Conservative Christian leaders in the United States are making significant strides in regaining their group’s political influence ahead of the 2016 U.S. general election.

David Lane, the founder of the American Renewal Project, says his group seeks to recruit 1,000 pastors to run for elected office in 2016, adding that so far, roughly 500 have committed to running.

Evangelical Christians showed their might in 2004 when strategists made a concerted effort to mobilize them to help in the re-election of President George W. Bush, a Reuters feature article said.

However, following the victory of Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election (against GOP’s John McCain) and his re-election in 2012 (against Republican Mitt Romney), the evangelicals somehow faded.

To re-invigorate the group, evangelical Republican political operative David Lane has launched the American Renewal Project, an umbrella group that says it has a network of 100,000 pastors. Lane said the group seeks to recruit 1,000 pastors to run for elected office in 2016. So far, roughly 500 have committed to running, Lane told Reuters.

This time, conservative Christian leaders are focusing on smaller political races, local ballot initiatives and community voter registration drives –unlike in 2004 when they threw their full support on Bush.

“This is a fundamental shift in strategy,” said John Fea, a history professor at Christian Messiah College. ” Rather than forcing this from the top down, this is about a grassroots approach to changing the culture by embedding ministers in local politics from the ground up,” he said.

Some of the pastors running for office are openly courting voters from the pulpit and launching church-wide voter registration drives in apparent violation of Internal Revenue Service rules governing tax-exempt churches, Reuters reported.

As an indication of their growing influence, the pastors in Lane’s network were credited for the defeat of Houston’s “transgender bathroom bill,” the local ordinance passed last month that banned discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity in public places.

The pastors united to reject the measure and encouraged their flocks to sign a petition forcing Houston to put the new law to a ballot initiative, where it was voted down.

White evangelicals have long been a key voting bloc for Republicans, making up about 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

With less than a year before America selects its next leader, Lane said he is holding conferences in hotels across the country nearly every week, bringing together thousands of conservative pastors and their wives for two-day, all-expenses paid retreats. In these conferences, pastors are taught how to run political campaigns, attract voters, and even how to effectively include political messages in their sermons.

One of the pastors who benefited from these gatherings is Beryl Amedee, who said she learned how to deal with the media and fend off attacks on her religion from these meetings.

In November, Amedee won a seat as a Louisiana state representative, defeating an eight-year incumbent.

“In the 1970s, our attitude was, ‘We are not of this world, Jesus is coming, so why bother with government?’,” said Amedee. “Now, we know we are the government.”

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