A conversation with businessman, pastor and evangelist Leo Schreven about an ad being planned for Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.
Jared Wright: For the last several months, Facebook users have been seeing targeted ads inviting them to support a Super Bowl commercial affirming Saturday as the biblical Sabbath. What’s the story behind this initiative?
Leo Schreven: We have an amazing staff of really talented people who get together a couple times a year to brainstorm how to reach the whole world in the most effective way, in the shortest amount of time, using modern technology. The idea of the Super Bowl came out of these sessions. You have an audience of 106 million people in one place. It is the only program in the world where people watch the commercials more than the game. It is super efficient costing only 3 cents per person. Our staff loves to think out of the box and this was pretty much a no brainer way to reach the masses. We have run tests using our website, www.goallpower.com to see what percentage of people go through the whole seminar online, and what percentage become baptized members. A very conservative number shows this ad will produce 3.1 million baptisms in nine months after the Superbowl. These are not numbers picked out of the sky. We have looked at everything, - what percentage of people will see the ad, what percentage will go to the website, what percentage will go through all the seminars online, what percentage will become aware in the forty-five days following the Superbowl, etc. If our very conservative estimate comes true, then the cost will be .82 cents per person baptized. When you compare that to the NAD average of over $1,300 per soul through traditional evangelism, then the benefits are obvious. That is why we are so excited about it.
JW: The target number of petition signers listed on the website, 144,000, is significant to most Adventists. Why this number?
LS: The actual number is 140,000, but we played it up to 144,000 because we knew Sabbath keepers could remember that easier. 140,000 signatures is a number that we can show the NFL we have strong support. This gives a non profit a price break and makes approval of the ad easier. We have much more than 9,400 signatures (displayed on the website). That is just what has come on the website in the last few months through Facebook. With our mail list and other sources we are well on our way to the 140,000 signatures needed.
JW: If the ad were to air on television, beyond generating buzz at the water cooler, what would you want it to achieve?
LS: We have put a lot of thought into this. The ad has two purposes. First to compel the viewer to go to the website. We are creating a website where the same "Jesus" in the ad does a 4 part series on the law, law and grace, the Sabbath, and then the change of the Sabbath. Secondly, the viewer will be invited to continue to watch the rest of the series online to hear the full message of truth. Our research shows however that the real effect of the commercial will come in the forty-five days after the Super Bowl. The ad will circulate world wide and we want it to stir up as much conversation as possible. We know we will be deluged with TV, Radio, and other media interviews. We also know there will be huge opposition from the Protestant community which will only fuel the people to go to the website to see what it is all about. So the main thing we want to achieve is lighten the earth with an issue that will spark a revolution of people discovering the truth of the Bible that will set them free.
JW: Even if this Super Bowl ad garners the support and money needed to go forward, the screening process for Super Bowl ads is rigorous. Media outlets have reported that FOX Sports, who is providing coverage of Super Bowl XLV, rejected an ad featuring John 3:16. Given its somewhat controversial and clearly religious bent, how do you plan to get this ad on TV?
LS: We have put a lot of thought into that as well. The ad had to be written in such a way as to overcome this problem. So, if you read the script we have online, you will see the punch line of the ad has the main guy looking at Jesus saying, "Well, if Saturday is the day of rest and worship, what is Sunday for?" That is where Jesus smiles real big, sits down on the couch with the guys, puts his arms around them and says, "Sunday is for football!" - The NFL just loves that for obvious reasons. They want all the Sunday keepers to watch football, not go to church. So, we are working on this, and we are actually going to invite everyone to help us. This coming week we are launching a $5,000 prize for whoever comes up with the best ad on their own. We know there is a lot of talent out there with our young people and they will come up with things we have not thought of. If any of the readers are interested in how they can participate in this, they can go to our website to learn more.
JW: Do you have alternate plans for this project if the ad cannot be televised?
LS: We do have a back up plan if something happens. As everyone knows, the commercial craze after the Super Bowl online is insane. So, my tech guys have figured out how we can purchase the #1 spot on all the search engines to make our ad come up first, even though it did not run on the official game. We have ways we can spread this viral and still reach a massive audience. But, we don't want to even think about that right now. God has opened dozens of doors so far, and we believe we are going to score a touchdown to God's glory.
JW: Because this is going to be a massive outreach endeavor that will ostensibly be connected with the Adventist Church, to what extent has this initiative sought out and received the endorsement of church leaders?
LS: We sent a letter to all the conference presidents, union presidents, and North American Division president in June informing them of what we are doing and asking for their input. Adventist-laymen's Services and Industries (ASI) recently contacted me and said there was a lot of shuffling going on in June at the General Conference and some missed the letter, so they requested we send the letter again. So we sent it to ASI to distribute as they requested. We have received very strong support from pastors, and a number of conference presidents. I have heard nothing from the unions, NAD or GC so far. Our position is that we welcome all input, and value the counsel of others to help us be as effective as we can be. So the specific answer is that we have heard nothing from the church leaders in Union, Division, or GC, even though we have invited their input in two separate letters. We have had encouraging feedback from a number of conference leaders, and from at least 130 pastors who are delighted with what we are doing.
JW: Your own story, which you’ve shared publicly, includes a fairly dramatic conversion experience from atheism, and a rapid transition to ministry bypassing college. How does your story influence the work you do today?
LS: My background is one I am thankful for because even though I am an ordained minister and have worked in the church for 28 years, I'm also a businessman and work broadly in the corporate community. So we think differently. We operate differently. I personally have a very hard time with the current structure of the church. Notice I did not say, "message," I said, "structure." The message of truth does not change, but the methodology to spread the truth has to change. The church structure today is killing the ability to get the message out in North America. We have five levels of bureaucratic insanity whose whole focus is to preserve the Institution at all cost while the mission is secondary.
The All Power Ministry is a supportive ministry of the church. In the last two years I have worked in thirty-nine conferences and five world divisions. I'm close to many of the leaders and pastors and I deeply appreciate them. But we all see a need for change. So, at All Power we think out of the box. We think big. We hate status quo. We despise church politics. We see a world of near seven billion people who need to be reached. So we are doing things no one else is. This raises some eyebrows and makes a few of the politicians in high places squirm in their britches, but, no one can argue with our success and the millions we are reaching through the All Power Ministry.
We run a world wide ministry with offices in the USA, Germany, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. But we don't have a single building. Why? Because in the 21st Century you don't need buildings. I know hundreds of billion dollar companies that are run from homes. Let me give an example. Recently a million dollars of tithe paying members money was spent to build a new North Pacific Union office. The tax, heat, lights, Insurance, and maintenance expense is enormous, all paid compliments of the members who are told by the same Union leaders there is no money for evangelism or a full time pastor! I think that is pure insanity. On the other side, we select high quality people, and we show them how to run the business or ministry from their homes. They end up with a home business, get all the tax breaks, and save money. We operate at near 100% efficiency so God's money is used for what it was given for--winning souls. That is just one example of many I could give, but the bottom line is, my work is influenced by a practical, business approach that gives us a huge advantage over the church structure. That is why people love to support us and what we do. Who wants to support an antiquated Union that is working in a 1800s model and does basically nothing when people can support something that is producing amazing results for 1/100th of the cost? It is a no brainer for the average Adventist.
JW: Your outreach efforts can be characterized as mass evangelism campaigns. Some critics of mass evangelism point out that while it can be effective at drawing large crowds and garnering baptisms, it is less beneficial when it comes to retaining church members or helping new converts live out the life of the Kingdom of Heaven. As a pastor and evangelist, how do you respond to such critiques?
LS: The critiques are legitimate. Having done evangelism for twenty-eight years now I can tell you it is the #1 concern we have. The problem is one of structure in my opinion. How can a poor pastor who is pastoring three churches a hundred miles apart ever begin to build a functional congregation? How can he properly nurture and disciple a group of new believers? Especially when his churches are a hundred miles apart.
Why do we have this problem? It is a lack of money. Why do we have a lack of money? Because we have a church structure five levels deep that eats up the majority of tithes and offerings. Congregations left to themselves without strong leadership become stagnant, the focus turns inward, and soon they begin to divide on issues, and become toxic environments to bring new souls into. Until the church is willing to downsize by at least 75% in North America, and put the money back into the local churches with adequate pastors and money to fund outreach ministries, the church will continue its downward spiral and become less and less able to retain and disciple new members.
We are keenly aware of this. So this fall we are launching a new program called, "The Evolution of Revolution" that will specifically provide a solution to this problem. We anticipate over 3 million baptisms within nine months of running the Superbowl commercial, and we are keen to keep these new people and turn them into strong disciples of Christ.
JW: In an interview with David Gibbons for InFocus Christian News, you said of the work you do, “It’s a drug; you can’t get off of it.” “I love it, I’m addicted to it, and I’ll do it til the day I die.” What is it about the work you do that you find so addictive?
LS: I love to see people's lives change 180 degrees. I love to see habits broken and people set free. I love to see that ray of hope spring up in the faces of people. I love to see people get saved. This work is for eternity man! It's like the other day I was in Dubai. On the opening morning three families came up to me and said they had watched all our seminars online and had been recently baptized. We get thousands of emails every week from people around the world with similar testimonies. We serve a big God who says he will bless us above all people on this earth. A God who said you are the head and not the tail. A God who came to give us abundant life. A God who is looking for people who so follow his word and principles that the people of the world will look at them and say, "Wow! Does it ever pay to be a Christian!"
Update: Schreven and the All Power Ministry team announce a Sabbath Reminder Commercial Challenge contest to create the Super Bowl ad. The winner will receive $5,000 according to the contest website.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2926