Megachurch hits brakes after trying to skew traffic study

  |  Source: Religion News Service

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ROCKWALL (RNS)—When a suburban Dallas megachurch commissioned a city-mandated study required to get a new traffic light near the entrance to its parking lot, church leaders hired an engineering firm to run it.

But the staff at Lakepointe Church, a Southern Baptist church in Rockwall, didn’t depend only on the engineers. To make sure the results justified a stoplight, the staff prompted church members to flood the road by the church with extra traffic.

On May 10, the church, one of the largest and fastest growing in the country according to Outreach Magazine, sent an email to small-group leaders, urging them to encourage group members to sign up for a driving shift during the five-day study to pad the numbers.

“Each shift is a commitment to drive the prescribed route 10 times within that hour shift. It’s great if you make more than 10 laps within the hour, but laps are only counted toward that specific shift,” according to a copy of the email that linked to SignUpGenius.com.

Among the first to sign up were two pastors.

Not long afterward, everything fell apart. A copy of the email was posted on a local Facebook page, leading to outrage. A church staffer posted a note on that Facebook page, blaming the whole affair on an overzealous staffer and saying the church had the best of intentions.

Former member points to changes at church

Amanda Cunningham, a former Lakepointe member who left earlier this year, isn’t buying it. “They just believe we are so dumb,” said Cunningham. “It’s almost laughable how brazen they are.”

Amanda Cunningham

Cunningham, who became a Christian at Lakepointe in her 30s and went on to lead small groups for troubled married couples and newcomers, said the church taught her that leaders needed to be honest and ethical. But something has changed, she said, leading her to leave the church earlier this year.

The Rockwall campus is one of six locations run by Lakepointe, which claimed more than 16,000 worshippers each weekend in 2023, according to Outreach in its annual report on large churches.


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Church leaders told Religion News Service that the sign-up was an “unfortunate decision” made by a staff member.

“That decision was made without knowledge by senior executive leadership at Lakepointe and the sign-up list was immediately taken down as we were made aware of what occurred,” Tim Smith, senior executive pastor, said in an emailed statement.

“We immediately apologized to our city leaders who made the decision to postpone the traffic count. We are in the process of reaching out to all the leaders who received the sign-up and are apologizing to them as well.”

Smith did not address questions about why church staff, including the pastor of the Rockwall campus and another longtime leader, signed up for shifts. He said the church has the best interests of the community at heart and intends to pay for the stoplight if it is approved.

“We regret how this reflects on the Body of Christ and its impact in our community,” he added.

 “We love our city and have much respect for our leaders. We will continue to work with the city to make the traffic around Lakepointe as safe as possible.”

City officials said that they’d been made aware of the email about the traffic study and have spoken to church leaders. They also shared more details about the traffic study, which is now canceled.

Amy Williams, director of public works for the city of Rockwall, told RNS in an email: “The traffic study was scheduled to be performed by an engineering firm contracted by the church. If the signal is warranted, the church would be responsible for installing the signal.”

Latest in a series of controversies

The traffic study snafu is the latest in a series of controversies at Lakepointe since senior pastor Josh Howerton succeeded longtime Pastor Steve Stroope in 2020. Howerton has been accused of plagiarizing his sermons, making sexist remarks in his sermons, and denouncing his critics as liberal from the pulpit.

Earlier this year, he drew fire for telling women how to act on their wedding night to fulfill their new husband’s desires. “Just stand where he tells you to stand, wear what he tells you to wear and do what he tells you to do, and you’re going to make him the happiest man in the world,” Howerton said in a February sermon.

Howerton, who has repeatedly denied any plagiarism, later apologized, saying he was joking and claiming a cancel mob had come after him. Critics pointed out that his apology was copied nearly word for word from another pastor’s apology.

Kurt Paulsen, a professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said that traffic studies are fairly common practice before adding stoplights. The idea is to get a baseline of the traffic on a roadway, then to compare that to traffic at major events, such as megachurch worship services.

The study’s results often impact how much a property owner like a church might have to pay for a stoplight—and whether the light is approved. Getting accurate data is important, Paulsen said, adding that the church’s action in trying to influence the story was a head-scratcher.

“I have never heard of someone trying to game a traffic study,” Paulsen said.


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