Harvest America 2018 Poised to Break Records Again as Largest One-Day Crusade
LifeZette talks to Pastor Greg Laurie about ministry, mentor Billy Graham's passing, and modern evangelism
Harvest America 2018, a nationwide crusade headed by Pastor Greg Laurie, returns for the second time to AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The free-admission, day-long event on June 10 is simulcast nationwide at churches, theaters, private homes, and online. In addition to a message delivered by Laurie, the event features performances from top-tier Christian musical talent like Switchfoot, Crowder, Phil Wickham, and Chris Tomlin.
“I sort of compare it to the Super Bowl of evangelism,” said Laurie in a telephone interview with LifeZette.
“On Super Bowl Sunday, people across America watch the same game at the same time and have little parties before and after. That’s what a Harvest America event is like,” the funny, engaging, 65-year old added.
“What a person will find when they come in to one of our events is a giant celebration, even like a party. It’s fun. The music is engaging — fantastic music.”
If a twinkle in the eye were audible, it would sound like Greg Laurie when he talks about the atmosphere at a Harvest America event.
Laurie is senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, one of the largest congregations in America, with campuses in California and Hawaii. The pastor, author, filmmaker, dad and granddad spoke with LifeZette ahead of the crusade.
“Last time we did it at AT&T Stadium, we had over 100,000 people at the stadium itself,” said Laurie. “Then we had another 250,000 people watching at what we call ‘host sites’ around the United States.”
“Harvest America literally goes across the country. And we call it Harvest America, but people from around the world watched it and responded to it, and we’re praying that will happen again.”
At the last such event in Dallas in 2016, Laurie explained that 25,000 people made a profession of faith to follow Christ. Eight thousand of them were in the stadium that night. The rest — 17,000 new Christians — made their decisions at many other venues across the country.
"Anybody can participate in this event from a screen in their church to a tablet on their lap or the phone, or they can just tap into the site and watch it as it happens," said Laurie.
Laurie emphasized that all are welcome and encouraged to attend, either at the stadium or at one of the many other venues.
"Everybody's welcome. Republicans are welcome. Democrats are welcome. Libertarians are welcome. Atheists and agnostics are welcome. And of course Christians are welcome."
"My message will be based on Scripture. I'll let the words of Christ speak for themselves," he said.
Laurie is passionate about reaching youth before they experience live-changing trouble.
"I want to reach the girl before she gets pregnant outside of wedlock and tell her God has a better plan for her. I want to talk to the young man who's living that same way."
He added, "I want to talk to the older people who have maybe reached many of their goals in life and they've been very successful but they're wondering, 'There has to be more.'"
Laurie went on to put forward the example of the wildly successful Swedish musician and DJ Avicii — who recently took his own life. The tragic end to Avicii's life, Laurie says, serves as a relatable example to which many of today's youth can easily relate.
"As a young man, [Avicii] was at the top of his game. Making millions of dollars. Living the dream of many young people today. He was searching for meaning in life. He was wondering what the afterlife was about. And he grew so despondent he took his own life," said Laurie.
"To me, he's the symbol of many young people today. They think, 'Oh, I'll become a social media star' or 'I'll become famous' or 'I have a bunch of money and I'll be happy.' And here's a guy who had it all and then some, and yet, he takes his own life. I want to reach those people before something horrible like that happens to them. And tell them that God has a better plan for their life and also the afterlife."
Laurie's message is simple and profound — and his goal is for as many people as possible to hear it.
"I'm gonna tell them who Jesus is. I'm gonna tell them what Jesus said. I'm gonna tell them how to come into a relationship with Jesus. And tell them how to do it. And then I'm gonna ask them to do it."
And evangelism comes down to precisely that. No magic. No mysticism. No mumbo-jumbo. Simply sharing your faith with someone else.
"I believe that conversion, becoming a Christian — it doesn't take years. It doesn't take months. It doesn't take hours. It can happen in a moment of belief. So that's what I'm aiming towards," he said.
At Harvest America events, the church's counselors play a vital role. Lodi, California, residents Gynette and Andrew Terranova, along with their teenage son Gabe, have served three times as Harvest decision follow-up counselors, once in Dallas, and twice in Los Angeles.
"Witnessing new believers putting their trust in Jesus and welcoming them is a little like seeing a precious newborn enter the world."
"Serving as decision follow-up counselors has had a profound impact on us each time," Gynette Terranova told LifeZette.
"Witnessing new believers putting their trust in Jesus and welcoming them is a little like seeing a precious newborn enter the world ... These newborn Christians are entering a new world of faith and simultaneously being ushered into the family of God and eternal life. Having a small part in that is an honor and a privilege," she added.
Gynette has an alarm set on her phone that sounds at 3:20 p.m. every day. At that time, she prays for Harvest and for a specific young man with whom she and her family formed a special bond at a Harvest event. The young man was a bit younger than her son Gabe and asked for prayer for a family member struggling with alcoholism.
Of the Harvest America counselors like the Terranovas, who volunteer their time and engage people making the most important decision in their lives, Laurie said, "I can't even begin to describe how significant that is and how much I appreciate what they are doing."
This year's event in Dallas comes at a challenging time for Laurie and for other evangelists, many of whom are still coming to grips with the loss of Billy Graham.
"I think it's a profound loss for our country," said Laurie of Graham's loss. "And it seems like we really need someone like Billy Graham in the nation right now."
Laurie spoke of his great respect for Graham, on whose board of directors he has served for many years.
"For all practical purposes, [Billy Graham was] the face of evangelicalism. He was also the counselor and pastor to presidents. And a pastor to the nation in times of tragedy. But first and foremost, he was an evangelist."
"Everything I learned about evangelism, I learned from Billy Graham," added Laurie.
"I spent a lot of time with him. I asked him probably too many questions. I didn't realize it, but I'd been enrolled in the finest evangelistic university on earth — hanging out with Billy Graham," he added.
"He was the most godly man I ever met. And he was very approachable. He was very friendly to people. He was very down-to-earth."
On whether he thinks people close to him would describe him in ways similar to that, Laurie didn't hesitate. "I don't know!" the humble Laurie exclaimed. "I would hope so, but I doubt it. I think I would fall short."
"I think anybody who would say they're gonna be the next Billy Graham ought to have their head examined. Because I don't think there will be another Billy Graham," he said flatly. "Billy was a singular figure."
After Graham's death, Laurie wrote an article entitled "Do What Billy Did." In the article, Laurie's simple point was that if you really admired Billy Graham, then the best way to honor him is to do what Billy Graham did — he proclaimed the gospel and called on people to believe in Jesus. Laurie calls this "proclamation evangelism."
Laurie advised those praying about the event and the presenters to pray for the Lord's protection.
"When you do this kind of work, you come under a lot of attacks, all kinds of attacks. And even physical threats and such," he said.
He also asks for prayer for the Lord to provide for the financial needs of the ministry. The event itself is free for all participants, and those who make a decision for Christ that night receive a "New Believer's Bible," which includes special notes from Laurie. All of those amazing gifts, of course, come with a price tag.
"Pray that churches would really get fired up and seize this opportunity and take advantage of it," said Laurie.
To those reading this article who are not Christians, or who may have rejected Christianity out of hand based on what they've seen on television, for example, Laurie requests this: "Don't reject something that you don't know anything about firsthand. At least give a fair hearing to who Jesus was and what He said before you reject who He is."
More information about the June 10 event can be found at Harvest America 2018.
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.