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Longer, Larger and Souped-Up, Christians' Harvest Crusade Ends

Events: The annual revival at Edison Field, expanded to five days, reflects a modern-day appeal to the faithful.

July 09, 2001|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tim Branson said he came to Sunday's Harvest Crusade to hear Pastor Greg Laurie. His daughter, Ashley, 15, said she came because it's cool to see so many other Christians.

The Bransons, who drove to Edison International Field from their Moreno Valley home, were among more than 30,000 people who attended the fifth and final night of Laurie's Harvest Crusade, a rock-laden Christian revival.

The 12th annual crusade had nearly 160,000 admissions overall during a five-day run, easily surpassing last year's total of 125,000, a spokeswoman said.

Organizers attributed the increase to an added two days for the traditionally three-day run, and new events such as a children's night, and a car and motorcycle show.

Headlining Sunday's concert were Christian country singer Jennifer Knap and pop singer Crystal Lewis.

The event is run like a regular concert, with churches staffing booths selling crusade T-shirts and other memorabilia. Before the show, about 20 church volunteers at one sales booth joined hands, bowed their heads and prayed.

Three Harvest Crusade events are held annually across the state, with a total budget of about $780,000, said Mike Brazeal, Anaheim crusade director. About 10% comes from an estimated 1,100 churches, 40% to 50% comes from offerings at the events, and T-shirt and other merchandise sales supply the rest. Brazeal said that only the Anaheim event was expected to break even.

Laurie has been criticized for his "big show" approach, including popular bands, Internet links and a heavily promotional style. But supporters like the Bransons say he's on the right track.

"He's been trying to attract the MTV generation, and some view that as commercialism," said the father, 41, who's in the manufacturing business. "But he has to be cutting-edge because he's up against Hollywood and he is the alternative."

His daughter agreed, saying there was nothing wrong with employing music to attract a younger generation. Her friend Ruben Gonzales, 16, said he came "for the music and to hear Laurie preach."

Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, laces his lively talks with humor rather than homilies.

"Greg isn't boring," Ashley Branson said. "It's not just straight [religious] talk. That's why I like it."

Worshipers came any which way: buses, sport utility vehicles, motorcycles.

A group of Harley-Davidson bikers said the crusade also welcomed them last year. This year, organizers went further, sponsoring a motorcycle show to add diversity in the Christian ranks, said Brian Chitwood, 28, of Riverside. His custom, old-school chopper won "Best in Show" Sunday.

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