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Megachurch pastor and Evangelism Explosion founder D. James Kennedy died Wednesday in his Florida home from complications following a December heart attack. He retired last week as senior pastor of the church he founded, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 76.

Kennedy created an impressive "empire," says Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (ISAE). Kennedy built many ministries around his 10,000-member Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, including Knox Theological Seminary, a K-12 school, television and radio programs, and the politically conservative Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. He is also the author of more than 50 books.

But Eskridge and other evangelicals think his most lasting impact will be Evangelism Explosion, a curriculum that shows laymen how to evangelize in everyday settings. The ministry says 12,000 churches use the program.

"It was not as formulaic as the strategies in the past. There wasn't a pick-up line like some of the other strategies," Eskridge told CT. "It shifted the focus to the laypeople as a congregational strategy, and not just go bring them into the tent and let the preacher talk to them."

On Kennedy's first evangelistic house call, a burly man opened the door and asked, "Whadya want?" with a cigar in his mouth and a beer in his hand. After they made small talk, Kennedy tried to say something spiritual, but he felt paralyzed and left feeling unsuccessful. It was then that he realized he lacked courage and had no idea how to evangelize. He later watched a successful evangelist and developed Evangelism Explosion in order to equip laypeople.

The program allowed Christians to evangelize conversationally and comfortably, ...

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Empire Builder D. James Kennedy Dies at 76
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