Dour stories currently dominate the media — a government shutdown, talk of defunding the Affordable Care Act, the global economy just limping along, and conflicts raging in the Middle East.
But amidst the negative news, an unprecedented phenomenon occurred the last weekend of September, as the good news of the Gospel was simultaneously preached by six of the pre-eminent evangelists of our time in separately organized evangelistic crusades, festivals, and celebrations across the country and around the world.
And in November, coinciding with Billy Graham's 95th birthday, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will sponsor My Hope America with Billy Graham.
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Thousands of individuals from more than 22,000 participating churches will gather with friends and family in their homes to watch programs featuring a new message from the veteran evangelist. Even if the government shuts down, God will never shut down, not so long as there are those who are passionate to share His message with the hopeless.
"America needs hope, and the church has two secret weapons — preaching and praying," said Greg Laurie, whose Harvest America Crusade in Philadelphia on Sept. 28-29 was live-streamed to more than 22 countries.
"But we don't use them enough, because we spend too much time boycotting and complaining. Harvest America demonstrates the potential of what can happen when we focus on the two things the Lord has commanded us to do," Laurie said.
Bright spots glowed in the darkness from cellphones held by young people packed shoulder-to-shoulder, their cellphone screens glowing, inside dimmed arenas and stadiums across the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa to hear the Gospel message.
In Philadelphia, as Christian rapper Lecrae chanted into the microphone, "You get one life and it will pass; only what you do for Christ will last," a girl in the front row recorded a few verses on her phone then posted the video to her Twitter feed.
Across the floor of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, many of the 27,500 attending used social media during performances by Kirk Franklin, Jeremy Camp, and MercyMe. By the end of the weekend of prayer, and messages from Harvest America evangelist Greg Laurie, nearly 2,500 people in the arena made faith commitments — which more than doubled with the Internet response.
Thousands of attendees shared their experiences on social media, including group "selfies," or self-portrait photos. These yielded 51,000 likes, 24,000 tweets, and 13,600 Instagram photos, catapulting #HarvestAmerica as the No. 1 trending Twitter topic both evenings.
Over the same weekend, five other major evangelistic crusades were held around the world, including Reinhard Bonnke in Orlando, Jay Lowder in Northern Ireland, Will Graham in Japan, and Franklin Graham in Iceland.
In Orlando, Bonnke announced he'll take his Good News crusade to more cities across the country, proclaiming "Our God is able … We don't look into the past, we look into the future. And the Gospel is our nation's future."
And yet, to accurately gauge the future of the Gospel message in America and the world, we can look to the past — at history, when seasons of great social and political upheaval dovetailed with emerging technologies and entire generations responded with tidal waves of religious fervor.
In an era of political unrest and bureaucracy in the Catholic Church, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of Contention to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Thanks to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press a half-century earlier, Luther's ideas spread across Europe, spawning the Protestant Reformation.
As the Industrial Revolution began crowding a formerly rural population into urban centers, people began to doubt the cold, rational ideas of the Enlightenment. At the same time, revivalist preachers such as John Wesley and George Whitefield, and activist William Wilberforce spearheaded movements to address social ills and found missionary societies.
By the 1950s, television and radio were ubiquitous in households across the Western hemisphere; in a society turned upside down by Cold War nuclear fears, the Civil Rights movement, and economic woes, evangelists like Oral Roberts and Billy Graham sought to steer the panicked masses back to assurances of Christ's power for salvation. According to Rick Marshall, Graham's longtime crusade director, Billy Graham was "a creative genius for the utilization of media," and was among the first to leverage new mediums for the presentation of the Gospel.
It is no secret that we as a global community have entered a time of great tribulation: Ireland and Japan face high suicide rates; Japan still struggles with the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown; Iceland, like other European nations, struggles with a post-Christian secular culture; the U.S. government can't seem to agree on anything; and people are concerned for the future of healthcare.
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Though the Internet is an effective tool for spreading ideas and innovation, it also scatters bad news far and wide — more than ever, people need the good news. At a recent Jesus Culture conference in California, Bonnke declared that God "takes the nobodies and turns them into somebodies." As never before seen in history, smartphones and social media have equipped the individual believer — the Everyman Christian — to become an influencer for transformative change.
As the use of social media baptizes the globe, evangelists such as Lowder, Bonnke, Laurie, and the Grahams have a unique opportunity to amplify the numbers of those touched through mass-evangelism events by also reaching out to their online social networks.
Larry Ross is president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a Dallas-based media/public relations agency that provides crossover media liaison at the intersection of faith and culture. With more than 37 years' experience influencing public opinion, Ross' mission is to restore faith in media by providing Christian messages relevance and meaning in mainstream media.
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