The Billy Graham Evangelical Association brought together over 300 churches, tens of thousands of people and the top talent in Christian music for two days of praise and preaching at Coca-Cola Field this past September. Included in the two days was the likes of Michael W. Smith and Skillet, Rend Collective Experiment and Lacey from Flyleaf leading worship. The results were tracked and nearly 1,000 people came to Christ and the gospel was preached to roughly 18,000 over the two days, and for this we should all rejoice. Yet, for some, the festival Rock the Lakes, actually became a point of division and showed just how mature or lacking therein the Church in our region is. Though Franklin Graham attempts to preach a pure gospel message of salvation and leave the results to God, not every church was involved in the recent Rock the Lakes Outreach, and there were a number of reasons why.
Evangelism and the Local Church
Evangelists and the local church have a reputation of not always seeing eye to eye. Historically pastors protect their flocks from the charismatic evangelist who isn’t afraid to call out sin, offend the big donors and challenge the status quo. The typical idea, which many pastors would just as well stay away from is, evangelist visits for a few days, creates havoc for the local church and leaves the mess while they travel on to the next city. This however was not the case with Rock the Lakes, thankfully. A team from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) arrived nearly a year in advance and began working, networking and building relationships with churches and pastors to facilitate Rock the Lakes, an event meant to mobilize the church. Leading up to Rock the Lakes, many smaller trainings were conducted teaching and equipping believers for the work of ministry. This is what Ephesians is talking about when Paul outlines the offices of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher. The offices exists for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. That is the fruit of an evangelist’s ministry. Believers should be trained and mobilized to evangelize the lost, which absolutely did happen with Rock the Lakes. Hands down The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association hit a home run on this issue.
Money As An Issue
Rock the Lakes had a relatively large budget of nearly $1,000,000 to hold the festival in Buffalo. The BGEA obviously makes the festival free of charge to get in front of as many people as possible so they ask local churches to contribute to the costs and they will pick up the rest. A number of local churches, pastors and believers were offended at this monetary goal and were surprised the local church was expected and needed to contribute to this effort. While all the details of the finances were not released we do know Coca-Cola Field was donated. The BGEA concentrated heavy advertising on many billboards across the city to attract the unchurched. Staff was employed up to a year in advance of the festival and numerous events were held leading up to the Rock the Lakes Festival. The musicians all come with a price tag as well.
Franklin Graham has been outspoken on a number of issues in America and voiced his concern regarding President Obama’s faith or lack thereof. In the past during interviews Franklin questioned President Obama’s Christian faith, but then apologized for judging the heart. This however did not sit well with many African American churches and at the festival, it showed. The majority of attendees were white Caucasian and youth. For the average African American Barack Obama represents freedom and racial equality. As a white Caucasian I can certainly understand and appreciate those feelings. But what I can’t understand is identifying more with race than with faith in Christ. There is no more race in Christ. We are all one in Christ, Paul taught. If that is the case, why would we allow political views to stand in the way of the gospel being preached to this city and getting behind the effort. What could have been an incredible display of Christian unity so that the world (our city) would know that Jesus is the Christ, turned into an event that still had a great impact but the Church in our region did not do a great job of coming together across racial lines. Yes 300 churches came together but there could have been more.
The divide continued to show as many of supporters for Rock the Lakes were suburban and youth led. Though the initial invitation to BGEA came from a group of smaller African American churches in the city, without the influence of a large African American Church in the leadership of the event, it was a tough road to climb. Along with that, many churches looked at the event as youth led and focused and may not have gotten behind it for that reason.
Rock the Lakes was criticized on a number of fronts for their methodology in reaching the lost. Their idea to come in to a city, spend close to a million dollars, pack a stadium with popular Christian bands and hope the lost will come was criticized as a waste of resources that could have been given to the poor or improved our schools or helped struggling churches. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20, “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” Some of the people who came to Rock the Lakes may never have set foot in a church setting but into Coca-Cola Field they felt comfortable.
All in all, despite the challenges and the obstacles to overcome, Rock the Lakes reported 574 salvations and over 1,000 re-dedications. The events also reported another 18,000 reached over the internet with over 600 responses online. Dr. Lee and Annie McCune who served as leaders of the event said, “As executive directors of the Rock the Lakes Buffalo Task Force, we are thrilled to have had the opportunity to partner with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in bringing this event to Buffalo. Over 18,000 attended in person and another 18,000 watched via the live web cast. Over a thousand decisions were made by those who came forward or asked for more info via the web site. Thousands more were strengthened in their walks with Christ by participating at the festival and the year long process of training events. It is marvelous to see what can be done when the church comes together as one in prayer and effort to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God and the love of God for each one of us.” Sherman Barnette, Rock the Lakes Buffalo Festival Director said it well, “As a former pastor I can't get my head around why when you have an organization like the BGEA with a record of integrity and preaching the gospel and an opportunity to partner with an organization like that, why wouldn't you?”