If you're not a Lakeland, Florida person, you might not get the pun in the title. One of Lakeland's big tourism draws (other than Detroit Tiger spring training) is the Sun-'n-Fun Fly-In, where recreational aviators from around the country show up for a week of flying-related events at the airport south of town.
Lakeland might be on the verge of having another tourist destination, and it won't involve a theme park; a big revival has broken out at Ignited Church on the north side of town, with rising Pentecostal evangelist Todd Bentley (my dad's been taking about him for years after seeing him at a conference about six years ago) being the touchstone of some interesting rashes of conversions and reported healings.
Here's a piece on the revival from the Lakeland Ledger's Cary McMullen, who interviewed me back in 2003 for a Ledger piece on Christian bloggers.
What began as a five-day revival at Ignited Church in Lakeland has become something of a sensation locally and, thanks to the Internet, in Pentecostal circles worldwide.
Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley has been leading "healing meetings" at Ignited since April 2, attended by as many as 20,000 people so far, and the meetings will continue twice daily through April 27, church leaders say. The meetings have drawn attention for what Bentley and Ignited Pastor Stephen Strader say are miraculous instances of people healed of serious medical conditions.
The evening services usually fill Ignited's 700-seat sanctuary, and people have been waiting for hours for the doors to open, Strader said. The crowds have included people from outside Lakeland, outside Polk County and even other states. Ignited's media coordinator, Lynne Breidenbach, said a doctor from England had flown over to attend services after seeing reports on the Internet.
The services have been streamed live via the Web site www.ustream.tv, and as of Wednesday morning, the services had received more than 100,000 views.
Ignited Church has an interesting pedigree, being the half heir to the former Carpenter's Home Church, in more ways than one. Carpenter's Home was an Assembly of God megachurch before the pastor's son did a financial scam that fleeced a good chunk of the church and gutted the membership rolls; scamster Daniel Strader got sentenced to 45 years in prison.
Two years ago, Carpenter's Home sold their large, 10,000 sanctuary/auditorium (that would frequently host major Christian acts) to Tampa's Church Without Walls for their Polk County satellite church, giving Carpenter's Home their old facility in neighboring Auburndale and $3.5 million. Part of the church moved to the Auburndale site, with Carpenter's Home patriarch Karl Strader's son in law Shane Simmons as lead pastor of the newly christened Auburndale Life Church, while another group moved to Ignited, where Karl's other son Stephen Strader is the lead pastor.
Ignited Church overhauled an old hardware store about a mile north of the old Carpenter's Home site into a new 700-seat facility. I remember shopping at the Wal Mart across the street on US-98 in the mall quadrant north of town back when I was job-hunting in Lakeland back in 2006 and vaguely remember the Ignited Church signs as they were starting things up.
Carpenter's Home has an interesting place in Pentecostal/charismatic history; they hosted a three-month-long revival by Rodney Howard Browne in 1993 that was noted by uncontrolled laughter "in the Spirit" and other over-the-top manifestations. That meme spread elsewhere, with the "Toronto Blessing" of the mid-late 90s being the largest descendant of that meme (here's a critical piece that gives a decent overview, and here's another).
This Lakeland revival was a topic of conversation at church Sunday (we were at a Vineyard church in Wilmore just south of Lexington); the pastor noted that while the Toronto-style renewals tended to have people looking to absorb more of the Holy Spirit, it didn't translate in most cases to increased evangelism. My thought was that it created a breed of "Holy Spirit junkies" going from healing conference to prophetic conference to "soaking" service looking to get the next fix.
This one's marked, at least in the early going, by a lot of potent evangelism. Conversion numbers in that type of setting can be a bit inflated, as people often give token confessions that don't quite stick for the long haul, but the reports seem impressive. If you're going to have the Spirit move in off-beat ways, it's best to see it followed by people being brought to the Lord rather than just being a bunch of Holy Spirit junkies soaking themselves.
A lot of folks are going to be turned off right away by the TBN-style Pentecostal stuff and happily link to all the heresy-hunter sites. However, I'm interested in seeing if there may be something a bit more mature and worthwhile coming out of this one.
At minimum, we'll get to see the first blogged revival in the early days of "going supernova", if the hype holds up. Also, we may see Carpenter's Home 2.0 become a focal point like it's predecessor.