip mall with its patronage. Several members rented space there for their shops and small businesses. Members also successfully pressured several local service stations to stop selling pornography. When rumors circulated throughout the area that major department stores, including J.C.Penney and Rich's, were going to leave the area's only major shopping center, South Dekalb Mall, Paulk and the church's membership helped convince the stores to stay.15

Paulk encouraged his membership to consider South DeKalb as the focal point of Atlanta, suggesting that they relocate closer to the church, spend their money in area stores, and support local restaurants and entertainment clubs. "Do not make Downtown the center, make this church the center.... What God is about to do here is an awesome thing," he informed them (9/4/88). His unspoken goal probably included maintaining a significant white presence, thereby hoping to attract greater county resources, business developments, and social support services into what he hoped would become a unique middle class, integrated community. The church undertook a community wide survey in its "Action Van" to discover the pressing issues and concerns of its neighbors. As a further effort, the church sponsored town hall meetings with local politicians, and attempted to get their members elected to local posts. Paulk often praised the congregation for the changes they had effected in the area, saying, "A miracle is taking place in South DeKalb and people don't even know it" (9/18/88).

It is questionable what influence the church had on its immediate community. Given that the demographics of the neighborhood were shifting toward a stabilized, affluent, middle class population, much of what the church claimed to have accomplished no doubt would have happened naturally. Nevertheless, the perception within the church, and to some extent in the community, was that the church had made a difference.16 One of the many comments heard in this regard came from a local doctor with minimal connection to the church. He claimed, "This church was the stabilizing force in the community. This part of the county is in better shape than it ever was. I’m glad my business is here." The construction of their massive Cathedral on the property was a clear symbolic representation of the church’s place in and impact upon this community. All these accomplishments, then, added to the church's laurels and its kingdom demonstration in the local area.

Church members also carried their kingdom Christian demonstration beyond the congregation's immediate area by their joint actions in covenant communities. Prior to 1988, the covenant community cell-groups were active in the congregation in an informal, unstructured manner, focused primarily around fellowship. That year, however, the church's leadership reconfigured the system of accountability for pastors, deacons, covenant community leaders, and caregivers.17 The entire church membership was assigned to one of twelve "pastoral groups." Each group, encompassing the area of thirty degrees of a circle radiating out in pie shaped wedges from the church as center point, was led by an associate pastor. Each pastoral group was further subdivided by geographic and political boundaries into smaller fellowship, or covenant communities, led by deacons, covenant community leaders, and caregivers. At its high point, between 1989 and 1990, over 120 groups operated with approximately 1500 to 2000 adults involved. These groups were either demographically very diverse or homogeneous depending on the local area represented.

The covenant communities provided considerable interpersonal support and mutual ministry necessary in a very large church. These groups offered an opportunity, especially for women, for involvement in nonadministrative levels of leadership in the church. This was crucial at a time when the church organization was professionally staffed. Covenant community members gathered once a month to share their troubles and joys, to pray and study the Bible, and to embrace while fellowshipping over coffee and snacks. In addition to this, many of the larger "pastoral groups" held monthly special activities for the smaller clusters to come together and interact with each other.

As an aside, in addition to the covenant community support of the membership, the church maintained countless social, educational, therapeutic, fellowship, recreational, and service related groups for the benefit of its own congregation. These groups were often open to the public as additional ministry, and perhaps as an avenue into the congregation. Many of these internal ministries, as well as the church’s formal missions, such as Overcomers, The House of New Life, the ministry to homosexuals, and the medical ministry, have been discussed elsewhere and will be summarized in the final chapter. Interestingly, these more inward-focused ministries were seldom given priority when the "demonstration of the kingdom" was discussed.

Beyond this interpersonal support, a majority of these covenant communities undertook local social action and community service projects. The covenant community in which I participated was representative of the activities of many other ones. Members regularly volunteered to clean and repair homes of elderly persons. They policed trash from local parks. They even organized a extensive ministry to a local nursing home and public housing retirement center. Covenant community members would visit residents, host birthday parties and Bible studies, take residents grocery shopping each month, and spend hours in conversation. The combined ministerial efforts of this and the other covenant communities perhaps had a greater cumulative effect on the city than did the church officially. A staggering amount of community service took place informally through these groups, although it went virtually unrecognized by the public or by the church's leadership.

This opportunity for community service, as well as involvement in official church ministries was mentioned by many members as very important to them.18 One member stated during a covenant community meeting, "After I had been here a while, I realized that I was mature enough in the Lord to see not what I could get out of church, but what I could contribute to it." Another commented, "Bishop Paulk has a way of making people want to be involved in ministry. A third added, "Everybody is not a teacher, not an evangelist, but all of us are ministers in our own way." In an interview one middle aged white male explained his involvement in service, "At the church I was given a place to practice my calling, to get my feet wet." Another young black male described his participation in the church’s food and clothing ministry,

The promise of God to a Christian isn’t to make your life easier, it is to make your life meaningful. Being involved in these ministries gives your life meaning and purpose. You have to plug in and minister to others.

One of the church's official missions within the city, and certainly the best publicized of its ministerial efforts, began in March 1989 to one of Atlanta's most crime infested housing projects, Bankhead Heights. This community received considerable publicity when its level of violence escalated to the point where public utility repair persons and mail carriers refused to enter the area (Lee & Worthy, 1989). The church seized the opportunity to show what a difference it could make. After receiving official approval and the use of a housing unit in the complex, Paulk committed 250 members to the task of "demonstrating quality living" to the residents. The church organized and implemented health fairs, talent shows, musical performances, worship services, nutrition classes, Boy and Girl scout troops, and classes on sewing, makeup application, and cooking, as well as literacy and tutoring services. For over a year this effort was a top priority of many volunteers. One of those volunteers reflected on his reasons for being there, "This ministry here has forced me to look at reality. You are here for a purpose. God has given you something to do -- it’s his plan for your life, so what are you going to do with it right now?" The congregation's work in this housing complex, in conjunction with increased efforts by the police and the Atlanta Housing Authority, had the effect of reducing crime dramatically in that housing project. The church received several commendations for its work including being named a "point of light" by President George Bush. Paulk often discussed on television the accolades the church received from this project (4/29/91).

I was with President Bush a few years ago and he said now I want examples of how the private sector can be involved in public housing. So we accepted it and God has helped us.... HUD is using that all over the country as being the prototype. Jack Kemp’s office says this is the way it should be done. So we are reaching people in the inner city. God spoke into my heart --- as the church goes, so shall the cities.

A Demonstration to Government

Another ministry active during this period was described as having a "proper influence over government." The church's efforts in this regard primarily included reminding politicians of their large voting bloc while cultivating friendships with particular officials in power, and informing members of political issues while encouraging them to vote. By 1988 Earl Paulk and the church were often courted by politicians, governmental officials, and anyone dependent upon the support of a voting public. Paulk was well aware of the perceived power he had as the senior minister of such a large voting constituency. He wrote, "The Church needs to have political influence without apology....these candidates (Jessie Jackson and Pat Robertson both of whom attended a service during the 1988 primaries) considered the church an important constituency" (1990a:122). In sermons and books, he bragged about his influence with politicians, saying, "I could get [a city official] elected....I called one person in Apping county and said get [a county official] elected and he won the county" (9/20/90) and "I received a note recently from a state senator who thanked me and my congregation for making the difference in passing a school bond referendum in our county" (1990a:72). On the other hand, when he wanted a county official to bend a rule in his favor, he warned, "I'd hate to go tell my 10,000 members and my TV audience that we have a police state in DeKalb County" (10/13/91).

Often he made reference in sermons to his association with governmental officials at all levels, including the Governor, the mayor of Atlanta, state senators, and county officials. His picture taken while in a meeting with former President George Bush was prominently displayed in the mall area and published in the newspaper and books. Several county commissioners frequented the church, one of which commented during a staff meeting, "Nothing is impossible after I’ve been here to worship." He often spoke of delivering prayers at the opening of the state legislative sessions. Paulk would welcome any politician to the worship service, announce their visit, and often allow them a few minutes to address the congregation. One trusted associate of the Georgia's governor was a close friend and networking pastor of the church. Governors Zell Miller and Joe Frank Harris, former mayor and Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, and former mayor Maynard Jackson all visited the church on occasion. Jackson even wrote a glowing endorsement for one of Paulk's books (1991). Paulk commented on his "pull" with these civic and political leaders in a TBN interview (4/29/91).

Maynard Jackson and Andy Young, very intimate and close friends of mine, and they sit and say, ‘tell me preacher, how can we do this or that.’ ....The politicians come to see us now to get a word from God and that is the way it is supposed to be.

The church leadership also made every effort to keep members informed of political issues. Paulk did this extensively from the pulpit, averaging over ten political comments per sermon between 1986 and 1988. After the 1988 election these references dropped to around 4.0 per sermon from 1989 to 1992 (See Appendix B-32). The membership understood Paulk's intended lesson in all these comments. One of them asserted, "Part of being a good Christian is being aware of what's happening politically in the world and our community."

Another way the church facilitated this influence of government was through its system of covenant communities. Although the purpose of these covenant communities was not specifically political, many of the pastoral groups had "political involvement committees" whose members stayed informed (often called "shadowing government") of pending bills, new legislative decisions, and the voting records of legislators at all levels. The area pastor, or selected deacons, were charged with the task of knowing the voting precincts, state districts, and the local jurisdictions of their members. Several covenant communities planned and sponsored community action projects, information disseminating seminars, and public meetings on political issues, as well as hosted candidate debates.19

After having been accused by critics of a post millenialist, Reconstructionist "take over" mentality in regard to the State, Paulk made certain to avoid any statements which implied the church would usurp governmental authority. He walked a fine line between demanding the church have some influence in political affairs and avoiding any blanket identification with any particular politician or political party. Don Paulk made this position clear in one of the newspaper’s editorials (Harvest Time August/September, 1988)

What most politicians really want is free reign...they call it 'separation of church and state.' In actuality they are telling the church to shut up and let them run the country without the imposition of the church's conscience.... We must remember that we are Samuel, not Saul. Where we as the church made our mistake was in identifying ourselves with politicians and political parties. By doing that, we could no longer remain objective.
The leadership made it absolutely clear that Paulk did not endorse any of the visiting politicians or tell the congregation how they should vote (1990a:72,122). He wrote that such blatant endorsement was unnecessary in his congregation, "When Christians know kingdom principles, a pastor doesn't need to promote a certain issue or endorse a particular candidate....They vote for those who would represent them responsibly" (1990a:72).20

Of course, individually, Christians were to influence the various levels of government through their votes and prayers. They were to obey government in all matters except those which denied the freedom of the individual to worship. The church corporately, however, was to provide a moral conscience for society, offer an alternative Christian witness, and exert a spiritual influence through prayer and protest. As Paulk stated in one sermon, "Civil government is called of God, but it is not called to set the moral principles of the nation. God puts that in the family and the individual and the church" (10/9/88).21

Finally, Paulk deduced from several scriptural passages the idea that each city had "spiritual elders" among its resident church leaders who were to have the responsibility for spiritually protecting and morally guiding the city. He wrote in The Local Church Says Hell No!, "Every local church is responsible for the city where God has placed them" (1991:92). In the case of Atlanta, he saw himself, along with several other ministers, in that role. "My battlefield primarily has been designated by the Lord to be the city of Atlanta," he explained in his writings, "I know God has called me to make ministry work here in the city of Atlanta first" (1991:96 97). In this manner Paulk shed his self perception as the city's "suffering savior" of previous years and assumed the mantle of Atlanta's judge and prophetic voice. As he commented in a sermon, "God is bringing some spiritual structure to this city" (9/4/88).

Whether the church wielded any actual political power is impossible to determine. In certain minor issues, or in accomplishing local political goals, perhaps they did have some influence. In relation to larger, morally significant, issues such as the vote on a state lottery, it was clear the church's pull did not make any difference. Likewise, they were unable to get one of their members elected to a local post in 1988. A more important aspect of the church's courting of and acceptance by governmental leaders, however, was the perception of success and power it offered the church. One member reflected, "That's what the church is about    influencing governments and the whole world, so when we achieve that then God is working through us." Paulk also used his relationships with politicians to validate and assure his own position of power in the congregation and in the larger religious community. The words of another member summarize this perception, "It makes me proud to think of Bishop Paulk's influence on the candidates who come to our church."

A National Demonstration

Ironically, as a result of its hostile critics of the previous period, Chapel Hill Harvester's reputation grew throughout the conservative Christian community in the United States. The "Network of Kingdom Churches" increased more rapidly during this period than at any other time. By mid 1989, under the leadership of associate pastor Kirby Clements, the network grew to 133 churches in 31 states, with a few dozen congregations in fifteen other countries (Thy Kingdom Come May/June, 1989). States with the largest number of networking churches were California, Florida, Ohio, and Georgia, in total representing 52 congregations.

During this time, the church's exposure on television was, likewise, at its greatest level ever. The church's program could be seen on TBN in over 40 markets, on PTL's "Inspiration" network in 38 areas, and on 22 other stations throughout the country. A team of media consultants was hired to purchase more air time on several major stations. The director of "Partners for the Kingdom" (PFK) relayed this consulting group's findings to a meeting of staff. "They are convinced that we are the dark horse," he reported, "because we focus on the congregation.... They call us soft sell, the best kept secret in America." While this may have been the case, PFK television donations continued to increase throughout these years, climbing from an average of $37,781 per month in 1987 to an all time high of $54,660 per month in 1990 (See Appendix D). Each month two to four hundred new persons wrote to the ministry and about half those persons sent monetary gifts.

This revenue and national exposure did not come cheaply, however. The costs of materials, labor, and postage associated with this ministry burdened the church budget by approximately 10,000 dollars a month in 1988. Television air time costs during the 1988   1990 period totaled over half a million dollars a year. In 1988 the total radio and television media production ministry, including salaries, supplies and air time, operated with a deficit of almost 300,000 dollars. During the first six months of 1990 PFK offerings totaled 270,000, while the air time expenses alone cost almost 300,000 dollars. The church's national publicity and exposure may have increased its spiritual influence and stature, but it was also a heavy burden for the congregation to bear.

Church sponsored conferences were another effort at national religious influence. The "Atlanta 88" conference drew 533 persons from around the country, but it also cost the church $11,000 more than it made. During these three years Chapel Hill Harvester sponsored several "worship and arts" workshops, two "international pastors Institutes" and the "networking pastors conference." The church was also represented by Bishop Paulk in the 1988 Washington for Jesus rally (Thy Kingdom Come May/June 1988).

Another avenue by which Earl Paulk enhanced his reputation throughout the country was in accepting speaking engagements at other churches, conferences, and larger ministry meetings such as Charismatic Bible Ministries and the Network of Christian Ministries. These events took him away from the church at a time when his presence was needed to generate the necessary high income giving to support the financing of the Cathedral building project. He complained in one meeting, "We lose five to twenty thousand dollars in offering each week if we have a guest speaker" (11/89 staff meeting).

A Demonstration to the World

The final, and most expansive, arena of demonstration was to the entire world. The church described its mission as having a global influence. As Paulk said, "We at Chapel Hill are in the unique position of experimenting at the local level with solutions with may well reverberate globally" (Thy Kingdom Come May/June, 1988). His involvement in the International Communion of Charismatic Congregations (ICCC) provided him with adequate rhetoric material to claim a world wide influence. He traveled to Brazil, Nigeria, and Europe on ICCC business. His staff ministered in South Africa, the Philippines, Korea, the Caribbean Islands, and throughout South and Central American countries (Thy Kingdom Come May/June, 1988). At the same time, the church sponsored a yearly "International Institute" for pastors from around the world. Many of the 30 to 50 participants each year, however, had to be subsidized in order to attend.

Earl Paulk constantly reminded the congregation, networking pastors, and the television audience of these trips, and the church's responsibility to the entire world. "Are you so involved with your own little "ark" that you forget the world's "ark?," he questioned the membership one Sunday (9/18/88). Church materials were crowded with letters and reports from pastors in various Latin American countries thanking him for the television ministry. In 1988 the church's program was broadcast in Costa Rica. By the following year, after filling Jimmy Swaggart's abandoned slots in programming, Earl Paulk could be seen weekly in nine Central and South American countries, in several Caribbean Islands, and in South Africa. Much of this global influence was reported by the leadership via television clips and verbal accounts. Few "ordinary" members had an opportunity to visit and witness firsthand the church's actual influence in these countries. Therefore, these global missions offered the greatest perception of expansive influence with the least chance of actual confirmation.22

As a demonstration to the world, Chapel Hill Harvester Church decided to host a "World Congress on the Kingdom of God" in the Fall of 1990. This event, it was prophesied, would draw 25,000 thousand people from around the world (Weeks, 1986:378). The "World Congress," which was to be held in the finished 7700 seat Cathedral, would showcase this local church's fulfilled vision of demonstrating the kingdom to the world. Paulk boldly made declarations regarding this conference that put both his and the church’s reputation on the line (The Atlanta Tribune June,1988:27).

If we pull it off [the conference] we have made a statement that the local church is not some little blah, four walled building sitting by the side of the road, but it is in fact a prophetic voice of God that sets a standard for man and finds evil in the world and addresses it.
Promotion for this world-wide congress dominated the church's various media throughout this period. The newspaper ran biographies of the famous religious celebrities invited. The television program recruited participants and solicited donations. Covenant communities "adopted" countries in preparation for the event    learned about them, prayed for them, and printed information about them in the newspaper. Many of the church's activities for over a year pointed expectantly toward this climatic, earth transforming symposium. The reality of the actual event, however, fell far below these grand expectations. The repercussions of this sizable disappointment will be addressed in the following chapter.

Until that event, and even after it for quite some time, the overwhelming amount of ministry and diverse activities taking place at Chapel Hill Harvester Church awed both outsider and member alike. Just like numerical growth, continuous "seven-day-a-week" activity was interpreted as an indication of spiritual power. Many members recounted their feelings regarding the church’s Christian witness through these ministries. "You see your tithes and offerings at work and it’s a good feeling to know it," said one man. Another male member recalled his attraction to the church, "The main thing that impressed me about this ministry was that I finally got a chance to see God work physically." Finally, a highly committed woman summarized what this demonstration of the vision meant to her, "It’s not just the Gospel. It’s not just the Word. It is the demonstration! People can see the demonstration and they can say, ‘This is the Kingdom that won’t fall’."

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