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Billy Graham, Altar Calls, and Church Planting

As I write this the funeral of Billy Graham is about to begin. Graham was undoubtedly the greatest evangelist of our time and many believe we will never see another like him. When all is said and done if God were to share with us the number of those brought to Christ as a result of Graham and his work the number would certainly be astronomical.

The Hole that Needed to be Filled

But Graham himself saw a problem as he went from town to town pleading for decisions for Christ. The problem was follow-up. What happens after those who came forward go home and the crusade has moved out of town? How many of those who professed Christ were still walking with the Lord a year or two later? These questions tormented Graham for years until he solicited the help of Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, to travel with his team.

Trotman was well-known for his emphasis on helping converts become disciples who would then pay it forward and make more disciples. Graham said no one had Trotman’s understanding of follow-up. So he brought him on board and together they instituted method where local believers would be trained to counsel those who came forward. The plan made sure each convert’s name was given to a local church.

Today we experience some of the same problems that plagued Billy Graham and his team. What happens after someone makes a decision for Christ and is baptized? We love to publicize our baptism numbers, but how many of those are still walking strongly with the Lord a year or two later? Follow-up and discipleship are absolutely crucial.

So what’s the connection with church planting?

When it comes to church planting organizations many church members are asking, “Why don’t we just focus on evangelism? Why not just do more inner-city mission trips or evangelistic outreach events? The answer goes back to Billy Graham and the issue of follow-up. When we stress evangelism and “decisions” but put no emphasis on follow-up and discipleship we create believers with no support system. It’s like leaving a newborn baby to fend for itself. In short, much of our work is lost as the thorns and scorching heat of the world choke out the new seedlings.

But with church planting we are seeking not only to reach more people for Christ and get more people into heaven, but to get them into a community where they can grow and be held accountable and be mentored by others who are more mature in their faith. Fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 is not just about making converts, but making disciples.

We don’t want to take anything away from mass evangelism and the work God can and has done through it. Indeed our own fellowship, the Stone-Campbell movement, was partly birthed during mass evangelism events. But the most effective means of fulfilling the Great Commission is church planting. Evangelism is good. Evangelism with discipleship is better.


JOHN DAVIS, Minister of Evangelism & Discipleship at Tates Creek Christian Church

John currently serves as the Minister of Evangelism and Discipleship at Tates Creek Christian Church. He and his wife Jennifer have been married for ten years and they have two children: Owen and Jordyn. John has a Business Management degree from UK and a Masters in Theology from Cincinnati Bible Seminary. John is especially concerned with helping to increase Bible literacy in churches as well as seeing churches built on the preaching and teaching of God’s word.

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