Greg Laurie: The State of American Evangelism
GREG LAURIE is an internationally known evangelist, an author of several books and the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship—a 2011 Outreach 100 church (No. 29 Largest)—with campuses in Riverside, Corona, and Irvine, Calif. In 1990, he began holding large-scale evangelistic events known as Harvest Crusades. This year for the first time, the second night of the Harvest Crusade in Anaheim, Calif., (Aug. 26, 2012) will be simulcast live to local churches across the country in an initiative known as Harvest America.
CONNECTION TO OUTREACH MAGAZINE: Greg Laurie was featured in the July/August 2007 issue as The Outreach Interview and recently was interviewed for OutreachMagazine.com.
How and why did the idea for simulcasting the Harvest Crusade to specific local churches or other venues across the country come about?
We discovered a number of years ago that our Internet audience was approaching the same size as our live audience, and then it equaled it. Soon it was exceeding it by a long shot. We recognized that when we have a crusade at Angels Stadium, we have an international audience watching it on every kind of device imaginable around the world. We thought we ought to embrace this and take it up a few notches, making it more effective for the people that are viewing so it’s not as though they are simply eavesdropping on our event, but they’re indeed participating.
One thing we’ve discovered as we’ve launched some satellite churches using live video streams is that it’s a very effective way to teach and preach the Gospel. As long as there’s a live element involved, it can be a great event to bring someone to. In other words, though there is value in simply watching the whole thing online, there’s even a greater value when there’s live elements combined with a live video feed. With Harvest America, we have over 500 churches that are committed at this moment, and they will have a live video stream coming in. They might have a live artist or worship team play first, and then they’ll get the live stream from Angels Stadium. Then they will be able to hear the Gospel, and people can make a commitment to Christ right there. I’ll be inviting people to be coming to Christ in the live link venues as well as in the venue that I’m preaching at. We’re just trying to leverage all the technology that’s out there for the maximum impact.
What are you hoping Harvest America will accomplish this year?
Basically in the next 1,000 days—three crusade cycles—our objective is to reach as many people as it’s taken us 22 years to reach in live events around the country and abroad. We’ve had 4 million people come in person to our Harvest events. We’ve had about 400,000 people respond and make professions of faith, but we’re going to try in the next 1,000 days, by using all media platforms available, to equal or surpass that number. It’s just because we recognize that we can’t go to every city; we can’t go to every church; we can’t go every place that we’re invited. But by taking this technology, in effect, we can and we will.
I think people are very open to this technology now. … I think everyone recognizes that technology can be very effective, and there are many pastors like Craig Groeschel in Oklahoma and Steven Furtick in North Carolina that have campuses that are composed largely of a video stream and a live worship. We’re just taking this technology that other churches are using, and we’re taking it to a broader platform. We’ve also used this same technology in launching a new church here in Southern California called Harvest Orange County. We know it works, and we know it works very well, so why not use the technology? To me, it’s the modern equivalent of the Roman roads of Paul’s day. For so many years, there was no way to really reach around the world of that time, and with the Roman road system, you could take the Gospel to people who had never heard it before. We’re taking the modern Roman roads of technology and getting the Gospel out.
How are you training or equipping the churches that participate so they are prepared to follow up with people who are attending a Harvest America event?
I think the great advantage of holding it in a church is that the church right there can immediately do the follow-up on-site. They can also tell the people to come and attend their services. You’re really holding the event in the place where, hopefully, new believers would end up. Secondly, we’re using the same technology to train ahead of time that we’re using to preach the Gospel. We’re going to do training sessions, webinars, where we are going to help equip the churches to have a follow-up process in their church. We’re also supplying them with follow-up materials, showing them how to do a follow-up program if they don’t already have something pre-existing. We’re running this as though we were coming to do a crusade in the person’s actual church, and we’re very big on follow-up. When I’m not doing this kind of thing, I’m a pastor of a church myself. We’re a church that’s helping other churches. Our ministry is from the church, for the church to build up the church. We’re very church-centric, and we want to see local congregations grow spiritually and numerically as a result.
As a pastor and evangelist, what do you see as the state of evangelism in the American church today?
It’s hard to speak of the whole church because it’s so diverse. I would say, by and large, in recent years, the church has made tremendous strides in becoming more culturally relevant and becoming a friendly, more welcoming place for people to attend. We’ve done away with a lot of the things that kept people away—maybe clinging too tightly to old traditions. We’ve embraced modern technology and modern worship style and all the rest of it. I think that’s fantastic. I think we’ve made some great advances.
My concern, though, is it seems that though we’ve made advances in one arena, maybe we’re lacking in another. It just seems that there is not enough full-blown, straightforward Gospel proclamation going on. The church has embraced art more aggressively in recent years. Being a designer myself, I appreciate this, and I have a great interest in design and music and everything we can do to show how attractive the Gospel really is. However, a movie, a play, a concert or a conference is never going to take the place of Gospel proclamation. The Bible says that it’s in the foolishness of preaching that people believe. That could literally be translated “the preached thing.” When it’s all said and done, there just needs to be that straightforward presentation of the Word of God, and the person needs to be given an opportunity to respond to Jesus Christ. Sometimes we’re so busy building the bridge, we forget that we need to walk over that bridge with the Gospel. And if we don’t do that, I think we’re really falling short of the real mission that God has given to us.
I think the bridge building is important. Building the bridge is far more effective than burning the bridge, isn’t it? And the goal is to win the soul, not just win the argument. I’m all for that. I’ve always done everything I could to be as culturally relevant as I could be in my ministry over the last 40 years. However, there does come a point where you just need to confront a person with the Gospel, like, “Here is the message: That Jesus Christ died on the cross for you and rose again from the dead and you need to turn from your sin and put your faith in Him and here’s how to do it.” When I say preaching, I don’t mean yelling. I mean standing at a platform with a microphone—you can preach that way—but it can be one-on-one communication as well. It can be in written form and so forth. But nothing takes the place of the direct presentation of the Gospel.
We have to be careful that in our attempts to cross over, we don’t forget we need to bring the cross over. It’s the cross. It’s the message of Christ crucified and risen that we need to proclaim. I once was talking to Billy Graham about this and I asked him, “If an older Billy could speak to a younger Billy, what would he tell himself to emphasize more as a younger preacher?” Without missing a beat, Billy’s response was, “I would tell myself to preach more on the cross and the blood because that’s where the power is.” Paul speaks of the power of the Gospel to those who believe. If we leave out the message of the death of Jesus and His sacrifice for us and the need to repent of our sin and put our faith in Him, then I think we’re falling short of what God is calling us to do. So let’s do it in a friendly way. Let’s do it in an engaging way. Let’s do it in a loving way. Let’s do it in an understandable way. But let’s make sure that we do it.
Do you think the church in general is doing a good or poor job in equipping people to make those kinds of proclamations, and how does Harvest Christian Fellowship equip its people to do that?
I would say the church could do a much better job of equipping people to share their faith and teaching them how to engage people and how to present the Gospel to people. That’s a big deal to us at Harvest. Our mission statement is, “Knowing Him and making Him known.” We love to study the Bible. We love to worship the Lord. And then we want to make Him known to this culture. Not only do we challenge and equip our own people to go out and lead others to Christ, but we develop resources to help the church do it as well. One of those resources is the Harvest Crusades. Also on our website, Harvest.org, we have a “How to know God” site that you can go to that actually shows a person how to come to Christ. We do it through our radio broadcast that’s in about 500 markets. And we’ve developed resources and tools to help other churches.
I think sometimes people feel that evangelism may be outdated and you just can’t do it the way it’s been done in the past. I think you can do it. And we should do it. Because some things never change, and the power of the Gospel will never change. We don’t ever want to back down from that Great Commission because it is given to us by Christ and it is a command to go into all the world. But for many, the Great Commission has become the great omission, and stats bear out the fact that most Christians have never led another person to Christ. I think that can change, but it probably should start from the top down with the pastor doing it. I think that maybe one reason that a lot of churches aren’t reaching lost people is that the pastor needs to ask himself the question, “Do I have a burden for lost people?” I’ve often said this at pastor’s conferences, “Do you have a heart for people that don’t know the Lord?” And then I’ll go on to say, “I don’t mean, ‘Do you mention it from the pulpit?’ But when was the last time you personally shared your faith when you weren’t behind a pulpit—just you as a Christian, not even as a pastor? When was the last time you engaged somebody?” And I think if the answer to that is “a long time,” that may be indicative of the fact that the pastor himself needs to ask that God would give him a heart for people that don’t know the Lord. As Spurgeon once said, “God will move them (speaking of the nonbeliever) by first moving you.” I think that our hearts need to be moved in this direction before we’re going to effectively move others to Christ.
Tell us a quick story of failure when you shared your faith and what you learned from it and a quick success story.
Early on in my commitment to Christ, only a week after I became a Christian, I went out on the beach. I think I was armed with a copy of “The Four Spiritual Laws” by Campus Crusade, and I was looking for someone to talk to because I had heard the pastor say we should go share our faith. I found a middle-aged woman, and I was so new at this I literally just read this little tract to her. I was planning on failure. I was thinking, This isn’t going to work. She’s not going to respond. What am I even doing this for? I just read through this little booklet while having these thoughts of doubt. And I got to the end of it, and there was a question that was asked, “Is there any good reason why you should not accept Jesus Christ right now?” So I asked her. Much to my surprise, she said, “Yes.” I responded, “Yes, meaning you want to accept Jesus Christ right now?” And she said, “Yes.” I prayed with her to ask the Lord to come into her life. After we were done praying, she said, “Something just changed inside of me.” I thought to myself, Something just changed inside of me too. I realized that God could use someone like me, even with a thimble-full of Bible knowledge at that time. So this was an early success.
It wasn’t long after that, I went to my own mother, who was not a believer, and she was an alcoholic and had been married and divorced seven times. I think I kind of blew her out of the water. I came in very strong, kind of a bit condemning, and it was overkill. She did not accept the Lord then, and really for most of her life, she was not really responsive. But toward the end of her life, her heart began to soften and she made a commitment to Christ not long before she died.
I think I realized that some people, you just come and it’s direct and it’s straightforward. Other people, especially family members, you need to love them. You need to be an example. There’s a time for preaching, but then you just have to live it, and everyone doesn’t respond as quickly. We just have to be patient and wait on the Lord and realize that only God can convert a person, not us.
When I teach on the subject of evangelism, I’m quick to point out my own shortcomings. I’m not presenting myself as the great expert who knows everything. I share my victories as well as my defeats because I think people laugh when they hear you’ve messed up as well, and yet how God can still use you. Honestly, if you’ve gone to a person and you’ve blown it by overkilling it or maybe coming on too strong, there’s nothing wrong with going back and apologizing and saying, “I’d like another shot at this, but forgive me for being insensitive.” Sometimes if it’s a co-worker or a family member, it’s a longer process at times. We just need to be patient. The Bible tells us that we are to be patient with those that do not believe. I think that’s very important.
HOW TO LINK: Connect with Greg at Harvest Christian Fellowship; GregLaurie.com; Blog.GregLaurie.com; @GregLaurie on Twitter; and Facebook.com/harvest.greglaurie.
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For more information about Harvest America and how your church can participate, visit HarvestAmerica.com.
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