“I want you to get out of your seat.” My biggest lesson from Billy Graham.

There are many differences between most of us and Billy Graham. But here’s a critical lesson we can all take to heart.


I remember hearing Billy Graham, live, on one of his last UK visits.  We were at Crystal Palace in south London, and it was a cool evening. We had hired a red London bus for our church (the Billy Bus, we called it), and we’d brought friends along to hear him. The stadium was full, but it wasn’t packed.

The programme ran as scheduled, and expected, with Cliff Barrows leading the music.  Frankly, ho-hum.

billy-graham-houston-crusadeAnd then Dr Graham got up to speak, wth that unmistakeable voice and accent, patiently and carefully explaining what ‘the Bible says’ about God, us, sin, the cross, and the need to come to Christ.

It was good, but (oh, the arrogance of youth) I wasn’t that impressed.  Clear, wise, true – but not particularly special.  Couldn’t anyone do that?

Then he gave his invitation, for people to ‘get out of your seats’, and come down to the front – ‘Don’t worry – the buses will wait’, and something remarkable happened.  At first there was a sound like a slow, mocking hand clap around the stadium.  But it gradually speeded up, and I realised it was the sound of hundreds of plastic seats flipping up against the concrete benches, as people left their seats, responded to the invitation, and came to the front.


Now, there are loads of lessons from that.  I have about half a dozen biographies of the great man on my shelves, and one of them is still the only biography I have got up to read at 4am, I was so excited.  I’ve learned about his single mindedness, his generosity, his prayer life, his dependence, his humility, trusting what ‘the Bible says.’  He is truly one of my heroes. I learnt a ton about my arrogance, God’s power, and proper preaching too.

But I also learned a critical ministry lesson as well that night – about the power of an invitation.

Dr Graham was not afraid to invite people to make a clear response.

And he’s not the only evangelist with that edge, either.  I’ve mentioned the great John Chapman before.  Chappo once said that the only serious regret he had about ministry were the times he bottled out of the invitation.  A voice in his head said, ‘Not tonight, Chappo.  No-one’s really listening.  They’re all half asleep and want to get home. And your talk certainly wasn’t good enough to do anything useful.  Not tonight.’  Did people become Christians every time Chappo offered an invitation? Of course not.  But what about the times when he choked it…

I’m not a great ‘I want you to get out your seats’ preacher.  I know my temptation to measure success by results.  I’m wary of people confusing an outward response with a heart response.  I’m cautious about people being swayed by an emotional moment. If you’re a theologian or historian, you’ll understand that I fear Finney. I probably over-think those dangers, because I turn the dial right, right down.

But I still believe in the power of the invitation.  Invite people to take the booklet, sign the card, prayer the prayer, go to the course, talk to me afterwards, visit the book table  – whatever.  A clear, confidently announced invitation. And above all, ‘Would you like to become a Christian, right now? Let me pray a simple prayer which you can echo in your heart.’

After all, why did we have guests on the Billy Bus?  Because people had offered an invitation to their friends.  Clearly, and confidently.

Don’t lose the power of the clearly articulated invitation.

And happy birthday, Dr Graham.


92937I wrote more about evangelistic preaching in Cutting to the Heart: Applying the Bible in teaching and preaching

🇬🇧You can now buy ‘Cutting to the Heart’ at a discount from 10ofthose here.

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🇺🇸US readers can buy from Amazon here, and as a Kindle edition,  here.

Aussie? Koorong has it here.

6 comments on ““I want you to get out of your seat.” My biggest lesson from Billy Graham.”

  1. Thanks Chris. I remember stewarding as a young teenager at the last big Billy Graham event here in the UK when he did the live link from Earls Court. We had one of the Satellite links at St Georges Hall Bradford. The Methodist Mission Hall I grew up in had the tradition as well of a regular Sunday altar call (the pastor had strong links with BGA and also used their counselling programme) and I kind of indirectly owe my own response to that. I was 5. My slightly older sister went forward with our mum to hold her hand because she was shy. I asked my dad what and why my sister was doing. He explained that she wanted to tell Jesus she loved him and to ask him into her heart and to forgive her. I said I would like to do that too and asked if I had to go tot he front and he said ” no, you can pray right here.”
    Since, then, generally I think the reformed tradition has shied away from anything that looks like an altar call and I can see that side of the coin too so we don’t normally invite shows of hands or people to come forward. I also think coming forward is now so closely associated with Toronto style “ministry.” However when on summer placement during my time at Oak Hall, I closed a sermon by inviting a response and leading a prayer. One of the mums came back later and said that she had gone home and talked with her daughters and they had prayed. She’d not known how to help them articulate a profession of faith before. I now try to regularly include some form of invitation.

    1. Yes, I can’t remember the last time I asked people to come to the front or raise a hand. (Actually I can – it as a log time ago, and very embarrassing). But to respond, right now, in your heart…

  2. I a short book based on his interviews with David Frost which was very interesting. It’s a shame we don’t really do the serious TV interview anymore. Which biography was it by the way?

  3. After your last post about about “preaching for decision” the other day I decided to give it a go yesterday morning. I led people in a prayer which they could pray if they wanted to. A couple of people commented to me afterwards that they appreciated it and would like to see more of that kind of thing. It did feel a bit strange but worthwhile. I don’t think I would have felt comfortable with asking people to come to the front, but asking people to make a decision felt right.

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