February 2007 Issue
Still Works for Rick Gage
by Lisa Rice
Billy Graham is recognized around
the world for the monumental success and impact of his citywide
crusades. These crusades have been so popular over the past fifty
years that one in six Americans has heard Graham speak in person.
According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, one
out of every one hundred people who made a commitment to Christ
at a Graham crusade is now in full-time ministry, and 70-80 percent
of those saved at a crusade have remained steadfast in their decision
to follow Christ.1 But what will become
of crusade evangelism as Billy Graham's career draws to an end?
Some have suggested that this model of evangelism is no longer
effective or valid. Will the crusades Graham made so famous become
According to James Merritt, former president of the Southern
Baptist Convention, several major spiritual challenges have created
obstacles for groups attempting this type of outreach. "We've
seen a radical shift in our culture over the past thirty years,"
said Merritt, "and a move toward a far more secular, less
sympathetic view of Christianity in general. There's been a hardening
to the message and methodology that's tough to overcome, and we're
seeing a disturbing spiritual apathy in the church, with a move
away from biblical, expository preaching. People want a 'feel
good' message and a 'tickling of men's ears,' which flies in the
face of the direct, intentional work of a crusade evangelist."
But Bobby Welch, also a former president of the Southern Baptist
Convention, said, "It is ridiculous to believe we can win
the world by getting people to come into the church. Many just
won't. The action is outside the church walls. I believe that
evangelistic crusades are not obsolete, but rather 'Back to the
Future' and the very thing the church needs in this century."
According to Evangelist Rick Gage, that is exactly why he is
doing what he is doing. Once dubbed by the Associated Press
as the "small town Billy Graham," Gage and his Atlanta-based
Go Tell Ministries team has been filling high school football
stadiums across the nation with evangelistic crusades in small
county-seat towns places like Mount Pleasant, Texas; Gaffney,
South Carolina; London, Kentucky; and Lincolnton, North Carolina
for nearly two decades. As with Billy Graham Crusades,
local churches work together to help make the crusades a success
by inviting the lost and then nurturing new believers as they
follow Christ but in Gage's crusades there may only be
dozens of churches involved instead of hundreds.
Go Tell's crusade ministry unites churches in a community
who pool their resources to prepare the way for evangelistic crusades
to be held in football stadiums, civic centers, and coliseums.
The nightly event features video, popular Christian artists, testimonies
of hope and inspiration, and a clear Gospel message. Each crusade
has a youth night, which is preceded by local school assemblies
where Gage and other crusade associates speak to young people
about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
In Gage's recent crusade in Laurens County, Georgia (population
fifty thousand), thousands flocked to West Laurens High School
Football Stadium for the four-night event, despite predictions
of rain each evening. By the conclusion of the crusade, 465 spiritual
decisions had been recorded, including 211 first-time professions
"Everywhere I go people are still talking about what the
Lord did, and our hearts are filled with gratitude," said
Skip Evans, chairman of that crusade. "I truly believe the
impact of this crusade will have far-reaching results and will
be felt for years to come."
Such results are common in communities that host one of Gage's
But how does Gage make what some consider to be an outdated
evangelistic outreach method work so well in our increasingly
hardened, apathetic culture? It's through relationships. In Gage's
annual Go Tell Summer Camps, he forms relationships with
more than two hundred churches mostly from small towns,
and here he introduces the crusade ministry (via video) to these
church leaders. "These leaders instantly see that this is
my passion," said Gage. "I'm not interested in going
to the big cities. I grew up in a small town and have always had
a heart for rural America. When people see your heart and passion
for their people, they open their doors to you and to the
Football Coach Turned Stadium
Actually, it used to be the gridiron, rather than the lost,
that captured Gage's heart. "I wanted to be the next Tom
Landry, Bear Bryant, or Mark Richt," admitted Gage, smiling.
"Not an evangelist like my dad."
Although Gage's father, Freddie, was an evangelist, Rick never
expected to follow in his footsteps. A natural-born athlete, he
instead chose a football coaching career after graduating from
Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. He began to drift away
from God and was, as he puts it, "on the road to self destruction."
One Sunday night in January of 1984, Gage attended a crusade
where evangelist James Robison was preaching and was never the
same again. "I surrendered my life to Christ totally and
completely," he said. "For the first time in my life,
the Bible became real to me. I stayed up until three in the morning,
reading my dust-covered Bible, where the words were jumping off
the pages into my heart. I fell in love with the Author of the
Bible, and His words became life to my soul."
Gage launched his own ministry in 1990, which today includes
his youth camp ministry that has trained more than seventy-five
thousand teens and leaders in evangelism. Camp speakers have included
Ergun Caner, Johnny Hunt, James Merritt, and Josh McDowell, to
name a few, and professional football players Shaun Alexander
and Danny Wuerffel.
Because of his evangelist father's influence, as well as his
own experience finding salvation at a crusade, Gage realized his
divine calling in the arena of evangelistic crusades. "The
reason I can do this with such confidence is that it's what God
has called me to do and because I've been around it all
my life. Plus, God used an evangelistic event to change my own
life, and if He can do it for me, He can do it for others."
Serving the Local Church
Not only have tens of thousands committed their lives to Christ
in Gage's evangelistic outreaches, many have also heard God's
call to ministry during these events. Go Tell records and
passes along to local pastors every spiritual decision made at
the crusades and also strives to connect each new believer with
a participating church so they can be scripturally baptized.
"I've come to understand the church," said Gage,
"and the challenges it faces in evangelism. My number one
desire is to impact communities for Christ and make a difference
by supporting the evangelistic and discipleship ministries of
the local church." Others have also seen the benefit to partnering
with these churches and serving them in reaching their goals in
the community. "Rick is easy to work with," said Merritt,
"and his love for people, pastors, and souls really comes
across. He's a non-threatening, non-competing, genuine help to
church leaders in the communities where he serves."
The Church Has Left the
According to Welch, "the church is a place people go out
from, not come in to. As soon as people understand that concept,
the world will explode with evangelism."
"Evangelistic crusades are just as relevant as ever,"
said Gage. "It's the Word the Truth in love and passion
presented in the most non-threatening environment possible.
That is the proven method for hooking the hearts of the lost,
and I believe it will always work especially in rural America
if we're not afraid to get out there and 'just do it.'"
Lisa Rice is a freelance writer in Atlanta,
For more information about Rick Gage
go to www.gotellministries.com.
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