Why We Do What We Do at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Fifty miles north of Seattle, at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, a small group of crisis-trained chaplains prays with survivors of a devastating landslide.
More than 1,700 miles away, on the Mexican border, Franklin Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association team prepare to share the Gospel—in Spanish and English—with thousands of people inside an El Paso stadium and thousands more watching online in more than 150 countries.
On the opposite side of the United States, in Charlotte, N.C., a team of staff and volunteers prays before opening the doors of the ongoing Crusade known as The Billy Graham Library.
Meanwhile, My Hope coordinators across the United States are helping churches prepare to share the Gospel this Easter through the powerful video “The Cross.” Guests are arriving at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C., to reconnect with the Lord and deepen their faith. And dozens of people are exploring what Jesus could mean for their lives after a web search with words like “depression,” “loneliness” or “unemployment” landed them on the interactive, evangelistic website PeaceWithGod.net.
This is a typical day in the life of the BGEA. In 2014, just like in 1950, it’s all about evangelism.
But it isn’t 1950 anymore, and the spiritual atmosphere in the United States has entered a tumultuous new era.
A 2012 Pew Research study found one-fifth of the U.S. public is religiously unaffiliated. The percentage jumps to one-third in the young adult demographic—the highest numbers in Pew polling history.
This phenomenon sometimes called “the rise of the nones” has taken some churches by surprise. But Steve Rhoads, BGEA’s vice president of My Hope, saw it coming.
“It’s not surprising that the research conducted by Pew discovered this,” Rhoads said. “Anyone who has been paying attention in the United States over the last decade knows that this isn’t a Christian country. America certainly has distinctly Christian roots and heritage, but this is not a country full of Christians. We are a secular society.”
Former NFL defensive back Derwin Gray is the founding pastor of Transformation Church, a diverse and fast-growing multi-site congregation in South Carolina. He also thinks the United States is secular.
“The reality is, if America was 100 people, 77 would be non-Christian,” Gray said. “I think for many years America has deluded itself thinking it was majority Christian when it’s really majority Judeo-Christian values. Two different things.”
With so many people walking through life without the hope and joy freely offered by Jesus, both Rhoads and Gray think now is the time for believers to make evangelism a way of life. But in many places, that just isn’t happening.
A recent Barna Group study explored the question, “Is evangelism going out of style?”
The study found 27 percent of born again Christians do not believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, despite Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
Among those who do believe they should share the Gospel, their convictions don’t necessarily line up with their actions. Barna reports only half of born again Christians said they told a non-believer about Jesus in the last year.
“Evangelism is clearly the hardest activity of the Church,” Rhoads said, “but it’s also the one most closely tied to the health of the church.
“Where people are full of love for other people and full of the Holy Spirit, their natural inclination would be to share the Gospel. And the lack of evangelism is a bit of of a symptom of the deeper problem, in my view.”
The absence of evangelism among many believers—whether typical churchgoers or well-known pastors and speakers—comes at a critical time for the Church in the United States.
“The fields are white, and now is the time when we need to be sharing the Gospel even more,” Rhoads said. “I think organizations like the BGEA that have a clear mandate just to preach the Gospel—there’s never been a more important time, because it’s gotten darker.”
For more than 60 years, the BGEA has sought to be a light in the darkness by sharing the Gospel through every effective means available. Early on, Billy Graham harnessed the power of radio and television to broadcast his Crusades around the world.
Now his son, Franklin Graham, and grandson, Will Graham, are carrying the torch into the digital age.
“I think one of the blessings of having Franklin as the head of this organization is his absolute commitment to reach the lost using any means that we can find,” Rhoads said.
Many BGEA Crusade events are live streamed on the web, like Franklin Graham’s bilingual El Paso Festival of Hope on April 5-6, 2014. While 16,000 people attended the event in person, more than 17,000 people from 157 countries watched online. Trained e-counselors were standing by to chat and pray with hundreds who accepted Christ.
“And in addition to doing Crusades,” Rhoads said, “God has led Franklin to use some of his father’s recorded messages from the past—coupled with powerful testimonies—as a way of presenting the Gospel.”
The video messages are part of BGEA’s My Hope project. Since 2002, My Hope has helped hundreds of thousands of Christians share their faith in 30 countries, resulting in millions of new believers discovering the love of Jesus.
BGEA also has an Internet Evangelism outreach, PeaceWithGod.net, which walks web users through compelling, interactive Gospel presentations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Since its launch in April of 2011, more than 4 million people around the world have indicated decisions for Christ through PeaceWithGod.net. Through the help of volunteer counselors and discipleship coaches, the site allows spiritual seekers and believers to find answers to their questions and grow in their faith.
The BGEA’s volunteers—whether serving online, over the phone, at Festivals and Crusades, inside The Billy Graham Library, or in the disaster field with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team—come from local churches. And Pastor Gray wants to see more churches in America get back to the basics of preaching the Good News—that Jesus Christ continues to save and transform lives.
“Our world is desperate for Good News,” Pastor Gray said. “What they need to hear is Jesus. It’s the mercy of God that leads to repentance. That’s what changed my heart.”
Gray believes only a true understanding of grace will wake up the Church and, subsequently, ignite evangelism.
“If I inhale, I exhale,” Gray said. “When you inhale grace, you will exhale evangelism.”
And as that happens, the BGEA is there, walking with the Church through these increasingly godless, uncertain times.
“Moving into the 21st century, I think that’s going to be one of the strongest suits for the BGEA,” Gray said, “determining how to effectively come alongside the Church to equip and to help local churches with evangelism.”
“The message of the Gospel–that your sins can be forgiven and that you can have peace with God–will always be necessary and relevant,” Rhoads said. “The way it’s presented to a world that can be indifferent, hostile or uninformed—that’ll be the key. But God will give us wisdom to find ways to cut through the white noise of society and offer the Gospel.”
The world may be getting darker, but in the midst of darkness, there’s a chance for Christ followers to stand out and shine. A chance to proclaim the supernatural, unending love of Jesus. And whether it’s announced in an arena, on a television screen or over a WiFi signal, the proclamation of Jesus is always Good News.
You can help BGEA proclaim the Gospel through every effective means available by:
– Sharing the My Hope video “The Cross” with a non-believer this Easter
– Posting a link to PeaceWithGod.net on your Twitter or Facebook page
– Praying for the work of the BGEA in the United States and around the world
– Giving to one of these 12 ministry categories