How do the people in this group identify themselves? Are they Pentecostals? Charismatics? INC Christians?
Christerson: They would use the word prophetic or apostolic—or they would align themselves with one of the apostles. They would say, “I am a follower of Bill Johnson,” or Mike Bickle, or Cindy Jacobs. People would tell us, “he’s my apostle” or “he’s my prophet.” The other term we hear a lot is “spiritual covering”: There’s this idea that you are under spiritual covering of your specific apostle or prophet. A related term is “impartation.” The apostles basically impart their power to you. If you are under them, the power that they have straight from God trickles down to you.
They consciously avoid any kind of formal organization or denomination. They see the strength of weak ties—it allows them room to experiment and to work with all kinds of different people. They can focus on putting together these big events—they don’t have to support a staff or donate to a seminary. They can just go straight to the marketing activities.
How do you become an apostle? What’s the process?
Christerson: It’s all sort of self-appointed. Leaders in the moment would say that people are recognized as apostles because of the influence that they have—not only over your own congregation but over other leaders. But there’s definitely a good deal of self-appointing going on. Peter Wagner, a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation movement, referred to himself as a “super apostle,” because he was influential with a bunch of other apostles.
It’s easy to see the advantages for leaders—it’s great to be the guy at the top of the pyramid since they get all the cash and no one tells them what to do. But it also seems like lay people really like this model. What do they get out of it?
Christerson: For the young people, they’re searching for meaning, and they’re also looking for adventure and excitement. These kinds of churches appeal to them in ways that traditional congregations just can’t. They are not merely trying to learn how to know God, live a godly life, or share their faith with other people. They really believe they are participating in this cosmic spiritual battle to transform the world. They are involved in this battle for whole cities and nations.
And then you have the appeal of direct access to God—getting direct downloads from God. God is going to talk to me and tell me what to do. Or my leader is getting direct downloads. For many people, that’s more exciting than a 45-minute sermon examining the Greek terms from Paul’s writings.
INC movements don’t have same “priesthood of all believers” theology as the Protestant Reformers, because power is still flowing down from particular apostles, and then others can access it. There is definitely a hierarchy. But since they are not building institutions, there is a lot of freedom for people to experiment with the tools they get from these apostles. So that opens up a lot of opportunities for people to lead, innovate, and create their own way of doing Christianity. That participatory aspect is a major part of the appeal.
Rather than traditional worship services, many megachurches say they have “experiences.” What kind of experiences are INC churches trying to create?
Christerson: The traditional megachurch uses music and exciting preaching from great communicators. But we found that wasn’t the case with these INC-lings. They are actually not very exciting preachers. That really surprised us. For them, it’s all about encountering these supernatural manifestations. That’s the exciting experience.