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Jentezen Franklin: 2 coasts, 1 message

Best-selling book and Free Chapels in Gainesville, California keep pastor on move

POSTED: March 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Standing on the stage before a packed house of 3,000 people, the Rev. Jentezen Franklin is a force of kinetic energy.

He paces the front with a hand-held wireless microphone, and his emphatic preaching is periodically interrupted by an endorsement of applause from the worshippers at Free Chapel Worship Center.

Franklin, 45, is much different away from the crowd. In a wide-ranging interview with The Times, he was pensive, speaking in almost hushed tones about his growing ministry and his new book that has become a national best-seller.

A talented saxophone player, Franklin was on his way to a career in music when he heard the call to become a minister of the gospel. He says it wasn't an audible voice, but he had an inner peace that God was calling him to the ministry.

The answer came during a time of fasting, something that has become a part of Franklin's lifestyle and is the subject of a 240-page book that was listed on The New York Times' best-seller list this week.

Franklin learned about fasting growing up. His father, Billy, who passed away in 1991, was a pastor in the Cleveland, Tenn.-based Church of God denomination.

Franklin, whose unusual first name was derived from the Jantzen brand of sportswear, was the middle child of Billy and Katie Franklin. His mother, Katie, remarried J. Wendell Lancaster, who passed away last year. Mrs. Lancaster is on the pastoral staff of Free Chapel, ministering to senior adults. He has two older brothers, Doyle and Richie, and two younger sisters, Jennifer and Jill.

"My mom and dad had fasted, and I thought, ‘That's good for him, but I like to eat,'" Jentezen Franklin said. "I got so desperate that I knew that God had something more for me. I couldn't quite figure out what it was."

He went through his first three-day fast, drinking only water and juice.

"At the end of those three days, I was so open to whatever God wanted me to do that it was confirmed to me that I knew I was supposed to preach," he said.

Franklin had come to Free Chapel annually as a Church of God evangelist. He had been scheduled to preach when the congregation's pastor, Roy Wellborn, passed away after a brief illness.

Franklin said he felt a sense of calling without making mention to the congregation. "I knew this was a special place," he said. "I knew the church was a special church and the people were very open to reaching people. I am amazed at what God has done, but there was faith in my heart that he could do great things here."

In 1989, Franklin came to Free Chapel as pastor of a small congregation of 300 with a small church on Browns Bridge Road. In 1992, the congregation moved to a new location on McEver Extension, before moving to its current home at 3001 McEver Road, which includes a 3,000-seat auditorium.

While he had envisioned the growth of the church, the massive outreach of television was, on the other hand, a surprise to Franklin. "I never saw that one coming," he said.

Franklin said he received a call from R.W. Shambach, a Pentecostal evangelist who offered to preach at Free Chapel the next Sunday night. Shambach, without telling Franklin, told the congregation of an inspiration that they should be on television.

Shambach took up a cash offering of $128,000, and the next week the church purchased equipment for the beginning of its television ministry. The first program was carried on an Athens station, which is now a Spanish-language television station.

Franklin's program, Kingdom Connection, is carried nationally on the Trinity Broadcasting Network on cable in the United States, as well as the TBN channels in Europe and Iran. It is also seen on God TV in the U.S. and internationally as well as on The Church Channel.

In addition to cable, the program is aired on broadcast stations, including WAGA-5 in Atlanta and WNEG-32 in Toccoa. Other broadcast stations in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, N.M., and Chattanooga, Tenn., carry the weekly telecast.

Franklin had self-published two volumes on fasting. Last year, he released a book titled, "Right People, Right Place, Right Plan: Discerning the Voice of God," which was in part a story of the success of Free Chapel. The book, released nationally, sold more than 70,000 copies.

In January, his newest book, "Fasting," was released by Christian publisher Charisma House. In just eight weeks, the book has reached The New York Times' best-seller list at No. 15.

"As a publishing house, this is our ninth best-seller, but this is probably the most exciting," said Tessie DeVore, vice president of Charisma House. "It is about the message and the author. Jentezen Franklin is about as genuine as they come."

She said sales are strong for "Fasting" throughout the nation, even ahead of some major marketing efforts, including television advertising. The book, which has sold more than 130,000 copies, is being carried in national chains, such as Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart, as well as Internet marketer Amazon.com.

In August, Franklin opened a second Free Chapel Church in Irvine, Calif. After preaching two services in Gainesville on Sunday morning, Franklin and his family and key staff members board a private plan and fly 2,300 miles west to Orange County, Calif., where a service takes place at 6 p.m. PST.

Franklin and his family remain in California until Tuesday or Wednesday and then fly back to Gainesville. He said his two churches are in very different places.

"It's a culture shock. It's as different as day and night. We love Gainesville and we'll be here for life," he said. "But Orange County is a whole different world. But I don't change the message. What I preach here, I usually preach out there on Sunday night. What's amazing is that people seem to want the difference in what we bring to that area."

Franklin preached to a congregation of 163 in Irvine at the first service on Aug. 5, 2007. Two weeks ago, there were 1,354 people in attendance.

The pastor credits the work of his staff, both in Georgia and California, for allowing him to be able to serve people at opposite ends of the United States. He said that his congregation has understood when he cannot visit them in the hospital and other duties which have been assumed by other pastoral staff members.

He said that he still reserves time for his wife and five children and shares television viewing of his children's favorite programs, including "American Idol."

His reading habits often include biographies and he enjoys an occasional night out with his wife, Cherise. Among their recent outings included seeing the motion picture, "The Bucket List," which he said he recommends.



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