"Louisville is a wonderful city, and I remember fondly our meetings here in 1956 and 1964; I believe God has called us back to the `Blue Grass State' to continue that work, and a wonderful group of pastors and community leaders have told us they feel this is God's timing for that to happen." - Dr. Billy Graham, as quoted from the official Greater Louisville Billy Graham Crusade Website.
It's been called Louisville's biggest Christian event of the last ten years. It may be the biggest of the last thirty years. June 21st-24th the Greater Louisville Billy Graham Crusade comes to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Joining Dr. Graham will be a variety of Christian music artists, representing everything from bluegrass to rock. On Thursday the 21st, Michael W. Smith and Racheal Lampa will take the stage. Friday the 22nd, Kentucky's own Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder along with Louisville's Larnelle Harris will sing. Saturday the 23rd is billed as "The Concert for the Next Generation" and features Jennifer Knapp, Kirk Franklin, and dc Talk. Sunday the 23rd Third Day and the Gaither Vocal Band take the stage. Dr. Graham will speak each night.
Butch Pylant, Coordinator of Counseling & Followup and Student Ministry for the Crusade, tells Louisville Music News, " The main thing that draws them (the artists) to this is they understand what the objective is. The whole purpose of Billy Graham coming is to have a united event where we all can come together. And we're all coming for the same purpose, that is to point people to Christ."
Pylant also says Christian music artists feel safe performing at a Graham Crusade, "Mr. Graham has been speaking for over sixty years. He is someone that has stayed true to the message. God has protected him. Obviously there has never been any kind of a scandal, whether it be monetarily, or a sex scandal, anything like that. He comes from probably the most basic sense of the word that they feel that they can trust. Kirk Franklin, dc Talk, Jennifer Knapp and all the people that are coming, they understand that when they make the investment of their time, it's more than just a performance."
Pylant also says that, in this day and age, people may not show up for an event that only features preaching. "We don't live in an age of the orator. There's not tons of people that turn out to listen to an eight-two-year-old preacher. But we understand that today, music is such a draw for a lot of people. A combination of music and a message is an effective way to reach out to people that are hurting and are lost and don't have the answers to life."
The crusade marks dc Talk's first Louisville concert appearance in over two years. Pylant says the group has participated in twelve crusades. "They are a long-standing partner with what we're doing."
In addition to singing, Franklin, the million-selling urban artist and now movie producer (his film Kingdom Come hit theatres in April) may give an account of his life at the crusade. "He's a guy that will tell the testimony of living in a car at one time, Pylant says. "He's not had a clean record. He knows what it's like to come from absolutely nothing."
Normally music groups that have achieved that level of success are paid large sums to perform. According to Pylant, that's not always the case with Billy Graham Crusade. "A lot of these guys come for free. It's just because they are totally sold out to the evangelistic side, the outreach side of what we're doing. All of the musical artists know that we're here to help people that are hurting in a lost world. They partner up (with the Crusade) because they also have the same kind of burden. When they stand before God, they want to, along with Billy Graham, say that they have served the Lord well and been good and faithful servants."
Pylant says that a Billy Graham Crusade is a unique event for Christian music artists. "A lot times in their musical ministries they'll get all tied up with the concert activities on the road. And that is a part of being a music ministry. But this is the one opportunity that they can partner with a truly and solely evangelistic event."
He believes Billy Graham was "chosen" to do great things. "He's not the pastor of a large church, but he's someone who is know across the United States and even worldwide. His reputation is (being) a man after God's own heart, in that he's just a servant. He's a country boy from North Carolina, but God has chosen him to be a messenger. He delivers the biblical message just as an orator, but the musicians come and present it musically."
The Greater Louisville Billy Graham Crusade is a free event. There are no tickets, all seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. An offering will be taken at each service for crusade expenses. Dr. Graham will speak at all services except for a children's program Saturday morning. In addition to the artists above, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea and a 4,000 voice adult choir will sing. Thursday, Friday and Sunday the events get underway at 7 p.m. Saturday the children's event ("Kidz Gig") is at 10:30 a.m. The "Concert for the Next Generation" is at 6 that night. Gates open ninety minutes before the start of each program. For more details go to louisvillecrusade.org.
This is going to be a huge event, so if you are planning on attending, I would recommend on getting there early. I plan to be there for all four evenings of the Crusade, so look for a review coming soon in LMN.