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Bethel Church (Redding, California)

Church in California, United States

Bethel Church is an American non-denominationalneo-charismaticmegachurch in Redding, California with over 11,000 members.[2] The church was established in 1952 and is currently led by Bill Johnson. Bethel has its own music labels and Bethel Music and Jesus Culture ministries, which have gained large popularity within contemporary worship music. The church runs the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry with over 2,000 students annually. Senior church leaders have been supporters of conservative politics.[3]

Senior leaders[edit]

Beliefs and practices[edit]

Bethel Church focuses on miracles. It teaches that all miracles described in the Bible can be performed by believers today and happen regularly, including faith healing of everything from curing cancer to regrowing limbs, raising the dead, speaking in tongues, casting out demons and prophecy.[5][2][6] Services may have congregants laughing uncontrollably, lying on the floor,[7] shaking, staggering, screaming,[5] and dancing, which they teach are signs of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Leaders claim to have witnessed angels appearing and "balls of electricity" that throw people into the air.[5]

One of the most well-known phenomena is a cloud of what is claimed to be gold dust or gold glitter that has been seen falling from the roof of the auditorium.[5] The church has uploaded videos to its YouTube channel, calling it a "glory cloud".[8]

Many, like Gary Hal Graff[9] feel that Bethel-produced book, The Physics of Heaven, is out of line with the teachings of scripture.[9] One Bethel leader (Kris Vallotton) says it is "a foretaste of things to come".[10] The book also states, "It wasn't that I wanted to become a New Ager. I just wanted to find out if maybe they had discovered some truths the churches hadn't."[11]

Senior pastor Bill Johnson is referred to as an apostle by his followers.[5][12] Some, including sociology professor Brad Christerson at Biola University and Richard Flory, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, have identified the church and Johnson as part of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), or Independent Network Charismatic Christianity.[12][5] The NAR is an evangelical movement that seeks to take over "seven mountains of culture", including business, government, and media, to prompt the return of Jesus.[13] Bill Johnson himself however, has stated in an interview with Christianity Today that the church has no official ties with the movement, and that he is "not completely clear on what it is."[2]


Early history and path to non-denominationalism[edit]

Robert Doherty began the church in 1952 and the congregation was an affiliate of the Assemblies of God beginning in 1954.[2] In February 1996, the congregation invited Bill Johnson from Weaverville, California, to lead the church. Johnson, the son of former pastor Earl Johnson, only had one stipulation before he was voted in: that the message would always be about revival, with an emphasis on God's supernatural presence,[14][2] which the leadership unanimously approved.[14] One year prior to joining Bethel in 1995, Johnson visited the revival meetings of the Toronto Blessing where he made the promise to God that he would make "the outpouring of the Holy Spirit" the sole purpose of his existence, a focus which he brought to Bethel Church.[15] The church lost 1,000 members over Johnson's vision after he joined, but has since seen considerable growth. Bethel had 8,684 attendees a week as of 2016,[2] and 11,233 people who "call Bethel Redding home" as of its annual report in 2018.[1]

In November 2005, the membership of Bethel Church voted unanimously to withdraw the church's affiliation with the Assemblies of God and become a non-denominational church. However, the Assemblies of God's bylaws required Bethel to invite the leadership of the Northern California-Nevada District to speak to the congregation. On January 15, 2006, Bethel's membership voted to rescind the withdrawal and invited the district leadership to Redding. The district leadership met with the congregation on January 17, but the result was a near-unanimous vote to withdraw. In a letter, Johnson points out that this action was "...not a reaction to conflict but a response to a call... we feel called to create a network that helps other networks thrive – to be one of many ongoing catalysts in this continuing revival. Our call feels unique enough theologically and practically from the call on the Assemblies of God that this change is appropriate."[16]

Prayer for resurrection[edit]

Bethel Church gained national press coverage in December 2019 over a campaign to pray for the resurrection of a worship leader's deceased two-year-old daughter.[17][18] The mother, Kalley Heiligenthal, a recording artist with Bethel Music and worship leader at the church, posted to Instagram asking for her large social media following to pray that her daughter Olive Alayne would be raised from the dead. This spawned a global hashtag with thousands of posts.[19][18] The church hosted a prayer service for the cause, where the young adult pastor at Bethel led a prayer.[19] In a public statement, the church said that physical resurrection was possible in modern times[20] and in a video addressing critics, senior pastor Bill Johnson said that there was a biblical precedent for this belief,[19] and that Jesus commanded his disciples to raise the dead.[17] The prayer efforts concluded six days after the passing, when the church put out a press release that the family would transition towards a memorial service.[21][22] During the prayer efforts, a GoFundMe page was set up that raised over $74,500 as of January 2020.[23] Two researchers, Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, professor of religious studies at Azusa Pacific University,[18] and Richard Flory, senior director of research at the University of Southern California,[17] were quoted saying that these events were more common among African charismatics and Pentecostals, than their American counterparts,[17][18] with Sánchez-Walsh saying she was surprised by it.[18]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

In 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, Bethel Church closed the healing rooms and moved healing operations of 700 people online.[24] The church also suspended faith healings at hospitals.[25] The church's official position was to follow the recommendations of health officials, and that "wisdom, modern medicine, and faith are meant to work together",[25] but the church simultaneously upheld belief in God's ability to heal supernaturally.[24] Some in the church community held differing views. Kevin Dedmon, a longtime teacher of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry stated that "there is no way this thing can live in the presence of God", and "we declare no fear and we declare healing in Jesus' name."[24] Later in the year, Chuck Parry, the director of Bethel's healing rooms claimed that numerous people were healed from COVID-19 through the church's remote Zoom calls, alongside other claimed miracles, such as healing cancer, blindness, and waking people up from comas.[26] By October 2020, Shasta County had the highest COVID-19 case rate in California and Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding asked its entire 1,600-person student body to self-quarantine as the number of coronavirus cases among students and staff rose to 137 since classes started a month previously.[27]

In October 2020, Bethel's senior leader Beni Johnson was criticized after posting a video in which she mocked wearing masks while shopping on the California coast, saying "If you'll do the scientific research, these masks are worthless and they're people's security blankets. We won't be shopping and giving them any money because you have to wear a stupid freaking mask that doesn't work". When asked about the video, Shasta Community Health Center CEO Dean Germano said it was disconcerting to see leaders disavowing masks. Beni Johnson later apologized for "the insensitivity and making light of this pandemic" while maintaining that she still questions the importance of a mask, but that she wears one when the situation requires it.[28][29][30]

Church ministries[edit]

College View Campus - Bethel Church Redding
College View is Bethel Redding's larger campus. Weekend services are held in the main sanctuary along with many conferences throughout the year. This campus is home to Bethel Healing Rooms, administrative offices, prayer chapel, HeBrews Coffee Shop and Bethel Bookstore.

Bethel Church has set up ministries in conjunction to the needs of its growing congregation within Redding, California.[31] These ministries span a range of different sections for public service, internal structure, and even products and brands. One of the more well known of these ministries is Bethel Music due to the popularity of its music domestically and worldwide.[32]

Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry[edit]

In the fall of 1998, Bethel Church began Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, under the direction of Kris Vallotton, Bethel's senior associate pastor. The school trains its students in the supernatural and miracles, such as faith healing, in order that they may become revivalists.[2][5] The normal program is one academic year and students have the opportunity to return for a second and third year. Approximately 15% of the students stay for the full three years.[33][2] The school was founded with 36 students,[2] and has grown to more than 2,400 students from over 70 countries in 2019.[34] They are an unaccredited program and do not offer a degree or credits but a certificate.[35] The school has gotten the nickname "Christian Hogwarts" among students because of its focus on the supernatural.[5][3]

BSSM now has more than 10,000 alumni. In 2016–17, an extensive survey on alumni was carried out by Eido Research by alumni of the program.[36] From a representative sample from all years of graduation since 1999, the survey found that 97% of graduates are still "confident in their faith", and that 90% attend a church service at least monthly. Likewise, graduates reported seeing at least 35,000 salvations since 1999, and 50,000 physical healings over the previous year.[37] The report also showed that BSSM graduates have a divorce rate that is four times lower than the American Christian average.[37]

The school's claims of prophetic and miraculous abilities came under scrutiny when the predicted resurrection of "Baby Olive," the daughter of their worship leader, did not come to pass,[38][39] and the prediction that Donald Trump would win reelection and be in office eight straight years did not occur.[40] The school also made questionable claims that the gold dust from the golden street in Heaven, the shekinah glory of God, and angel feathers, appear in services.[41]

Student activities in Redding[edit]

As a part of the student's education, they get assignments, such as to find strangers in Redding to heal. News articles report that students seek out people in wheelchairs and crutches to pray for in grocery stores and parking lots.[2][5] Reportedly, the students are banned from prophesying to tourists around the Sundial Bridge after incidents[5] and they have similarly been kicked out of local stores.[2] Another regular practice is "treasure hunts", where they believe God gives them clues that match people they are to find and attempt to heal or prophesy to.[5][42]

2008 lawsuit over attempted faith healing[edit]

In 2008 a man fell down a 200-foot (61 m) cliff in Redding after drinking with a group at the top. The two others that were with him, including one student at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, believed he was dead and tried to find him for six hours in order to raise him back to life, rather than calling 9-1-1. The man survived, but was paralyzed from the fall, and later unsuccessfully sued the student in the group.[43] The incident is often brought up as a criticism of the church's teachings, which includes that believers may raise people from the dead with prayer.[5]

Grave soaking[edit]

The school garnered criticism for a practice among some students termed "grave soaking" or "grave sucking", where they would lie on the graves of deceased revivalists in the belief that they would absorb the deceased's anointing from God. The school would visit such graves for inspiration and prayer, and there the practice developed among students from an interpretation of the Biblical story of the prophet Elisha. In the Bible, a dead man was put in the grave of Elisha, and when the man's corpse touched the dead bones of Elisha, he was revived.[44] This was interpreted to mean that the same power, or anointing, laid in the graves of later revivalists, and thus the students sought it by laying on their graves. The leadership of the church never endorsed the practice, but did not immediately shut it down.[45][2] In an interview, one of its leaders, Banning Liebscher, stated that Bill Johnson and the rest of the leadership responded in this way because Johnson "doesn't want to shut down those that are really seeking and those that are really trying to press in for more of God". At the same time, Liebscher said it was possible that revivalist's graves had the same anointing, but called the practice "weird". He further stated that he believed the criticism the church got over this, and other practices such as students attempting to walk through walls, actually stemmed from disagreements on charismatic theology.[45]

Some critics allege that Bethel leaders, including senior pastor Beni Johnson, have in fact practiced and promoted grave soaking.[2] Beni Johnson posted photos to Twitter and Instagram of herself laying atop of or hugging the graves of Christians such as C.S. Lewis. The posts were later removed. Among these critics are The Gospel Coalition and Baptist apologetics blog Pulpit & Pen.[46][47]

Bethel Music[edit]

Main article: Bethel Music

A band performing on stage
A worship service at Bethel Church

Bethel Music is an American record label and publishing company associated with Bethel Church, led by Bill Johnson's son Brian Johnson.[48] Its music was among the most played contemporary worship music in American churches in 2019[49][50] and its albums have reached the Billboard 200 multiple times.[51][2] Bethel Music has many songs with tens of millions of views on YouTube, and two with over 100 million views as of 2019.[52] The live performances of its songs are characterized by extended duration with much repetition and emotion.[5]

Jesus Culture[edit]

Main article: Jesus Culture

Bethel Church is responsible for the formation of the Jesus Culture youth outreach ministry. Jesus Culture Ministry hosts conferences and operates a record label, Jesus Culture Music, to share its message and spread worship. They remain committed to Bethel Church, but were sent out by Bethel in 2012 to plant a church in Sacramento, California.[53][54]

CHANGED Movement[edit]

The CHANGED Movement was started by Bethel pastors Elizabeth Woning and Ken Williams in 2019 for people who "once identified as LGBTQ+ and through encounters with the love of Jesus, have experienced His freedom in their lives" and is led by the Equipped to Love ministry at Bethel.[55][56] Both Woning and Williams used to identify as homosexual.[57][58] Woning claims she changed after 18 months when "the Lord was able to displace my sense of belonging as a lesbian with my sense of belonging as a daughter of God".[59] Williams credits his change to undergoing five years of weekly therapy which he claims resolved his same-sex attraction as well as addiction to masturbation and pornography.[60]

Bethel does not financially support the CHANGED Movement but does pay the salaries of the pastors, promote it, and house them in the offices of another one of Bethel's ministries. In August 2019, they received attention when Bethel promoted CHANGED through a series of Instagram posts, which was criticized by The Trevor Project and Q Christian Fellowship, among others. As a response to this criticism, Bethel Church said that "The message of CHANGED has never been ‘All Must Change’" and "For those of you who feel fulfilled and happy as you are, we love you!"[57][61]

CHANGED uses the term "once gay", and some have noted similarities with the ex-gay movement. CHANGED's slogan is "Changed Is Possible", whereas the now-defunct Exodus International had the slogan "Change is possible". The Bethel pastors behind CHANGED do not use the term "conversion therapy",[57][61] although they have spoken against legislation that would restrict or ban conversion therapy, such as the Equality Act.[62]

In June 2021, CHANGED participated in Freedom March in Washington DC, an event for "formerly LGBT-identifying people who share testimonies of how Jesus transformed their lives" which was attended by around 200 people. On that occasion CHANGED Movement spoke with congressional staffers about their concerns with the pending legislation (Equality Act).[62]

Influence on Redding[edit]

Redding is a small city in northern California with about 90,000 residents. Bethel has grown to over 10% of the Redding population and with this growth, the church's influence in the city has increased, with a mixed reception. The church has brought in many young people for the school that clean the streets and do pro bono work. Many of the students have stayed afterwards and some have started businesses. When the civic auditorium was about to close for financial reasons in 2011, the church started leasing it and put in $1 million for repairs, and now use it for the church's Supernatural school on weekdays, while still letting it host the usual events on weekends. Bethel donated $500,000 to the city of Redding's police in April 2017, and later led a campaign to raise $740,000 to fund the salary of four police officers.[2][5][3] In 2018, a direct flight from Redding to Los Angeles was opened, and Bethel Church used its business relationship with the airline as leverage and committed $450,000 to a revenue guarantee fund needed to operate the line.[63]

However, some Redding residents are worried by the influence Bethel church has on the city. One of their main worries is the belief held by Bethel, the Seven Mountains Mandate, that Christians must influence seven "mountains", including government, media, business and education, in order for Jesus to return to earth.[2][5][3] One such alleged instance of influence was the donation to the police force. The offer to donate caused controversy as some in the community thought the church was trying to pay off the city for future building permits, an assertion Pastor Kris Vallotton refuted at a city council meeting. The city ultimately voted to receive the donation.[64] Seven months after receiving the donation, Redding City Council unanimously approved a $96 million new Bethel campus, despite dozens of formally submitted citizen concerns. The city councilperson who is a member of Bethel recused herself from voting.[65] Another instance was when they advertised a seminar for public and private school teachers that mentioned "God wants to come to your school with His presence, His peace and His strategies". A group connected to the church later opened a public charter school, which, according to a teacher job ad, has a "Kingdom culture and all Bethel-connected board of directors and principal".[5]



In 2016, senior pastor Bill Johnson outlined why he voted for Donald Trump in a Facebook post, where he criticized abortion, open borders, the welfare system, same-sex marriage, socialism, political correctness, and globalization, all as contrary to God's will. His wife and senior pastor, Beni Johnson, has also supported Trump.[66]

The church continued to be supportive of Trump during his presidency. Bethel Music leaders Brian Johnson, Jenn Johnson, and Sean Feucht were among the worship leaders who visited Trump in the Oval Office, where they prayed for him and sang worship music.[67]

During the impeachment process of President Trump, senior associate leader Kris Vallotton prophesied during a sermon, 10 days before the impeachment started, that God would end the process, stating "the Lord is gonna step into the impeachment process. I mean I know it's gonna happen". He went on to say that he believed God would give Trump another term. But according to Vallotton, this was "not about politics", rather it was a prophetic word. He claimed to have prophesied that Obama would win and that he on a biblical basis loved and prayed for Obama as he said Christians are called to do for their leaders.[68]

Bethel leaders Brian Johnson, Jenn Johnson, and Kris Vallotton were among the signers of the letter from evangelical leaders critical of Christianity Today's editorial that called for Trump to be removed from office.[69]

Opposition to restrictions on conversion therapy[edit]

In 2018, the church publicly opposed three bills in the California state legislature that would have restricted conversion therapy. The church, whose position is that "same-sex sexual behavior is unhealthful",[70] believed the bills would restrict their ministry. Their opposition included a released statement, letters to legislators and encouragement of congregants to contact legislators through a sermon titled "What Would Jesus Do in a PC World?" by Kris Vallotton and tweets, also by Vallotton, that specifically addressed those that had "come out of homosexuality".[3][71] Vallotton later retracted his sermon, but stood by his opposition.[3][70]

In April 2021 Bethel's senior associate leader - Kris Vallotton - spoke against the Equality Act with Elizabeth Woning, the co-founder of the CHANGED Movement, encouraging people to contact their senators and voice their opposition to the bill.[72]

Sean Feucht for Congress[edit]

In September 2019, Bethel worship leader Sean Feucht announced he was running for Congress as a Republican on a socially conservative platform. His announcement video featured a Bethel Music song with the lyrics "We won't stop singing until the whole world looks like heaven".[73] He placed third in the March 3, 2020, non-partisan primary behind Democrat John Garamendi and Republican Tamika Hamilton.[74]

Media coverage[edit]

There have been many articles written about Bethel and its ministry, including in Christianity Today,[2]Buzzfeed News,[5]The Daily Beast, the Redding Record Searchlight,[33] and Charisma magazine.[75] The church and Bill Johnson have been featured in video segments by the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)[76][77] and the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).


  1. ^ abPierce, Annelise (May 13, 2019). "The Really Big Business of Bethel Church, Part 1: Show us the Money!". Retrieved December 23, 2019.
  2. ^ abcdefghijklmnopqrWendell Jones, Martyn (April 26, 2016). "Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church". Christianity Today. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
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  10. ^Introduction to The Physics of Heaven
  11. ^The Physics of Heaven
  12. ^ abSmietana, Bob (August 3, 2017). "The 'Prophets' and 'Apostles' Leading the Quiet Revolution in American Religion". Christianity Today. Retrieved March 2, 2020.
  13. ^"The Evangelicals Engaged in Spiritual Warfare". Fresh Air. August 19, 2011. NPR.
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  15. ^Johnson, Bill (May 24, 2010). When Heaven Invades Earth: A practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. Treasure House. p. 97. ISBN .
  16. ^Johnson, Bill. Bethel and the Assemblies of God. Bethel Church, 2006
  17. ^ abcdIati, Marisa (December 20, 2019). "After a toddler's death, a church has tried for days to resurrect her – with prayer". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  18. ^ abcde"'Come out of that grave in Jesus' name': California church prays to resurrect girl". NBC News. December 20, 2019. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  19. ^ abcGraham, Ruth (December 19, 2019). "In California, a Christian Megachurch Is Trying to Bring a 2-Year-Old Girl Back to Life". Slate. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  20. ^Arthur, Damon (December 19, 2019). "UPDATE: Bethel pastor Johnson addresses attempts to resurrect child". Redding Record Searchlight. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  21. ^Chapman, Mike (December 21, 2019). "'Olive hasn't been raised': After praying for miracle, girl's family now plans memorial". USA Today. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  22. ^"Bethel Statement on Olive Heiligenthal". Bethel Church. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  23. ^Law, Jeannie (January 3, 2020). "Bethel worship leader shares how she'll move forward in 2020 after daughter's death". The Christian Post. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  24. ^ abcBoorstein, Michelle (April 3, 2020). "Can faith healing work by phone? Charismatic Christians try prayer to combat the coronavirus". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  25. ^ abBlair, Leonardo (April 7, 2020). "Bethel Church shifts to online healing rooms, now majority of calls related to stress from coronavirus". The Christian Post. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  26. ^Parry, Chuck (September 24, 2020). "Bethel Healing Rooms Director: 'We See Supernatural Healings From COVID-19'". Charisma Magazine. Retrieved September 27, 2020.
  27. ^SFGATE, Amy Graff (October 8, 2020). "This remote county has the highest COVID-19 case rate in Calif.: Here's why". SFGate. Retrieved October 10, 2020.
  28. ^Brannon, Matt (October 16, 2020). "Bethel Church leader who posted anti-mask video apologizes after blowback". Redding Record Searchlight. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  29. ^Gecker, Jocelyn (October 15, 2020). "COVID up at California religious school; leader slams masks". AP News. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  30. ^Branson-Potts, Hailey; Chabria, Anita (November 1, 2020). "God, masks and Trump: What a coronavirus outbreak at a California church says about the election". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  31. ^Weber, Brent. "Bethel's growth and impact on Redding..." KRCR. Archived from the original on June 24, 2018. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  32. ^"Bethel Music". Billboard. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  33. ^ abWinters, Amanda. Bethel burgeons under pastor's visions of prosperity. Record Searchlight, January 16, 2010
  34. ^Parke, Caleb (September 19, 2019). "Pastor Bill Johnson on the recipe for revival, how Bethel Church exploded onto the global scene". Fox News. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  35. ^Structure. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  36. ^"Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry Alumni". Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  37. ^ abVerbi, Samuel; Winkley, Ben. "The story of BSSM alumni". Eido Research. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  38. ^Arthur, Damon (December 17, 2019). "Bethel pastor Johnson addresses attempts to resurrect child". Redding Record Searchlight. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
  39. ^Chapman, Mike (December 21, 2019). "'Olive hasn't been raised': After praying for miracle, girl's family now plans memorial". Redding Record Searchlight. USA Today. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
  40. ^Gardner, Ashley (January 11, 2021). "Bethel leader reposts apology for incorrect election prophecy". KRCR. ABC 7. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
  41. ^Sabalow, Ryan (October 16, 2020). "Northern California faith-healing megachurch leader apologizes, but still questions masks". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
  42. ^Rancano, Vanessa (June 20, 2019). "How Redding, California, Became An Unlikely Epicenter Of Modern Christian Culture". KPCC. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  43. ^Sabalow, Ryan (December 13, 2011). "Ex-Bethel student not at fault in '08 fall; judge says woman not obligated to act". Record Searchlight. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  44. ^2 Kings 13:21
  45. ^ abJustice, Jessilyn; Berglund, Taylor (2017). "Banning Liebscher: Why Bill Johnson Didn't Immediately Shut Down Grave Sucking". Charisma Magazine. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  46. ^Tan, Stephen (September 20, 2018). "At What Price Awakening? Examining the Theology and Practice of the Bethel Movement". The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  47. ^"Bethel Pastor Contradicts Bill Johnson's Narrative on the now Infamous practice of "Grave Sucking"". Pulpit & Pen. April 19, 2018. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  48. ^"About - Bethel Music". Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  49. ^Fowler, Megan (September 20, 2019). "Why Chris Tomlin Still Dominates Both Radio and Sunday Morning". Christianity Today. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
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  55. ^Who we are. CHANGED Movement. Retrieved 2021-06-25
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  58. ^Saliong, Sarah Mae. "Openly Gay Man Creates 'Believr' App for 'LGBTQ+ Christians".
  59. ^Allen, Virginia. "She Quit Homosexuality. Now, She's Helping Others Do Likewise."
  60. ^Williams, Ken (May 15, 2019). "I Felt Gay Attraction for Years and Didn't Want It. Counseling Helped Save My Life". The Daily Signal. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
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  63. ^Benda, David (October 6, 2018). "The Buzz: United Airlines and the 'Bethel effect'". Record Searchlight. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  64. ^Longoria, Sean (April 22, 2017). "Bethel, city officials defend $500,000 donation". Record Searchlight. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  65. ^Redding council backs Bethel's new campus. Record Searchlight, December 6, 2017
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  67. ^Parke, Caleb (December 11, 2019). "Pastors, worship leaders pray for Trump in Oval Office amid impeachment fight". Fox News. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
  68. ^Blair, Leonardo (December 18, 2019). "God is going to end impeachment, give Trump another term, Bethel's Kris Vallotton prophesies". The Christian Post. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
  69. ^Barnhart, Melissa (December 22, 2019). "Nearly 200 evangelical leaders slam Christianity Today for questioning their Christian witness". The Christian Post. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
  70. ^ abVallotton, Kris (April 27, 2018). "Redding's Bethel Church clarifies stance on LGBTQ+ proposed legislation". Record Searchlight. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  71. ^Sandhu, Amber (March 28, 2018). "Bethel comes out against LGBT bills pending in state Legislature". Record Searchlight. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  72. ^Vallotton, Kris (April 16, 2021). "How will the Equality Act (HR5) impact you and your family?". Retrieved June 25, 2021.
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  77. ^Miracles Outside the Church Walls. Christian Broadcasting Network, April 7, 2011

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°36′35″N122°21′29″W / 40.60972°N 122.35806°W / 40.60972; -122.35806


In summary

Some residents, saying Bethel Church’s civic influence threatens the city’s integrity, hand out “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” stickers.

God brought Golibé Omenaka to Northern California. The journey started in Manchester, England, when he encountered the teachings of a Redding-based megachurch called Bethel, and took off when a friend prophesied that God had called Omenaka to Bethel.

Specifically, God called Omenaka to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, where the 24-year-old would undertake a spiritual transformation and be trained in miraculous healing.

In the two decades since the School of Supernatural Ministry’s founding, more than 10,000 people from around the world have made the same pilgrimage, turning Redding into an unlikely global epicenter of Christian culture.

Today, walking around this former logging town of 90,000 residents, you can meet people from a dozen countries in a day. This year, the school graduated 2,500 students, representing more than 70 countries; the youngest was 18, the oldest 85.

It was founded by a fifth-generation pastor, Bill Johnson, who heads up local Bethel Church, and started with a few dozen local students. Today the school enrolls more international vocational students than any other school in the country, by far, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data. In 2017, Bethel had 1,792 international students enrolled. The institution with the next highest enrollment was Dean International, a flight-training school in Florida, with 888 international vocational students.

“We are a supernatural school. We believe that healing is for today,” says Leslie Crandall, who oversees first-year students.

Students are taught that God is actively at work in the world, and miracles did not die with Jesus; they’re taught that God can manifest his healing power through their prayers, according to students and leaders. “We believe that God is still speaking, and he can speak to his kids and he does,” Crandall says.

When Omenaka first encountered Bethel’s teachings back in England, he balked. “My internal response was this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life,” he says.

A leader at his church in Manchester wanted him to go on something called a “treasure hunt,” a practice originated by Bethel. He was meant to search the streets of his city for people in need of healing. Guided by impressions from God, he would find strangers to pray for and, ideally, heal.

YouTube is full of treasure hunters—small groups, usually of young people, wandering the streets, airports and malls of the world asking to place their hands on strangers—a Redding-born practice exported around the globe.

Omenaka grew up religious, still, the idea of modern-day miracles didn’t sit well with him at first. “I was afraid, to be honest,” he says.

Bethel students between classes outside Redding Civic Auditorium, which a Bethel-connected nonprofit manages for the city. Photo by Sean Havey

But as he opened himself to the unfamiliar teachings, something shifted in him. “When you pray for a complete stranger on the streets, and they get healed of a leg injury, and they say, ‘What the heck have you done to me?’ that kind of changes the way you look at things.”

It changed things so much that Omenaka enrolled at the School of Supernatural Ministry. After eight years, he’s still in Redding. He met his wife here, and they have two kids. Now, he’s a pastor at the school.

Omenaka’s story is typical of students here. For most, it’s a far-flung brush with Bethel that draws them to Redding.

Bethel’s influence goes far beyond its megachuch of 11,000 members and school with international pull. Bethel music is played around the world, and its studios have produced a handful of Billboard 200 hits the last decade.

Then there’s Bethel.TV, a subscription service that streams church services, e-courses and original shows produced by Bethel. Bethel’s weekly podcast has 20 million downloads a year; there are dozens of books written by Bethel leaders; several conferences each year, centered on everything from music to medicine, bring more than 25,000 people to Redding. There’s also Bethel’s tech school, K-8 school and art school, and its international leadership network, Global Legacy, created by a former top-level British prison executive.

“It represents a new form of Christianity that could reshape the global religious landscape for years to come,” write sociologists Richard Flory and Brad Christerson in “The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape.” Bethel and other neo-Charismatic powerhouses like it are untethered to traditional church structures or denominations. They’re savvy digital marketers who leverage the power of electronic communication to expand their reach, according to Flory and Christerson.

For those who flock to the School of Supernatural Ministry, proximity to Bethel’s vaunted spiritual leaders, Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton, and the promise of direct access to the supernatural are a powerful draw. But many stay for the sense of community or spiritual growth.

“I came here thinking I will grow in my prophetic, I will do all kinds of miracles,” says Henk Van Diest. He and his wife sold their house in the Netherlands and moved their family to Redding to attend the school.

He enrolled for two years and spent three years working in Bethel’s healing rooms, where people receive prayer. “I saw so many miracles,” he says, “but in the end, my relationship with God is the most important thing. It became more about my identity.”

The School of Supernatural Ministry is not accredited and doesn’t confer degrees, but each year thousands of students pay the $5,250 tuition for an unconventional religious education. The school is less about studying religion than living it in the world.

“It’s not only head knowledge, like rational,” Van Diest says. “It felt sometimes like open-heart surgery.” He and his wife plan to stay in Redding for a fourth year and are preparing to sell their real estate business in the Netherlands.

Flory, the director of research at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California, speculates that’s partly why, while religion is in decline, especially among younger people, this expression of neo-Charismatic Christianity — Charismatic meaning emphasizing miracles and manifestations of the Holy Spirit — is one of, if not the, fastest-growing forms of Christianity in this country and the world.

California is home to two of the world’s most prominent examples: Harvest International Ministry (HRock Church), based in Pasadena, and Bethel.

“California is not the only incubator of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity,” says Flory, “but it is one of the most important. There’s less religious infrastructure that tells you what you can and can’t do here.”

In general, Flory says, Pentecostalism is associated with specific denominations like the Assemblies of God, while Charismatic tends to refer to a more independent form of Pentecostal Christianity that exists beyond traditional denominational bounds. But both emphasize miracles, prophecy and other gifts of the Spirit.

In the popular imagination California may not be a particularly religious place, but there are more than 200 megachurches here (churches with regular attendance of more than 2,000 people), more than in any other state. Pentecostalism itself was born here. “California has, for everybody, been a land of opportunity, not just liberal hippie types,” Flory says.

Ultimately, Bethel wants to be more than a school with international pull, more than a megachurch. Flory says its objective is nothing short of cultural transformation.

Redding resident Donna Zibull hands out anti-Bethel stickers. She is a member of the Facebook group Investigating Bethel. Photo by Sean Havey

He describes the leadership’s goal this way: “Let’s get the right kinds of Christians in the right kind of public sectors of American society: politics, economics, Hollywood, etc., and then through their efforts we’ll bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth in the here and now.”

But some Redding residents don’t want to be part of the experiment.

“Redding is their test case of turning a city that is a democracy into a theocracy,” says Laura Hammans, a member of Investigating Bethel, a Facebook group with more than 1,000 members.

Hammans is one of a dozen members of the group meeting at a Redding park one afternoon. Another member, Donna Zibull, is passing out stickers that say, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

“We’ve handed them out freely because we want to get the message out there,” Zibull says. “Some people are afraid to put them on their car.”

Afraid, she says, because the church’s influence feels like it runs through the core of the city. Redding’s mayor, Julie Winter, is a Bethel elder; Bethel paid the salaries of several police officers when the city couldn’t afford to; a Bethel-connected nonprofit took over management of the city’s civic auditorium and now holds Supernatural School classes there; Bethel’s influence was central to getting a direct flight from LAX to Redding approved last year; and there’s a $150 million Bethel expansion underway that will triple the church’s capacity and allow the school to grow by 1,000 students.

For some, the line separating church and state is hard to trace at this point, threatening the integrity of the city. “They have this really well-organized program to innervate everything with their influence,” says David Boone, another member of Investigating Bethel. “You get this feeling that they know they’re a sort of virus, but they think they’re the good virus that we all need.”

For many others, Bethel is a positive force, one that’s given the city a much needed economic boost and made it more vibrant and diverse.

Either way, Bethel’s outsize influence on this little city is unavoidable. Redding has become a new kind of Christian mecca.

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Bethel Church started their first gathering by Robert Doherty in a private home. This intimate gathering was the foundation of a global movement.


Under Pastor Doherty's leadership, the church outgrew their home and moved to a new location on Magnolia Avenue.


Bethel acquired and dedicated a new facility on Bechelli Lane to house the growing congregation.


Reverend Vic Trimer becomes the pastor of Bethel Church.

Johnson Family


M. Earl and Darliene Johnson became the pastors of Bethel Church. Earl is the father of Senior Leader Bill Johnson.


Ray and Rebecca Larson were called to pastor Bethel Church. The church grew to an estimated attendance of 2,000 and relocated to its present site (College View Road).



Bethel Church established King’s Kids Christian School out of a desire to disciple children in the way of the Lord. Ray Larson, senior pastor at that time, led the school during its first years. The school was located at the former church site on Bechelli Lane. The school later is renamed Bethel Christian School.

 College View Campus


Bethel completed construction of the College View Campus facilities.

Bill and Beni Johnson


Bill and Beni Johnson became the pastors of Bethel Church.


Bethel opened the Transformation Center, which annually gives over 11,000 hours of ministry towards inner healing and personal transformation.

Kris and Kathy Vallotton


Kris and Kathy Vallotton became the Senior Associate Pastors of Bethel.



Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) founded with 37 students. It now hosts over 2,000 students annually from 64 countries.

Jesus Culture


Jesus Culture (Bethel’s youth ministry at the time) hosted their first conference.

Alabaster Prayer House


Bethel completed the construction of the Alabaster Prayer House.

Danny and Sheri Silk


Danny and Sheri Silk moved to Redding to become a part of the Bethel Senior Team.



Bethel.TV established. Online streaming now reaches over 412,800 users internationally.

Bethel Music


Bethel Music was founded by Brian and Jenn Johnson to steward the songs coming out of Bethel Church. Bethel Music now reaches 2 million+ monthly listeners and over 4 million through social media.

Twin View Campus


Bethel Church started leasing the Twin View Campus location.
Bethel Church acquired the Caterpillar Road facility. This now houses Bethel Media Group and Bethel Music.


BSSM established the City Project Team. Since 2015, over 12,000 hours are given annually towards practical city improvement projects.

Redding Civic Auditorium


Bethel Church started leasing the Redding Civic Auditorium to create space for larger conferences and growing enrollment at BSSM.

Eric and Candace Johnson


Eric and Candace Johnson become the Senior Pastors of Bethel.

Lake Blvd facility


Bethel acquired the Lake Blvd facility, home to many Bethel ministry offices and the Transformation Center.

Bethel Collyer Campus Expansion Project


Bethel Church purchased the Collyer property, preparing for the future expansion of Bethel.

Jesus Culture


Jesus Culture moved to Sacramento, California and started their own church.

Bethel Conservatory of the Arts


Bethel Conservatory of the Arts founded to train and equip professional actors, musical theatre performers, and dancers.

Bethel School of Technology


Bethel School of Technology founded to equip kingdom-minded believers for in-demand IT careers.

Bethel Collyer Campus Expansion Project


Bethel Collyer Campus Expansion Project: Redding Planning Commission approved plan development and Environmental Impact Report. Redding City Council approved Bethel to apply for development of a new church and school campus facilities.


Bethel's first global campaign, Arise and Build, launches.


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