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G12 Churches: Cults or discipleship? Part II8 min read

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NOTE: This post is part of a Series on the G12 Model

In Part I, I introduced my plan to investigate the local G12 church in SLO, and to find out if it was a cult or not.

However, right off of the bat, let me say that overall, my wife’s and my experience at Mercy Church was overwhelmingly and mostly positive, and the presence of God, as well as real energy and excitement, were there.  And the bible teaching was good as well. But I did have some hesitation.  But more on that later.

Below, I describe the first part of the service we attended.

The photo to the right is very similar to the one used in Part I, except that you’ll notice that the lyrics are in Spanish.

1. My Prep Work

Before I attended Mercy Church, I took advantage of their audio archive (cool flash-based site, btw) to listen to many sermons, most by the Sr. Pastor, Terry Page.  I have to say, the preaching, though not the greatest expositing I’ve ever heard, seemed biblical, balanced, and had few if any signs of charismania or cultlike control or cajoling.  So I was set for a cool experience.

2. First Impressions

My first impression was that they had about 8 parking lot attendants, young guys in reflective vests, guiding the cars into the lot around the buidling, which was a new-looking warehouse out by the SLO airport (right next to the runway!). ‘Hmmm,’ I thought to myself, ‘these guys are way too cheery and gung ho at 10AM, cult flag #1.’ (NOTE: I am not a morning person).

However, ‘they could be just a really good church with positive people in leadership,’ I thought.  My wife and I entered the front doors, passing by the friendly greeters – ‘no handouts,’ I noted as we passed into the dimly lit sanctuary, worship already in progress (it was 10:05, late again).

3. Worship

Approvingly, I noted the attractive but simple stage lighting, the dual overheads, the low sanctuary lighting, and the really excellent worship team.  I noted that ALL of the members of the worship team and most of the congregation were very young – mostly college students.  This too gave me pause – homogeneity in age is often a sign of one sort of church sickness or another – all old people, probably a dead church.  All young people, perhaps a controlling cult that more experienced people leave quickly.

However, the worship was fantastic.  I noted that they sang many songs in both Spanish and English.  My wife (Mexican) and I looked at one another approvingly – this was cool.  But a little thought ran through the back of my mind – were they singing in Spanish to be multicultural, or because they were tightly tied (read ‘under the control of’) the Columbian megachurch that started this movement?  I knew that G12’s founder, C�sar Castellanos, had spoken at Mercy Church, and my own pastor expressed some concerns when he listened to the audio of Castellanos’ sermon. But high vision guys are always a bit freaky and scary, they’re too excited, if you konw what I mean.

4. Dance Team

If you enlarge the photo above, you may see the four dancers up in front of the band.  They came up for a couple of the more exuberant numbers, and they danced in a choreographed and energetic fashion.  Traditionalists might find this sort of thing distracting, but my wife and I liked it – it really raised the energy quite a bit, and their abandon and joy were contagious.  However, the three college girls dancing (there was also one guy) were a LITTLE distracting (how can shaking butts and boobs of young college girls not be?), though they weren’t dancing sensually.  I’m sure college guys were even more likely to be distracted than me!

But I digress. Regardless of your doctrine on dance worship, what was notable about the dancers was:

  • The Good – they were skillful, energetic, and really added to the energy with their genuine enthusiasm – these kids weren’t playing church, they were full on worshiping God, both they and the music team.  I thought to myself, ‘church haters and religionists would hate this and see this as pure fanaticism, but people looking for genuine strong faith might find this really attractive.’  I remembered reading somewhere that if you are doing something with purity and passion, you will generate polar opposite reactions – strong like, strong dislike, but little inbetween.
  • The Bad – It takes guts to dance like hell (excuse the expression) in front of people with all of your heart, ignoring the urge to be self-conscious. I’ve seen this kind of zeal in fanatics – the far-off sparkling eyes, the confidence that goes beyond what might be considered healthy skepticism – but I just put that in the back of my mind for the time being.  Excitement in leadership is also sometimes willed a bit – you have to be ON it whether you feel well or not.

The worship AND dancing had been skillfully and joyfully done, and it did enhance our worship, no doubt at all. It had definitely been worshipful, and not overly forced, but rather, confidently and strongly led.

5. The Offering

Some young woman, obviously one of the pastor’s wife’s ‘disciples’ or ’12,’ gave a short message about how God didn’t want our money, but all of our heart.  She was genuine, though her valley girl intonations made me cringe constantly, esp. when she read the scripture – somehow I can’t hear God speaking that way. There was just a slight tinge of fanaticism when she exposited the calling of Peter and Andrew, explaining how ‘this was the first time they heard Jesus, and they just left everything.’  Most expositors do NOT think that Peter and Andrew were meeting or hearing about Jesus for the first time when they were called.

However, despite this small error, she did not leverage it into some heavy handed manipulation about giving it all, including your wallet to God, and the plate was passed summarily and normally (I hate that ritual, though, and like what my church does better – we have an offering box in the back.  Now if we could only add Paypal to our web site, that would be good).

6. Encounter Video

As I’ll explain next time, G12 has a highly structured set of steps, including a couple of retreats where they ‘consolidate’ your decision to follow Jesus.  For one of their upcoming Encounters, they had a homebrew video of one of their young guys trying to get initiates to attend the next one.  It was professionally and humorously done, but the ‘you need it’ plug was just this side of manipulative.  However, ‘what do you want them to do instead?’ I asked myself.  I noted that same strange zeal, but as I’ve discussed, it’s hard to tell healthy excitment from cultlike zeal.  For now, I was giving them the benefit of the doubt, esp. in light of the great worship and decent speaking so far.


In Part III, I will outline a bit more of the G12 model, and the progress and stages a person goes through.  In Part IV, I’ll discuss the various Programs and Events that make up the training of the G12 model, and what concerns me in these programs.  In Part V, I’ll briefly discuss the sermon and my discussion w/ the pastor.  In Part VI, I’ll render a conclusion.