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Op-Ed: Defeating the “Elijah Complex” in 1978. A Retrospective by Joe Battaglia of Renaissance Communications

In the rocky years of 1978-1979 several things worked together to create a sense of renewed possibilities for church growth.

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Evangelical Protestants & Catholics rallied in 1978

In the rocky years of 1978-1979 life started to come back to the Christian church in the New York area. Several things worked together to create a sense of renewed possibilities for church growth.

Campus Crusade's Here's Life evangelistic campaign which was launched in Manhattan in 1976 helped to create a shared identity among believers in the New York area. Those early missionaries, who were led by Ted Gandy and Glen Kleinknecht, did much to bring believers out of their defensive shelters, help poor churches obtain resources, build fellowships among people who didn’t know of each other's ministries, and bring awareness in the city that the church still existed. In helping each other Christians galvanized themselves for action and created a more suitable climate for church growth.

Another element to the growth of the church was the Jesus '78 and Jesus '79 rallies that brought together the evangelical and Catholic charismatic groups. Spearheaded predominately by Dan Malachuk of Logos International and Father Ferry of the People of Hope Catholic charismatic community, these two major rallies in high profile venues allowed believers for the first time in ages (maybe since the historic Graham rally in Madison Square Garden in 1957) to come together and share a common spiritual experience.

All these opportunities helped to defeat what I call the "Elijah  Complex" in which Christians had come to believe that in New York City they were all alone. They discovered that there was yet a remnant of the faithful in the city on which to build for the future. Christians could see parallels between their situation and the situation in ancient times of the lonely and scared Hebrew prophet Elijah. God had picturesquely assured Elijah that there were still "7000 who had not bowed to Baal," a popular deity of his particularly cruel and cold society. The situation in New York City in the 1970s was grim, but the Christians began to see that it wasn’t hopeless.

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In that regard Paul Moore's vision of establishing The Lambs Church of the Nazarene in 1975 helped breathe life into an otherwise invisible church community in Manhattan. Though not large in numbers, the Lamb's contributed a spirit of youthful optimism and vision for their work with the down and out in the Times Square area.

Jim and Carol Cymbala’s revival of Brooklyn Tabernacle helped to bring a fresh vision for going into the most broken down churches in the worst areas of New York and seeing God rekindle a passion for God and our fellow New Yorkers.

In all that mix, I like to believe that our work in helping to launch media such as my magazine Alternatives and radio stations WWDJ in 1974 and WLIX in 1976 helped to bring an awareness of the Body of Christ to a large number of disparate believers in the metro area and Long Island.

Taken together, all these efforts helped to awaken the sleeping giant!

Some of the rocks were taken out the barren fields of NYC so that new initiatives could flourish. Mac Pier and David Bryant cultivated prayer through Concerts of Prayer, David Wilkerson re-established a presence in Times Square, the Presbyterian Church helped Tim Keller to plant a church, and a host of other fields opened up.


Joe Battaglia has been a fixture in Christian media in the NYC area for decades. He is now president of Renaissance Communications, a media consulting firm. Battaglia’s company created the first live, national radio broadcast of the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards, the broadcast model for "Christmas With Compassion" for children and the first live, national radio broadcast for a VeggieTales© national release. He also serves on the board of the Walter Hoving Home.

Today's growing evangelical church is an accumulated institutionalization of ministry since 1978. Last July, Reverend Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, founded in 1989, talked about the rationale for Campus Crusade's Here's Life Inner City, founded in 1983 to help the poor, which grew out of the evangelistic campaign Here's Life in 1976.



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Next: Part 7: The Making of the Postsecular City. The Manhattan Evangelicals in the year 2000: a new era

  • Journey!

  • Love it

  • I like the idea of the Elijah Complex. Did Joe come up with it at the time or is it a reflection afterwards?

    By the way the "Elijah complex" is used in psychology to mean a type of depression.

  • Thanks for this interesting update and thanks for all you are doing.

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