Last week it was reported that Brownsville Assembly of God, former home to the historic Brownsville Revival, is experiencing harsh financial woes. In the years since the revival tapered off, regular Sunday attendance at Brownsville has fallen to about eight hundred. During the hey day of the revival, nightly services were so packed that the church built an overflow sanctuary in order to hold the multiple thousands of attendees. Now the overflow is used as a gym and storage area.
Currently Brownsville Assembly of God is sitting on around six and a half million dollars of debt, most of which was accrued during the revival on projects relating to the revival. In the years since, the leadership that accrued that debt has moved on, and has left a trail of hardship in their wake.
So how did it get to this point? Was there wide-spread corruption from the revival leadership?
I was there almost from the beginning. I was there during the infamous Pensacola New Journal articles and subsequent responses. There was little talk of money during those days. Of course, as it is with almost all churches, there was some money talk (tithes and offerings), but it was never an obsession, and was almost the polar opposite of the ever-so-popular prosperity gospel. Steve Hill, the headliner of the revival (if you would), refused to accept a salary from the church. He lived off of donations given through his ministry. As such, once a week John Kilpatrick (the pastor at the time) would call for a special offering that would be donated to Steve Hill Ministries. Dr. Michael Brown, as far as I am aware, lived off of book royalties, donations through his ICN Ministries, and possibly a small salary as President of Brownsville Revival School of Ministry.
However, even though corruption is an unlikely culprit, there were some questionable choices. First of all, in a highly localized revival, the leadership team made the decision to start traveling around the nation to ‘set America ablaze.’ This obviously put a strain on church finances. Not only did it have to pay for plane tickets and travel expenses for gears, but because John Kilpatrick was afraid of flying, an expensive coach bus was purchased for his travel needs.
Kilpatrick now claims to not remember much about the financial situation then, and there is validity to that claim. The leadership team was working around the clock for most of a five-year period of time. They were exhausted, so I wouldn’t expect him to remember the details. But, that exhaustion may have led to poor decision making as well.
Though financial mishandling is unquestionably one of the culprits of the current situation, I do not believe it to be the main one. The revival was a world-famous movement. People came from around the world, literally, just to spend a day or two there. It touched the world, yet it left almost no positive impact on the community, which left them with a small fraction of attendees once the visitors stopped coming.
When I was there, the neighborhoods surrounding Brownsville were poor, run-down blocks. Imagine living in a house with no roof next door to a house with an amazing roof. Then imagine that your neighbor has a delivery of lumber and shingles sent to his house one day, and he re-decks and re-shingles his entire roof, while you still have no roof. This is the impact that the revival had on Pensacola. Instead of taking that passion (and finances) and reaching out to their neighbors, they bought out many of their neighbors (and the ones I’ve heard talk about it say that the ambassadors of the church were not too graceful in their offers), tore down the houses, and built parking lots. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhoods were largely ignored by the church.
Greater Pensacola was ignored by the church as well. The weekend evangelism teams were not out to get to know their city and build a relationship. They went out to fulfill what they viewed as a duty to walk up to random strangers and nicely tell them that if they didn’t know Jesus they were going to hell.
I’m sad to see Brownsville in the midst of financial hardship. Even though I personally and no longer a fan of institutionalized church, others call it their home and it works for them. I do hope they can pull through, and they are now turning toward the right path. They recognize their lack of impact on the community, and are now getting involved. They have begun offering day care services, computer training, GED classes, and the like. These are real, tangible needs of the community. In the process, if they are able to show them the love of God, then awesome.