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Fresno Church Thrives in Difficult Times

Despite COVID-19, a revival is occurring at Cornerstone.
In a tumultuous season for California churches, Cornerstone Church in downtown Fresno is growing numerically and experiencing a spiritual revival in one of the Golden State’s poorest and most gang-ridden areas.

Jim H. Franklin, senior pastor of the church since 1993, says a renewed hunger for spiritual connection and the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are drawing new attendees. The church has long played a role in helping to revitalize downtown Fresno.

“We are seeing a revival, in the troubled times we’re facing,” says Franklin, 64. “A lot of folks have drifted from the faith, and they want to return and anchor, and make that outward confession that they are turning their lives to the Lord.”

The church baptizes dozens of people every month, and has done so for the past few years. Attendance increased in 2020 — when most California churches closed to in-person gatherings due to restrictions imposed by the state government.

“Our numbers are now above what we were pre-COVID, and engagement in the church is stronger,” says Franklin.

One reason is simply that the church stayed open when California’s governor sought to indefinitely shut church doors — a move that courts subsequently ruled illegal. Cornerstone and other congregations won a permanent legal injunction, which applies statewide, that California government cannot discriminate against church gatherings during a public health crisis again.

One couple who came to Cornerstone during the first wave of the pandemic had been hooked on drugs and living together with a child when they decided they needed massive life change. One told Franklin he found the church’s willingness to fight for him in the midst of pandemic shutdowns to be courageous.

On the other hand, Franklin says to give attendees assurance that it’s safe to be at the church, Cornerstone installed a high-level bio-defense system — the same type used at the Pentagon, White House, and in major sports arenas — to kill airborne pathogens. The system is not a filter, but actually disables pathogens in the air. The church installed the system in November 2020.

“It brings the confidence of people up,” Franklin says. “It sends the message to parishioners that we care. We’ve invested in this system because we believe church is essential.”

But most important is the palpable move of the Holy Spirit in all sectors of the church, from main services to men’s ministry to youth meetings.

“People are tired of church as usual,” Franklin says. “Another sermon or song won’t serve them in the type of pressure the society is putting on them. They want a demonstration of the presence and power of God in a real way.”

Sunday morning prayer times draw 200 people who cry out for a move of God. On a recent Sunday morning, adherents stayed at the altars for an hour and a half after the last service, passionately praying for lost souls.

In the youth group as well, people are being saved, baptized in water, and baptized in the Holy Spirit week by week. Midweek youth attendance has gone from 30 to nearly 200 in less than three years, and 500 kids have been baptized in water.

“God’s doing something special,” says Franklin’s son, James N. “Nate” Franklin, 33, associate pastor. “Most of the kids are coming from broken homes, saying, ‘I need something else and Jesus is that answer.’”

The church’s Bible college cohort has leaped from around half a dozen enrollees to 30 joining every term.

“People are saying, ‘I’m called to full-time ministry,’” says Nate Franklin. “That’s single moms and grandparents, too, not just 18-to-20-year olds.”

Youth pastor Alex Delgado, 41, a Chicago native and Teen Challenge of Southern California Ministry Institute graduate, brought a water tank into Fresno’s projects and baptized new Christians there last summer. He says transformation is happening as students receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

“They are not shy,” Delgado says. “Not only have they gotten saved and baptized in the Holy Ghost, but so have their entire families. We have really seen a move of God in this next generation.”

Jim Franklin calls it “a move of God with signs and wonders.”

“We’re seeing people get healed,” he says. “Instead of making it a special healing service, we’ve incorporated the move of God into our services. We pray for miracles every Sunday to happen. Praying for the baptism in the Holy Spirit should be the norm. It will be a sign to the unbelievers of who God is and what he wants to do in this day and age.”

Joel Kilpatrick

Joel Kilpatrick is a writer living in Southern California who has authored or ghostwritten dozens of books. Kilpatrick, who served as associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel in the 1990s, is a credentialed Assemblies of God minister.