Thursday, December 04, 2008

The cLAim Project

cLAim: Background

cLAim is a major evangelistic project that combines the resources of the Southern California Conference (SCC) and the It Is Written (IIW) television ministry. The initial concept began to take form when SCC President Larry Caviness met with Shawn Boonstra, Speaker/Director for IIW. The 117 Adventist churches and the 9 Adventist companies in the Greater Los Angeles area have been told that they will support the project.

Detailed plans including pastoral assignments, member and lay group responsibilities, training sessions, and meeting locations can be viewed on the Southern California Website. The projected cost for the program will exceed $1,000,000.

Because cLAim has generated significant interest among Adventist bloggers, pastors in the Greater Los Angeles area were asked their opinion of the project. It was understood that these pastors would not be named. This article is published with their unanimous approval, and is based on interviews with more than ten pastors.

cLAim: The Genesis

On several occasions, Larry Caviness, President of the Southern California Conference (SCC), has told pastors that often, before he goes to work, he climbs to the top of a hill behind his home in Glendale. From that perspective, he prays for the people who live in the LA area.

When Elder Caviness became president of the SCC, the conference was in financial distress. Cash reserves were low; funds were not adequate to meet North American Division salary guidelines. The Conference struggled to pay its debts. He set about to correct these problems, and he did so.

The pastors surveyed believe that the time, energy and resources that had to be directed to put the Conference toward righting the financial imbalance made it difficult for Conference administrators to adequately fund evangelism and education. (A decade ago about 50,000 individuals attended Conference churches. Today, membership is around 40,000.)

Elder Caviness is on record as advocating an aggressive evangelistic program now that the financial house is in order. No pastor surveyed disagrees with the proposition that evangelism is important. There is, however, significant unease with regard to the process that came to involve the IIW team.

When a call came from Shawn Boonstra outlining what an IIW evangelistic campaign had to offer the SCC, Caviness concluded the call was providential. IIW offered to conduct an outreach in LA similar to those planned for Phoenix, Arizona and Portland, Oregon. (One pastor theorized that as the conversation between Boonstra and Caviness continued, a strategy was agreed on.)

Caviness then shared the plan that he and Boonstra had developed with the Conference administrative team. Then he took the proposal to the Conference Executive Committee and received approval. He did not discuss his plans with the pastors who had to enthusiastically support the evangelistic program if it was to be successful. Caviness informed pastors, “This is what we’re going to do.”

The pastors that attended a cLAim meeting at the White Memorial Church, knowing the conference had committed them to participate in the Boonstra project, hoped that they and others might influence the campaign planning and preparation. However, the presenters did not ask for or consider any input. Pastors reported that the meeting was chaotic and filled with tension. The bottom line was that the conference administration imposed its will.

Several of the pastors interviewed have spent twenty or more years in the Conference and have participated in previous evangelistic campaigns. George Vandeman conducted a reasonably successful evangelistic series at the LA Sports Arena. On the other hand, the Carter Report Shrine Auditorium meetings were a fiasco. These pastors reported that the cLAim project is similar in scope and planning to that failed campaign.

cLAim: Major Concerns

Several pastors are aware of a study that Jim Park did for his Doctoral thesis at Fuller Seminary in which he examined the effect of the It Is Written Buena Park Satellite evangelistic program. They wondered if those who planned the Claim LA project read Jim’s thesis.

One pastor expressed the view that perhaps God would have led a different way if a wider group had been consulted. He had experienced previous citywide evangelist programs. In his opinion, these meetings had never benefited local churches. Local church evangelism was far more effective. He also noted that creative strategies for the use of satellite communication were not considered. It seemed to him that it was going to be a big event that attracted mostly SDAs.

Another pastor commented, “Whoever was doing the sales pitch made it sound really good, and the President didn’t think through the implications before signing on the dotted line. And so we’re in it for more than a million dollars.” Pastors are happy that the money comes from an extra-ordinary tithe donation and not from the Conference budget!

Conference Vice President James Lee apologized for not having involved pastors in planning. Consequently, it should be no surprise that pastors and parishioners feel “out of the loop”. Another pastor commented, “Shouldn’t there be a sign-off with the pastors on such a large project as this is?” Another said, “The fear is we haven’t learned anything from our past failures. We keep doing these things over and over again.”

“Here’s how I look at it,” responded one pastor. “It’s not the way I’d have chosen to do it. It’s not the best use of the money.” This pastor argued that regional evangelism only marginally benefits the churches closest to the IIW evangelistic meeting sites.

One pastor argued that Mark Finely was a more effective leader than Boonstra in that he better understood and appreciated the responsibility local pastors had to assume if an evangelistic series was to be a success.

A pastor queried, “Is the IIW staff going to sit down to learn what’s going on in the local churches? Does IIW assume that “one message fits all”? Do these people assume that we don’t know anything? If we were given the resources and support, we could bring the Gospel message to our communities in ways that are tailored to meet specific needs. Can’t we be trusted to achieve a common goal?”

cLAim: Feedback to the Conference President

Pastors were asked what they would say to Elder Caviness if he asked them for advice on the Claim LA project. Here are their responses:

“Scale back. Maybe one meeting at the Shrine Auditorium. If they select another location, that’s OK, too.”

“Next time, call in the pastors and ask what they think would be effective in our area. Each area of our city has its own culture, traditions, and needs.”

“Your team’s not with you on this one. You will be going on this alone.”

“The majority of churches will not respond. Parishioners know it won’t produce the desired results.”

“Push the pause button; it’s radical. Find out what the pastors will support.”

“Convene a symposium on evangelism to explore what pastors think will be effective where they work. Accept the pastors as trusted team members. Let them make the decision on how to spend the one million dollars and the emphasis the outreach should take.”

“Consult with the pastors who have been successful evangelists and see what they say. I’m disappointed that again administration thinks they can speak for the field.”

Pastors had numerous suggestions for how one might approach evangelism in their areas of Greater Los Angeles:

“The Conference should be divided up into smaller sections than cLAim proposes. Take the money that is allocated to the cLAim project and divide it up according the percentage of the population in each of these smaller segments. Put a couple of pastors in charge of each area and hold them accountable.”

“Pastors are the ones who know what is needed in their areas and are best equipped to address those needs. Trust them. Let the pastors use their gifts and talents to reach out for Christ. The pastors are the boots on the ground and know what will work in their areas. The Conference administrators do not have this information. The Conference administration would have limited control. This is a positive!”

“Statistics show that people come to Christ before age thirty-two. Boonstra’s meetings are addressed to the fifty-five and older. If you look at the ideal converted family from a financial viewpoint, it is two young professional wage earners with children. This is not the kind of family these meetings will attract.”

“MINISTRY magazine (July 2008) reports that 0.5% of Adventist growth in America comes from evangelism. This is what Boonstra does. More than 70% of membership growth happens because of personal evangelism. This is what pastors and church members accomplish at the local level. Why do we put so much of our resources into a method that has such a small return and so little into a method that is effective?”

“What we do every week is being discounted. Boonstra is being brought in to rectify the problem of decreasing membership. His message doesn’t support the pastors and church members that are working hard to meet the needs of everyone in their communities. Many of these people are far from God.”

“I don’t believe it is realistic to expect people to drive out of their area to attend meetings that have little relevance to them. In addition, it’s not realistic to expect people, within the context of current gas prices and rush hour traffic, to travel more than fifteen or twenty minutes from where they live.”

Pastors do not believe Boonstra’s prophetic emphasis has the attraction it once did. It does not speak to contemporary society. Several pastors expressed their concern that their neighbors might connect them with the handbills that are mailed out.

One pastor asked why it was not possible to bring the pastors together and let them be creative. According to him, the lack of convenient meeting places and city traffic demand a new approach. “Be creative,” was the plea.

“If we approach our communities with Jesus’ methods, we will work to create a model for community services. We will show God’s love by our actions. It’s time we show people what we can do for them, not what they can do for us.”

Pastors reflected on what had happened during the Carter Report. They supported the Carter Report and put everything in their churches on hold. This effort ended in such a disastrous way that those meetings had a personal, long term, negative effect. For them, trust in the church’s leadership was the issue.

cLAim: Political Dynamics

“Is Caviness trying to pastor the whole conference? Is this his role? He’s designed a master plan.”

Pastors brought up what they term the political dynamics associated with evangelistic meetings. How a pastor cooperates with and supports the evangelistic effort becomes a mark of his/her loyalty.

One pastor expressed his concern that those who critique evangelistic efforts are branded as foes. “I care about people, and I want people to come into God’s kingdom and be God’s people. I have no desire to tear down the Adventist Church. But if I’m not on the band wagon, then I’m labeled as uninterested in evangelism.”

There seems to be a carrot associated with cLAim. Conference VP James Lee is understood to have announced that some $109,000 is available to churches in LA Metro Region that “support” the project. To get the money, the pastor must have this “support” approved by Lee and the Region Director. (One pastor noted that if the money were available only to those who are willing to bow and scrape, he would not participate.)


cLAim: Personal Reflections

When I reflect on these extended conversations with pastors in Southern California Conference, I am led to several conclusions:

First, not one person used the phrase “Claim LA.” It was always, “The Boonstra meetings.” This leads me to conclude that this evangelistic campaign is off to a bad start.

Second, the pastors appreciate what Elder Caviness has done for the SCC. They like him as a person and respect him as an administrator. He has a reservoir of good will that he can draw upon. He can use this good will to turn the cLAim project into something that has a higher potential for acceptance and success.

Third, most of the pastors recognize that cLAim is a done deal. Conference decision-making practices are an ongoing concern.

Fourth, pastors have not bought into the cLAim product. Consequently, the challenge for administrators is to talk to their sales force. Listen to what each person says. Invite these talented and dedicated ministers to help them. They may be surprised at the result.

cLAim: Summary

The pastors in the Greater LA area support evangelism and want to see new people join their churches. Their concern is that any evangelistic program that has a lasting benefit will be based on meeting the needs of the community where their churches are based.

Pastors desire and value an opportunity to have input into whatever is done in their community. They believe it is important to broaden the dialogue to include the resources, creativity and diversity of gifts and people that are part of every church.

They also are committed to present a message that is centered on Jesus’ love for people and promotes a grace-centered gospel that awakes hope and offers assurance of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

There is concern that traditional evangelists center their messages more on prophetic topics and doctrine than on the Gospel. Until there is credible evidence to the contrary, this concern will continue to be a barrier that divides traditional evangelists and pastors. Boonstra is considered to be a traditionalist.


cLAim: Reporter’s Note

To date, neither Larry Caviness, President of the Southern California Conference, nor James Lee, Director of the Southern California Evangelistic Department, has responded to my phone calls and/or the following email letter in which I invited James Lee to verify the facts and respond to the comments that follow.

Dear Mr. Lee,
Larry Caviness directed my inquiry to you. My name is Andy Hanson. I am gathering information about the cLAim evangelistic effort for an article that will appear in the November/December Adventist Today magazine. My reporting will undoubtedly lack balance and a degree of factual content if I don’t make official contact with you, either by phone or email. Your response to the following questions is requested.

You may decide that sufficient information is available on the SCC website. You might prefer a phone interview, you may decide to simply answer any or all of the following questions by return email, or you may wish to write a general response. Whatever you decide, my submission deadline is Monday, September 29.


Who initiated the idea of the evangelistic series?

How did the SCC decide that the time was right for cLAim ?

Are you the man primarily responsible for planning and organizing the cLAim campaign?

Why was Boonstra’s It Is Written evangelistic team selected to lead the evangelistic series?

Jim Park did an extensive longitudinal study of the It Is Written evangelistic meetings in La Habra. Have you read his report?

One of the concerns of pastors is that Boonstra emphasizes prophecy and doctrine rather than a broader gospel message. Is this a concern?

Are 500,000 television sets tuned in to IIW, in LA and Ventura Counties, or is this the number of possible viewers?

Billy Graham held his crusades at the invitation of the pastors and churches in a given area. After the invitation was extended, the Billy Graham organization required that a specific percentage of churches and pastors in the area pledge their cooperation. Was a similar process followed for the Boonstra cLAim meetings?

It has been reported that pastors feel blind-sided by the Claim LA project. The blogs report that the pastors were not consulted nor were they part of the planning sessions. It appears that pastors do not feel in the loop. Have you sensed this at all? What has been done to make pastors and local congregations feel involved in decision-making?

Have your Evangelistic Countdown goals been met up to and including the August 15, ’08 deadline?

How is cLAim being funded?

There has been considerable comment on blogs and in other forms about the cost for the cLAim project. Some suggest that the money might have been better spent if it were directed to the local churches that have a long-term presence in the community. How do you respond to this suggestion?

What is your response to those who say that cLAim is not directed toward the needs of the various communities within Greater LA? A “one-size fits all” approach has been shown to have significant weakness.

What are the cLAim evangelistic goals? When and how will you know they have been reached?


  1. "If your concept of evangelism involves "mega dollars," a "star speaker" and a "dip and drop" attitude toward new believers, you need to update your definition, says Pastor Mark Finley, a vice president for the world Seventh-day Adventist Church..."

    I thought only Conference Administrators in my Country (Mexico) never read Adventist News Network. They keep using this "evangelistic method" time and time again, (with the same lame results)

  2. It is very frustrating to me that things like this continue to happen. Do they take our time and money for granted? Do they assume it belongs to them? Or do they assume that they deliver to us the will of God? God forgive them.

    I am also disturbed by the implication that it would have been okay if the pastors had been in on it. What about the church members who worked for the money all of them are spending? And on a practical level, most pastors I know spend little to no time with people who don't already go to church. So why remove from the process the only people who know personally those who are trying to be reached?

    I thought that to be a leader was to be a servant. I don't see any serving going on from the conference leadership. I see an expectation that they be served. And are the pastors really better? They are angry that the conference is not including them in the planning process. Would they include the church members they serve? I believe that some of them would and some would not. Again, disturbing.

    And I am told that it is a spiritual thing to support this system where I am denied a voice.