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Billy Graham’s Altar Calls Were More Than Moments of Decision

For the late evangelist, the time after the sermon was about getting people into church.
Billy Graham’s Altar Calls Were More Than Moments of Decision
Image: John Dominis / Getty Images

An evangelist came to town when I was just a freshman in high school. He needed an organist. So my pastor made arrangements for me to help out.

“When I get to the end of my sermon,” the evangelist told me, “I’ll start to move my fingers like this.” He wriggled his fingers like a mass of night crawlers in a bait can. That was the cue, he explained, for me to begin to play some comin’-to-Jesus music very softly and tenderly—and to gradually increase the volume as he turned up the emotional pitch of his invitation.

I had sat through many altar calls before. But now that I was part of the team, I learned just how well engineered these invitations were. We carefully followed a precisely formulated sequence designed to move people out of their seats and down the aisles.

In 1969, Billy Graham came to Angels Stadium in Anaheim, California, when I was a fresh-out-of-college youth pastor. I decided to take a dozen or so teens to hear Graham preach.

When we eventually ...

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