EIGHT WEEKS AFTER BILLY GRAHAM
By Wilfred Bockelman
NOW THAT the record-breaking Billy Graham New York Crusade is over, what have been the results? I was at Madison Square Garden for eight nights last June and wrote an article, "Eight Nights with Billy Graham," for the July 20 issue of the Lutheran Standard. The meetings in the Garden ended on Sept. 1. I went back to New York eight weeks later, during the week of Oct. 20-27.
Was New York any different now since it had had 16 weeks of gospel preaching? if there was a decrease in crime, no one seemed to be aware of it. The drunks or the Bowery were still there. I saw no evidence of bars or liquor establishments going out of business although some of those locations near Madison Square Garden had had rather tough sledding during the crusade itself, The events at the Garden hadn't been conducive to stopping off for a few drinks on the way home. "Girlie" shows and not removed any of the life-size sensual placards seeking to entice men.
Nor was there any noticeable decline in the more sophisticated sins. Fashions were still giving God considerable competition, and Madison Avenue admen were happy over their new ally, the motivation research experts, who helped them perfect the technique of motivating more people to buy more things that they really do not need. But then I don't suppose anybody ever really expected New York to become a modern Nineveh in which everyone from the mayor on down to the street-cleaner -- or the streetwalker -- would repent in sackcloth and ashes.
Were there any changes at all? Those who were never too happy anyway with the Graham approach could easily cite examples of the harm he had done. There was the pastor who lamented that one of his members had gone to hear Billy Graham, and she had been under the psychiatrist's care ever since. Or there were those pastors whose members had been "converted" at a Graham meeting and were now quite unhappy with the "old dry stuff" they heard in their churches and so quit coming to church.
But some of this testimony is about as reliable as is that of a man who evaluated an event by saying, "I told you I wasn't going to like this, and now that I have see it, it is even worse than I knew it was, going to be."
On the other hand, there were those who were quite convinced that Billy had the answer to all problems. They saw only good in anything connected with the crusade. To prove their point they cited instance after instance of men converted, broken families reunited, bankers, professors, actors, prostitutes, and many in the stages in between who found a new life as a result of the Graham Crusade.
Those who wanted to measure results in terms of statistics at least had this in their favor that they had some statistics to quote. The figures showed that the total attendance during the 16 weeks of the crusade had been 1,963,200. Of this number 1,687,600 attended the meetings in the Garden, 239,500 were at special area meetings, and 36,100 stood as overflow at various gatherings. The total number of decisions during this period was, 56,767. However, an objective and sane evaluation these figures revealed that they were not quite as staggering as they seem to be at first glance
What were these 56,767 persons like before they heard Billy Graham? What 'were they like after they heard hin ? The first question could now be pretty well answered. It would take at least a couple of years before the second question could be answered.
The Billy Graham Crusade office made an analysis of the first 52,000 decision cards and found the following: 86 per cent stated that they were already church members or at least had a church preference. (The Crusade office interpreted a church preference to mean the that person was probably affiliated-at least in some degree-with that church.)
Applying these same percentages to the 56,767 decisions, reveals that 7,947 of those who made decisions had been entirely unchurched before. Of the 86 per cent who had a church preference 63 per cent said they attended church "regularly." (The Crusade office interpreted "regularly" to mean at least once a month.)
Another interesting analysis was the breakdown of the types of decisions made. Billy Graham constantly pointed out that a decision was not the same as a conversion. He never spoke of the people who answered the altar call as being converts. "Only God knows how many of them really were converted," Graham said. "Those who come forward are merely inquirers. Some of them ask and never get an answer, or at least never accept the answer. A decision may at times mean nothing more than a decision to come up front out of curiosity."
Five Decisions Possible
Five types of decisions were possible on the decision card that the inquirer and his individual counselor filled out in the counseling room after the service in the Garden. The five categories and the percentage of the first 52,000 who checked them were these:
Acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord - 59 per cent
Assurance of salvation - 6 per cent
Rededication - 10 per cent
Restoration - 5 per cent
Reaffirmation of faith - 15 per cent
The Crusade office gave the following definition of each of these categories:
Acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord-this was considered a "first-time decision." In other words, a person who checked this category was saying that this was the first time he had ever accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.
Assurance of salvation-people who were already members of churches, perhaps even quite active members, but who lacked assurance that they were really saved.
Rededication-people who were already Christians and knew they were Christians, but who looked upon the “alter call" as an opportunity to dedicate themselves more zealously to the work of the Lord.
Restoration-those who had been active in the church at one time but who had fallen away and now wanted to restore that fellowship with Christ, or those who had committed what they considered to be a great sin and now wanted to get it "straightened out."
Reaffirmation of faith-those who were already Christians and, perhaps, were even quite convinced that they were Christians, but who had never made a public confession of their faith. They looked upon this decision as their first public confession.
Five per cent of those who came forward came for a number of miscellaneous reasons not included in these categories. Some of the reasons were curiosity, emotionalism, or no particular reason at all.
Several observations are in order about this break- down of reasons for making a decision. In the first place, the terminology is a little confusing. For instance, it is a little difficult to see why making a public confession of faith should be called a reaffirmation of faith. It is also open to question to infer that a person who checked "Acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord" was thereby making a first decision.
In all fairness though it should be said that the inquirer himself did not fill out the card. It was filled out by the counselor, who in a personal conversation with the inquirer determined what type of decision should be checked.
More serious though is the objection that those people who came up for a decision were not told before they went into the counseling room that five types of decisions were possible. Although Billy Graham in issuing the invitation for decision never specifically stated in so many words, "All 17,000 of you in the Garden tonight are un- saved, and all of you need to come up front to be saved," there was the atmosphere throughout the service that those who came were "giving themselves to Christ" and the implication that they had been without Christ before.
However, those who accuse Graham of trying to pad figures and just get a large number of decisions should realize that, if he had extended the invitation by describing the five kinds of decisions possible, the number of decisions would probably have doubled or quadrupled.
Two figures are of particular interest. Although 86 per cent of those making decisions indicated that they were in some way or other associated with a church, 59 per cent said it was their first decision for Christ as Lord and Savior. Had that figure been 14 per cent, the pattern would have worked very neatly to account for the total. Or even 20 or 25 per cent would not have been unreasonable to allow for error. But if 86 per cent of the inquirers were already associated with the church al- though 59 per cent had not yet accepted Christ, one of two things is wrong: Either Graham did a good job of confusing people, or else the churches did not do a very good job of teaching people to keep them from being confused.
Lutherans have long felt that their thorough indoctrination solves this problem. They can understand how, say, a Methodist might be confused if he was taken into church merely by shaking the pastor's hand. Let those who feel that way, however, ponder this sobering incident.
Only a Few Were Sure
In a Luther League Leadership Training School at one of the districts of the American Lutheran Church last year a group of about 230 young people were asked two questions: "How many of you are sure you are Christians?" Virtually every hand went up. "How many of you are sure that, if you died right -now, you would be saved?" About 12 or 15 hands went up.
I think it is this uncertainty on the part of many people that accounts for the deep interest in Billy Graham and his positive message of assurance.
And yet, his own theology is quite clear on this point. Although he did not state this in any of the Garden messages I heard, I did hear one of his associate evangelists say in a Bible study group: "It is possible to be a Christian and not have the full assurance of salvation. It is not personal assurance that decides whether or not a person is a Christian. The grace of God through faith in Christ makes a person a Christian. But personal assurance adds joy to the life of a Christian."
A few more observations on the theology of Billy Graham: I heard him say in explaining what it means to be born again that "the moment of rebirth may be conscious or unconscious." I take it from that, that he does not insist-as some people imply that he does- that you have to be able to name the exact time and hour when you were converted.
Dr. David L. Ostergren, a professor at Hamma Divinity School, one of the seminaries of the United Lutheran Church in America, writing in the Lutheran Companion of July 24, 1957, gives this incident about Graham's meetings in London in 1964:
"In attending these meetings I discovered that the content of Dr. Graham's message was biblical and evangelical. To one service I brought a couple of German doctors of theology whose viewpoint of the Gospel was vitally Christian as well as thoroughly Lutheran. Billy Graham that night spoke on repentance. If there is any area where Lutherans are especially sensitive, it is in the proper preaching of repentance. It is so easy to suggest that we cooperate with God in turning to Him, rather than that turning to God is wholly and completely the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word.
"The theologians listened very critically to Graham's sermon, and although his form of preaching was strange, they found that his presentation of repentance was biblical and sound, such as any good Lutheran pastor would preach in his own pulpit."
Crusade Didn't Close Sept. 1
My reason for going back to New York during the week of Oct. 20-26 was not just to make it an even eight weeks after the crusade closed on Sept. 1, and, therefore, give me an interesting "Eight Weeks after Billy Graham" title to go as a sequel to my "Eight Nights with Billy Graham" article of July 20.
The fact of the matter is that the Billy Graham Crusade did not close, even officially, on Sept. 1. The crusade closed officially on Oct. 27 when Dr. Graham addressed 40,000 people in the Polo Grounds. The entire week of Oct. 20-27 was a particularly important one and very much an integral part of the crusade. To get the back- ground of that week we go back several years to a conversation between Billy Graham and Dr. Jesse Rader, then executive director of the Department of Evangelism of the National Council of Churches. Dr. Graham asked Dr. Rader why the great evangelists of the past had not been more successful, and what could be done to make mass evangelism more effective today.
Rader told Graham that, if he wanted to improve on the evangelists of the past, he would have to do three things. 1. He would have to work with the churches in- stead of against them as some of the evangelists of past generations had done. 2. He would have to become financially independent of the love offerings which had caused scandals about other evangelists. 3. He would have to find some kind of satisfactory follow-up technique to assimilate the newly won converts into the church.
The first two of these steps Billy Graham had taken long ago. The New York Crusade was to be the first one in which he would go all out to follow Dr. Bader's third suggestion and conduct a follow-up campaign.
The week of Oct. 20-27 was chosen for an intensive visitation program to capitalize on the interest engendered by the Graham Crusade. Approximately 1,000 congregations from Metropolitan New York agreed to participate in the campaign. Not only were they to follow up on the decision cards they had received from the crusade, but they were to make an intensive effort during four nights of that week to visit all persons on their prospect and responsibility lists. Each congregation was to supply one layman for every 10 prospects. The laymen were to go in teams of two and call on all prospects.
The mechanics were quite simple. The whole program was under the direction of a metropolitan committee. It was financed by the offerings taken at the meeting in the Garden. Dr. H. H. McConnell, director of Evangelism for the National Council of Churches, was the executive director. The metropolitan area was divided into 35 districts, and 35 nationally known evangelism directors were called. in to assist with the program. Among them was Dr. Henry Hoesman, director of evangelism for the American Lutheran Church.
On Saturday afternoon, Oct. 19, these 35 district directors met for four hours of instruction. On the following afternoon each district director met with all the pastors and lay visitors at a rally in his district. From Monday through Thursday he had morning meetings with the pastors in his district.
The visitation began on Monday evening. For f our evenings the laymen met at their own churches for sup- per, additional brief instructions from their pastor, and then went out in teams of two to make from three to five calls. After the calls were made, they reported back to the church on the success they had had.
24,000 Calls Made
During those four evenings about 6,000 laymen called on 24,000 unchurched people, more than 6,000 of whom made "decisions for Christ" and signed pledge cards indicating their intention of becoming church members.
Anyone wishing to analyze the Graham Crusade must take into account that this follow-up program is part and parcel of the crusade. Critics are fully justified in asking, "What became of the 59,000 who made decisions during the Billy Graham meetings?" But they are not justified in placing on the Graham team the whole responsibility of what becomes of them.
The Scots had a saying for it when Billy Graham was in Scotland: "Billy can get the water boiling," they said, "but it takes us to make the tea." Dr. John Baillie of Edinburgh, one )f the presidents of the World Council of Churches, said that the churches of Scotland should be glad to have Graham come in and stir up the people, but the churches must reserve for themselves the right and the responsibility of teaching the people won through Graham.
One ALC New York pastor put it this way: "The congregations who really benefitted from the crusade were those who participated in it and knew how to use it." The trouble with many critics of the crusade has been that they have accused Graham of not accomplishing something he never intended to accomplish.
Graham never intended that all 18,000 seats in Madison Square Garden should have been occupied by totally unchurched people every night. Nor should anyone in his right mind ever have expected it. People are very seldom won for the church anywhere by coming to a church service entirely on their own, They usually get into the church because someone takes or brings them.
Churches with the imagination to know how to use the Graham Crusade to their advantage reserved a block of seats at the Garden. Then they urged and organized their own members to go and take the unchurched with them. If the unchurched made a decision at the Garden, the members were right there to keep up the contact with them and assimilate them.
Twenty-eight active members of one church went to the Garden in a group. Somewhat to the chagrin of their pastor they all went forward to make a decision. After the pastor got over the blow that gave to his prestige he told them: "All right, I'll take you seriously on your decision. You marked your decision card that you were rededicating yourself to Christ, and that you wanted to serve in the church. I'll start a weekly class for you, and we'll have some discussions on ways in which you can serve in the church." Today all 28 are active evangelists in that congregation, winning others for the Lord.
A smaller and less imaginative pastor might have said: "See, just what I told you. All that happens is that they get confused. They are already Christians. Why do they want to go up front for a decision?"
What was the response of our American Lutheran churches in the New York area, both to the Graham Crusade in the Garden and the follow-up campaign eight weeks later? I attended a local pastors' conference in New York where the pastors devoted about an hour to a discussion of Graham. Opinions differed. Two pastors had helped to serve as counselors in the Garden, and one congregation participated officially in the follow-up campaign.
Both of the pastors who served as counselors had been slightly disillusioned, not having received as many direct benefits as they had expected. One said that, although he had received no new members as a result of the Garden meetings, those of his members who attended were now more active in church.
One pastor was receiving four adults into church membership on the following Sunday. All of them had been lapsed Lutherans who had lived in the community for six years but had been unchurched. "I never would have found them had I not received their names from the Graham Crusade," he said.
Another pastor said: "I received eight cards from the crusade. One was a person completely unchurched. I instructed him and confirmed him. The other seven were members of my church, but they had not been too active. Now they are in church every Sunday."
The reaction of still another ALC pastor was: "I never was in favor of it right from the start. It just isn't the Lutheran way of doing things."
Only One, but She Won Five
One Missouri Synod pastor-and there were several Missouri Synod congregations that participated-had been disappointed that he received only one decision card as a prospect from the meetings in the Garden. The person was a Jewess, but she expressed a strong interest in the church. The pastor instructed and confirmed her. On the first night of the visitation evangelism program this former Jewess and the other member of her team won five persons for the pastor's adult class.
There can be no evaluation of the Graham Crusade that considers the crusade as having ended on Sept. 1. Nor can there be a correct evaluation of the Graham Crusade that is not at the same time also an evaluation of the congregations themselves.
It is impossible to speak of the events in the Garden from May 15 to Sept. I as one thing and the regular on- going work of the congregations as another thing. The two belong together, and it is quite possible that Billy Graham understands that better than do many of the congregations.
Actually, the Billy Graham meetings were just another way for individual congregations to get additional persons on their prospect lists to assimilate into their congregations. And the persons gained in that way were not in a special classification any more than are members gained through any other channels.
It would be foolish to pin all hopes for the future of the church on Billy Graham. He is going to die someday. Surely, neither the church nor evangelism will die with him.
The fact remains, however, that evidence seems to show that God has given Billy Graham the particular gift of being able to speak to millions of people and to get them conscious of the gospel and to talk about religion
Whether or not then these people who have been influenced by Graham really continue in the Christian life depends not so much on Billy Graham as on the churches themselves.