Training program associated with Billy Graham aims to equip church leaders


Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 9:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 9:01 p.m.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will host training sessions in Gainesville beginning Thursday for church pastors and leaders as part of a nationwide outreach to step up evangelism.

The movement, called My Hope with Billy Graham, aims to boost the number of practicing Christians across North America, said Elsie Wilson, with the regional office of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“So many people are in trouble, and our goal is to reach out to as many people as possible and help them develop a relationship with Christ,” Wilson said.

The sessions are designed for pastors and church leaders to show members how to share the Gospel with those around them.

Jim Guth, the regional coordinator for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will lead the sessions that begin Thursday at the Oak Park Baptist Church.

“I could tell people about what (having faith) has done for me,” Guth said, “but if they don’t know me, my story doesn’t do anything for them. When they hear from someone they trust, they want to make a change.”

Guth said the training sessions are only for pastors and church staff because the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association wants pastors to be the ones who encourage churchgoers to introduce their friends to the religion, Guth said.

Guth said that the word-of-mouth approach the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will test here has been successful in 57 countries, including Russia and India, over a 10-year period. More than 10 million people have embraced Christianity, said Guth, citing association figures.

According to the Pew Research Center, there were more than 266 million Christians in North America as of 2010. A Pew study released last October shows that one-fifth of Americans and one-third of adults under 30 claim no religious affiliation.

Monika Ardelt, an associate professor in sociology at the University of Florida who focuses on the link between purpose in life and religion, said some people attend church because they “live their religion and use religion for the greater good,” whereas others attend when they’re searching for a place of solace or community.

Younger generations, like Millennials, tend to focus more on practicing spirituality outside of church, focusing instead on a sense of purpose and meaning that’s not necessarily tied to adopting a religion, Ardelt said.

“Whether attending church helps,” she said, “depends on the person. A growing number believe they can achieve spirituality outside of the church.”

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