Will Graham sat in a hotel room in Peterhead, Scotland, preparing to embark on five straight nights of preaching the Gospel. The Celebration of Hope would be held in this small fishing village, beginning Oct. 5 and running through Oct. 9.
The final day, as it happens, would fall on the 10th anniversary of Will’s first evangelistic outreach on American soil. That event, the Greater Gaston County Celebration, was held Oct. 9-11, 2006, in Gastonia, North Carolina.
Now, a decade later, Will was fielding a series of media calls in the U.K., which offered a unique opportunity to reflect back on his calling as an evangelist.
Of course, the first question Will is asked in a setting such as this is often about his family name, heritage and legacy; some variation of the following: “What’s it like going into the family business?” Or, “Did you always want to be an evangelist like your father and grandfather?”
Will’s response: “I’ve been around it, and it’s had a profound impact on my life, seeing my grandfather preach all around the world, and all around our country back home in the United States. I didn’t have dreams of growing up and preaching in Crusades and doing my grandfather’s work. I loved what my grandfather did, and I loved being a follower of Christ.”
Will didn’t set out to be an evangelist, but his father, Franklin Graham, led him in making a decision to follow Christ at a young age, and over the years he was open to God’s calling on his life.
“I never wanted to be a preacher. I wanted to be more like a missionary. Over time God changed my heart. My grandfather has had a profound impact on my life, but it was really more the Holy Spirit calling me into this ministry.”
He continued, “My dad and grandfather have had an incredible impact, just teaching me along the way. What to do and how to communicate. I’m grateful to both of them for that.”
The Importance of Evangelism
“Evangelism is so important because as Christians, that’s the final thing Jesus told us to do as followers. Go and tell the world about Me, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I want to go tell people about Christ,” said Will. “Lives are being changed for eternity. That’s what I love about evangelism.”
As he’s traveled the world over the last decade, Will has also noticed something very humbling. Everywhere he goes, people approach him to share about their salvation experience through his grandfather’s and his father’s ministries.
Often one decision for Christ leads to children, and even grandchildren, growing in the faith. As Will puts it, evangelism is not just horizontal (the audience in front of you); it’s also vertical as the hope of Jesus reaches through the subsequent generations.
“It’s not just for that person, but for the generations to follow in that family. It’s not just changing one generation, it’s changing generations for years to come,” he said.
“That’s what I’ve seen from my grandfather, not just an impact on his generation, but on generations down the line.”
The Challenges and Blessings
“Is it getting a little tougher to do evangelism? To some degree, yes,” said Will.
There’s much more competing for people’s attention now than in previous decades. Entertainment is available in every medium, right down to movies and music on seemingly every phone. At the same time, the world seems to be growing increasingly secular, with little room for God and faith, Will said.
“But the receptivity to the Gospel—people listening and having their lives changed—that’s still the same,” he said. “It’s still strong everywhere I’ve gone around the world.”
“Some places are getting more restrictive, and some are getting less restrictive,” he went on. “God opens up doors, and God allows doors to be closed at certain times. Right now there are doors in countries that were once difficult to get in. Now we’re able to get in. God’s really on the move in certain areas in our world.”
It’s natural to talk about Will following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, but he doesn’t always see it that way. While the comparisons are humbling, Will views his evangelistic ministry as his own calling from God.
“I’m not trying to build on my grandfather’s legacy or my dad’s legacy. I want to be my own person. I want to do what God’s called me to do. But I hope I’m faithful like they’ve been faithful all these years, that’s for sure,” he said.
“There is an expectation that I’m Billy Graham’s grandson, so I’m going to preach like him. I’m going to have crowds like him. But the truth is—and I think that everyone understands this—that there’s only one Billy Graham. No one’s going to replace him, not even his son or grandson.
“But God uses each individual as a person. So God has used my grandfather for many generations, especially starting at the end of World War II, and my grandfather has had a huge impact around the world, especially here in the U.K., but in other places around the world.
“That was my grandfather’s generation, and now it’s my turn to proclaim the Good News. There is an expectation sometimes, but that doesn’t bother me. I love being compared to my grandfather, whether it’s good or bad. I love my grandfather and what he’s done. I’m proud of him. But at the same time, I’ve got to preach the Gospel faithfully to my generation.”
And what does the next decade and beyond hold?
“I believe a lot of people are worried about the future, the long-term future. Something’s got to give,” said Will.
“The world’s in relative peace. There’s no world war, but yet at the same time there’s conflict everywhere. Hatred. Tensions are rising. Something’s going to snap. Something’s going to break.”
All the anxiety and distress only serve to motivate Will as he shares the true hope and peace that can be found in Jesus.
“I want to tell people about Christ while there’s still time. The anxiety that people are feeling. The uncertainty of life. The answer to all of that can be found in Jesus Christ. We find our purpose in Him.”
While the future is unclear, there’s one thing Will does know: “I’m grateful for the opportunity to preach. I’m grateful for that.”