I have watched many people give their tribute to “America’s Pastor”, Billy Graham. Tears have welled up in my eyes as I have heard TV News Show hosts tell about how their lives have been affected by Dr. Graham. Some even used their celebrity to preach the Gospel. On TV.
This is my tribute.
During my Junior Year(?) at UNC-Chapel Hill, several student ministries began to meet together to plan for Billy Graham to come deliver a “lecture series” in Carmichael Auditorium (where basketball games were played back in the day). It was during that time that I witnessed a secret key of the success of Dr. Graham’s ministry.
Leighton Ford was Billy Graham’s brother-in-law and was involved in Billy’s ministry. Leighton’s son Sandy (Graham’s nephew) had been a student at UNC-CH. Sandy underwent surgery for a rare heart disease in November, 1981 and died soon after his surgery. He had just turned 21. I heard that Sandy had been involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which probably laid the foundation for the rest of this story.
My timing may be off, but as I remember it, about two years later, a former roommate of mine was asked to spearhead the lecture series. He coordinating with student leaders of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, The Navigators, and Campus Crusade for Christ. I was involved with “Crusade” throughout college, though not the particular event. But even as an outsider to the event, I saw a glimpse of behind-the-scenes picture that few others in America have ever seen, or known of.
This “secret”, “behind-the-scenes” “key to the success of Billy Graham’s ministry was very simple. At the conclusion of each lecture, an altar call would be given and students would begin making their way down to the area in front of the platform. The first students who began to “walk the aisle” were not going down to the floor-level of the auditorium to be saved. Instead, these were the students who were already Believers and had been trained on how to lead another student to Christ. They were the students who would help new converts to complete the information on the “contact cards” and turn them in to other event-coordinated students. Then the magic happened.
Dr. Graham insisted that every student who made a decision and filled out the contact information on the card be contacted in person by a another student who had been trained in follow-up. Within 24 hours. Every day of the event. There were thousands of students in Carmichael Auditorium each night.
This “secret” wasn’t the crowds that made decisions. The secret was that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was about making disciples, not counting decisions. The key isn’t getting someone to pray a prayer, walk an aisle, or be baptized. The key was that the decisions being made weren’t the end of the ministry; they were the beginning of the ministry. The goal was to plug these decision-makers into the ministries sponsoring the event so that the new converts would become disciples.
I have heard that the follow-up plan used on our campus was the same that was used wherever Billy Graham preached.
For this, among other things, I thank God for the Biblical wisdom of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.