Imagine this: In homes across America, thousands of families sitting down together weekly to watch someone preach.
In the 1950s, this was reality when Billy Graham spoke to the hearts of people through his televised Crusades. The methods and mediums may have expanded, but the Graham legacy is still pointing people to Christ today—through Franklin Graham Festivals and Will Graham Celebrations.
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For many years now, Billy Graham’s son Franklin and grandson Will have carried out his legacy of holding large evangelistic events around the world to share the Gospel.
But what exactly are Festivals and Celebrations?
“They’re different terms but really it’s the same thing as Billy Graham Crusades,” said Gary Cobb, director of training for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).
“There’s music, there’s testimony, there’s a message of hope and there’s an opportunity to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
So why doesn’t the BGEA still call these Crusades—a term familiar to many baby boomers and older?
It’s simple, Cobb said: “People today don’t connect with the word crusade, necessarily, and they may not attend something called a crusade, but they might attend something called a festival.”
A Name Matters
The name stuck when it was first used during Franklin Graham’s multi-city events across Australia in 1996. A business major in college, Franklin Graham knew the value of marketing and liked calling them festivals. The thought, Cobb explained, was that since people flock to musical festivals, they were familiar with the term and would be more likely to come.
A name matters, Cobb said. “Very few people wake up on the weekend and go, ‘What do you want to do tonight, honey?’ and their [spouse] says, ‘Well I hear there’s an evangelist in town. Let’s go hear him.’ There’s not many lost people who do that.”
It’s also easier to invite a friend who’s searching for purpose to something called a celebration or festival. Many come to the events for the music but find their hearts softened through artist’s testimonies and powerful lyrics. Next they hear the Gospel preached, and at the Holy Spirit’s nudging, some decide to accept Christ.
Trained prayer counselors talk and pray with responders, ensuring they understand their decision. These counselors have gone through BGEA’s Christian Life and Witness Course and are equipped to share their faith.
After the outreach, BGEA connects the new believers with a local church, where they’ll be encouraged and can grow in their relationship with Christ.
Billy Graham often said the real test of Crusade success comes five or 10 years down the road. “Evangelism is more than simply encouraging decisions for Christ,” he said. “It is urging people to become disciples—followers—of Jesus Christ.”
Getting the ‘Word’ Out
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
—Matthew 24:14, ESV
In 1957, Billy Graham and his team didn’t have high-speed internet, but they did have TV. People across the country tuned in to his live messages from Madison Square Garden in the Big Apple.
He preached from God’s Word, the Bible.
Billy Graham used satellites, too, first broadcasting from England to all over Great Britain in 1985. Then in 1995 from Puerto Rico, millions around the world heard the Gospel message at the same time—via satellite in 48 languages.
Today, Franklin Graham and Will Graham regularly use the web to stream their evangelistic events to a global audience.
Since BGEA started livestreaming events in 2016, more than 6,800 people have indicated decisions for Christ online.
So whether it’s a BGEA Crusade, Festival or Celebration, it’s about Christians reaching out to friends and loved ones, and bringing them to hear a message of hope.
That God loves them, that there’s a better life for them with Jesus Christ. That’s what matters.
“These events are all about the Gospel,” affirmed Cobb. “It’s about sharing the Gospel with people who don’t know Christ.”
Do you need hope? Start here.