When a ministry in Dixie County called Crusades for Christ contacted local church leaders a few months ago and asked if they would host an old-fashioned tent revival — at the ministry's expense — the idea was certainly appealing.
It was also difficult to believe.
Joe Santerelli, pastor at Hillside Community Baptist Church, was asked to check it out.
"I met with them and shared my concerns," Santerelli said. "I told them when other pastors hear this, they will ask how much it costs and when you say 'nothing,' they will say, 'This sounds too good to be true.' "
But it was true.
What Santerelli learned at that meeting was that the ministry, based in Old Town, would supply a 100- by 200-foot tent, 2,500 folding chairs, a stage, lighting, multimedia equipment and sound equipment — everything needed to conduct a revival, including a smaller tent to be used for counseling.
Crusades for Christ's nondenominational evangelistic team, including evangelist Bill Bozeman and worship leader Gary Thomlinson, would conduct the services. They would pay for the advertising.
The churches' part would be to supply the personnel to make it happen.
"We wanted to make sure their doctrine and views were legitimate, so we had several meetings with them," Santerelli said. "After we felt comfortable, we opened it up to other churches, and they have really taken the lead."
In fact, Santerelli said, they contacted the county ministerial associations and every church in the phone directory.
Three planning meetings have been held, with about 50 representatives from more than a dozen churches in attendance at the most recent one two weeks ago.
"There is a diverse representation on heads of committees to make it all happen," Santerelli said.
Committee heads thus far include Santerelli as coordinator, Dave Steadman (Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church) for counseling, Jim Keller (Spring Hill Fellowship Community Church) for parking/security, Bob Gant (First Baptist of Masaryktown) for ushers, Joe Heidler (Turning Point Church of the Nazarene) for set-up/teardown, Matt Ellis (First Baptist of Brooksville) for prayer, Sherral Grossi (Springs of Life Family Church) for music and Carl Brown (Community Bible Church) for advertising.
The committee recently arranged for the use of a parcel of land that would be convenient to both sides of the county, across from Brooksville Regional Hospital, and have set dates for the event for Sept. 26-30. Times will be determined later.
Two weeks prior to the Hernando County event, Crusades for Christ will conduct a tent revival in Lecanto.
The founder of the ministry, Joe H. Anderson Jr., owner of one of the largest road construction companies in the Southeast, Anderson Columbia, attended revival services in a tent in Lecanto 10 years ago.
"He came every night, and his son later got saved at a tent revival," Santerelli said, explaining Anderson's reason for starting the ministry. "He wanted to do something that the Lord laid on his heart. He just wants to be no burden on the local church and have the churches work together and proclaim Christ."
Carlos Perez, chaplain for Anderson Columbia, said the revival in Lecanto will be the first one for the ministry.
"The one in Brooksville will be No. 2," he said.
Ellis, who introduced the idea of the revival to the Brooksville Ministerial Association, said when he first heard about the proposal, something resonated in his heart.
"In so many of our churches it's about religion and not about the relationship that God meant it to be," Ellis said. "Unfortunately, quite a few people in the pew have kind of forgotten what we're here for. So we're praying that with this crusade, God would be pleased to give us the ability to genuinely repent, if there's an attitude or sins that are blocking his blessing us, and then have an attitude of obedience and surrendering ourselves to him — and getting back to what Christianity is all about."
Ellis hopes the crusade and its planning meetings will speak to all denominations.
Brown, who set up a website about the event at 2010revival.org, shares that hope.
"I'm excited that the event will be nondenominational and hopefully will involve dozens of churches," he said. "I believe this is a God thing. This ministry has a burden that the church needs revived. There are people out there who don't know Christ and are lost and just floundering in life. But it's also to revive the Christians in the church."
The details of special services for youths and other events are still in the planning stage. But the basic plan is to have a joint community choir, lots of music, preaching and an invitation, Santerelli said.
"It's going to be very evangelical, very Christ-centered," he said.
An offering will be taken each night to help further the ministry and so that it can recoup some of the expenses.
Santerelli hopes the revival will be similar to ones in the United States during the 1700s and 1800s.
"When the old revivals came up during the First and Second Great Awakenings, bars closed and churches opened. That should be the result we see — a changing community," he said. "Then you know the spirit of God has worked among you."