Ed: What have you learned from 30 years of preaching the gospel?
Greg: You know, I once asked Billy Graham a similar question. I said, “Billy, if an older Billy could speak to a younger Billy, what would he say?” He answered, “I would tell him to preach more on the cross and the blood of Christ, because that is where the power is.”
After 30 years of preaching the gospel, I have come to understand Billy’s words. Too often, we are tempted to edit God’s word, especially in today’s culture when anybody at any point can be offended by anything you say. But any gospel that promises forgiveness without telling you that you must first repent is not the gospel. And any gospel that offers a hope of heaven without warning of the reality of hell is not the gospel. The gospel is Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead, and as Paul said in Romans 1:16, there is power in this message.
Now, what would an older Greg say to a younger Greg? I believe he would say, “Less is more, keep it simple.” So I try to make the message as simple and clear as possible without compromising the truth of the gospel.As Spurgeon said, I try to make “a bee-line to the cross.”
Ed: How has evangelism changed over the past 30 years and why is it still important today?
Greg: To understand how evangelism has changed in the past 30 years, we have to understand how culture has also changed. As I mentioned earlier, we live at a time when you get major pushback if you say anything critical. You know what the irony is? You can say whatever you want critically about followers of Jesus Christ, and that is acceptable in our culture.
English author and theologian G.K. Chesterton saw this coming in the early 20th century. He said,
You are free in our time to say that God does not exist; you are free to say that He exists and is evil.… You may talk of God as metaphor or mystification. . . . But if you speak of God as a fact, as a thing like a tiger, as a reason for changing one’s conduct, then the modern world will stop you somehow if it can.… It is now thought irreverent to be a believer.
The sad reality is that our hostile culture has made many Christians grow hesitant to share their faith. As you noted in a recent article on The Exchange, only 4i n 10 Christians say they have shared the gospel in the past six months. Research from the Barna Group also has shown that nearly half of millennials believe that evangelizing is actually wrong. For pastors and churches, it has never been more important to prioritize evangelism.
Ed: How would you encourage young people to share the gospel?
Greg: When engaging a nonbeliever in a conversation, we must seek to first build a bridge, not burn one. It’s good to remember that everyone’s favorite subject is themselves!Ask a person about their life, their beliefs, then tell them what you believe.
I had a conversation a few years ago with a cab driver named Tom.We drove by a “Ghost bike,” which is a bicycle that has been painted white on the side of the road to commemorate the fact that the rider had died there.
As we drove past this bike, I commented to Tom the cab driver, “That is so sad that someone died there.” Tom told me he personally knew a couple of people who had been killed on that very highway on road bikes.
I then asked Tom, “What do you think happens after you die, Tom?”Tom went on to give his view on the afterlife, which was basically reincarnation. I listened and did not interruptor contradicthim until he finished. Tomthen asked me, “What do you think happens after we die?”That was a perfect set-up for the gospel, which I then shared.Tom responded, “I like your view of the afterlife better thanmine!”I responded that it was not my view, but what Jesus said.
I try to find natural moments to bring up the gospel to my listener. However, I am very intentional about it.
We need to remember the primary way that God has chosen to reach unbelievers is through the verbal articulation of the gospel. God could raise up an army of angels to deliver his message or even make an animal preach — he has done both before. But God has chosen to reach people through people (Rom. 10:14).
Ed: Why do people still show up to Harvest crusades?
Greg: Not long ago, I read an interesting article about billionaires who are spending a lot of money to try to extend the length of their lives. One billionaire wants to transfer his consciousness to a computer chip so he can live after his body dies. Other billionaires are getting blood transfusions from young people aged 16-25, thinking that will let them live longer.
As sci-fi as these attempts to prolonging life sound, they remind us that people still worry and wonder about death and what’s after it. Even more, our young generations are lonely and despondent, with some of the highest suicide rates.
Generation Z is now being described as the “Hopeless Generation.” People are looking for hope and meaning, and they are not finding them in money, sex, drugs, careers, or social media. The gospel is a very hopeful message.It will never go out of style.It is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom.1:16).
Ed: What’s next for Harvest crusades?
Greg: We have a lot to celebrate this year. Since 1990, over six million people have attended our Harvest crusades in person, plus another 2.8 million who have tuned in via webcast. Our team has counted nearly 500,000 decisions for Christ. For all of this and so much more, we give honor and praise to God. But there’s still work left to be done. Our country is in need spiritually. We need another spiritual awakening. We are praying for a 21stcentury Jesus revolution to sweep across America — and we are preparing for it.
Or maybe I should say, “Pre-praying” for it. Over the next 20 months we are rolling out an evangelistic campaign which will include crusades in Boise and Los Angeles. We want to reach more than two million people and see more than 200,000 professions of faith. We know it’s ambitious, but as Jesus told us, “Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35).
If you are in the area, be sure to connect with SoCal Harvest 2019—August 23-25, 2019, at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, CA.