ANAHEIM, Calif. The email to Harvest Christian Fellowship came from a former member who had moved to Africa because of a job transfer. The man told of how he was able to share the gospel by gathering some people together in a field during the middle of night to watch a Harvest Crusade live streamed on his laptop.
John Collins, executive pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship, said the long-distance email came to mind while he was watching Greg Laurie, the congregation’s senior pastor and Harvest Crusade’s keynote evangelist, preaching a service at their Orange County satellite campus in Irvine while it was being streamed to other locations.
“I was watching this unfold and realizing that it doesn’t matter where Greg Laurie was preaching, the response to the gospel was the same,” said Collins, whose main duties include oversight of the congregation’s large crusade ministries.
It’s a big job.
For 22 years, the church has hosted Harvest Crusades around the globe. The large stadium-style events are reminiscent of the evangelistic outreaches made famous by Billy Graham.
Since 1990, the Harvest Crusades have been presented annually in Anaheim, with several other locations each year, including the California cities of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, Long Beach, Riverside, Visalia, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, San Jose and Turlock, as well as Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Albuquerque, New York City, Philadelphia, Honolulu, Akron, Ohio; Eugene, Ore.; Augusta, Ga.; Fayetteville, Ark; and Raleigh, N.C.
International crusades have been held in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
Combined they have drawn more than 4.4 million people, with at least 370,000 people registering decisions of faith in Jesus Christ.
With the dawn of computer technology, however, the online exposure of the crusades has eclipsed that of their stadium venues.
“We were an early adopter of the Internet and streaming the whole crusade,” Collins said. “We’ve been doing that for years.”
The church has also been on the leading edge of exposure for weekly sermons by making them available through webcasts and podcasts.
Expanding the reach
But while watching Laurie preach in Orange County and streaming the message to the next county over, Collins had an epiphany to go even larger, and the Harvest America campaign was born.
The concept is simple: don’t reinvent the wheel; just make it go farther.
“Over the years we’ve seen the live streaming going up to where there are more people watching online than at the crusade, and these are just individuals,” Collins said. “Harvest America will still have all of those individuals, but we’ll also be mobilizing the churches.”
So, on Aug. 26, the last day of the three-day 2012 Anaheim crusade, Harvest will be making its crusade event available to any church in the United States for free.
“We are going to take Anaheim as the platform,” Collins said. “They will all have access to the gospel through the Internet. We’re talking about the best of mobility and what that might look like in the context of a crusade.”
Just like the stadium outreaches, the concept for simultaneous broadcasting evolved out of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which in 1970 tapped into an innovative television relay system to transmit a crusade held in Dortmund, Germany to theaters, arenas, and stadiums throughout Western Europe and into Yugoslavia. The broadcast involved reaching speakers of eight different languages, prompting one Graham aide to call it “unscrambling Babel,” according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
Twenty five years later Graham and crew broadcast a message from Puerto Rico to a network of 30 satellites that served dishes in more than 165 countries. The museum estimated that as many as one billion people may have heard at least one of Graham’s sermons when network telecasts and delayed videotape presentations were factored into the “Global Missions” campaign.
“The concept has been around for a while, but the process was very expensive,” Collins said. “With the advent of technology the world has gotten smaller.”
Resources and expertise
In addition to providing the live link through the Internet, Harvest is also offering a variety of resources to help churches reach out into the community and to provide follow-up resources for those saved through the outreach. The event website also includes a prayer cloud where people can post and monitor prayer needs.
“This is an opportunity for any church or any individual to bring Greg Laurie into their venue, whether it’s a home or church, to use his gift as an evangelist,” Collins said. “There are a lot of churches around America that never get the opportunity to bring in an evangelist.”
Selecting one specific date, Collins said, will help create a sense of celebration that should be contagious.
“There is something about an event that when you attach a date to it, it becomes a catalytic moment, something for people to rally around,” he said.
Churches can use their computers or dish networks to relay the event on large screens in their auditoriums. Collins said most churches are able to retrieve the live stream with little expense, outside of temporarily increasing their bandwidth.
Those who participate will be able to experience all aspects of the crusade, which in addition to a gospel message by Laurie will include special music from some of the biggest names in Christian music.
Although the official line-up for the evening has not been released yet, Harvest America is already signing up host churches in preparation for the August event.
According to the event website, the long-term goal is to reach more than five million people over the next three years, with as many as 500,000 potential salvation experiences.
“It’s a culmination of 22 years of experience in doing this kind of evangelism, which we call ‘proclamation evangelism,’” Collins said. “The message will bear fruit. It’s a matter of encouraging pastors and believers to be a part of the event.”
For more information, visit www.harvestamerica.com.