PIKEVILLE, Ky. (BP)–More than 1,100 people reported making spiritual decisions during the “Mountain Crusade for Christ” in Pikeville, Ky.
Organizers are heralding the four-night event as a model of what can happen when more than 40 churches of various denominations cooperate on a common goal to impact their town.
“It’s having a profound effect on the whole community,” said Paul Badgett, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pikeville. “The Lord’s just doing something right now.”
Of the spiritual decisions recorded, approximately 450 were by people making first-time professions of faith in Jesus as their personal Savior. Approximately 650 were rededications, organizers said.
Atlanta evangelist Rick Gage said he was impressed by the four-night attendance of approximately 10,000 as well as the decisions.
“It became very obvious to our team that this area is very hungry for God,” he said. “And the response and the turnout has been tremendous.”
Gage and crusade chairman Billy Joe Justice said the crusade could have been extended, but that would have conflicted with a football game at the crusade’s venue, Pikeville High School’s stadium.
In addition to the nightly services, Gage spoke in local schools throughout the county, delivering a non-religious, motivational address.
“It’s a 30-minute address that deals with drug abuse, alcohol abuse, teen suicide, premarital sex, gang violence, just all the hot buttons that are prevalent among teenagers today,” Gage said. “It really grabs the minds of these kids and causes them to evaluate the direction of their lives.”
The son of evangelist Freddie Gage, Rick Gage was an assistant college football coach in Texas five years before he felt led to become an evangelist in 1986.
On Sunday night, Gage invited teenagers to the front of the audience before starting his sermon. He asked students if they knew someone who was involved in drugs or alcohol, and many of the students raised their hands.
“You know what that tells me, moms and dads?” he asked. “The church has a lot of work to do.”
Preaching from Matthew 17, Gage noted that Jesus compared following him to entering a narrow gate, while a wide road leads to destruction.
“Young people, in your opinion, are most of your friends in school going to heaven?” Gage asked. “Jesus Christ said there will be more people in hell than in heaven. … I ask you tonight, what group are you in?”
He encouraged both teens and adults to consider whether they simply believe in Jesus or whether they have allowed Jesus to change their lives.
“Any gospel that does not change your life is not the gospel of Jesus,” he said. “Churches are full of people who claim to profess God, but their hearts don’t possess God.”
Gage, who estimates he has spoken to more than 2 million students, said students are craving honesty.
“They’re looking for people who are real and who will tell it like it is,” he said.
“There are some today who say that you can’t preach hard to kids,” he said. “I don’t buy that one bit. These kids want to be challenged.”
Badgett said First Baptist’s youth and teens from other churches took a lead in making the crusade a success. “They really became evangelists, and they were recruiting youth and getting them out to hear the gospel.”
An evangelist with Gage’s team led students to witness in downtown Pikeville on the Saturday before the crusade, Badgett added.
“They were out on the streets ’til about one o’clock in the morning,” he said. “He [the evangelist] said, ‘This is the first time that kids are going to get in trouble with mom and dad getting home too late on a Saturday night because they’ve been out witnessing for Jesus.'”
Badgett said the plan to host a crusade started last year when First Baptist hosted Gage and invited area leaders to consider sponsoring a regional event.
Local businesses and churches raised approximately $56,000 to sponsor the crusade, including a $2,000 contribution from the Kentucky Baptist Convention, Badgett said.
But leaders said prayer, not dollars, keyed the success. Local prayer meetings have been held weekly since January, Justice said.
The crusade had a similar strategy to those by Billy Graham and other evangelists. In addition to four nights of preaching, more than 100 people were trained in evangelism to serve as decision counselors for people who responded to Gage’s invitation.
Now that it’s over, leaders are working on follow-up, to make sure that people who made decisions are involved in a local church.
Justice said he hopes the churches that came together for this crusade will continue to find ways to work together to reach Pikeville.
Hosting a crusade might sound expensive, he said, but the cost per decision is better than taking the churches’ cumulative budgets and dividing it by the decisions they all see in a year.
“If they’ll put the pencil to the numbers, they’ll really be making a serious mistake not to invest in their community,” he said.
Gage agreed. “The old-time gospel still works,” he said. “Evangelism still works. The days of evangelistic crusades and evangelistic revivals are not over with.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ALTAR CALL.