BAXLEY, Ga. — Georgia-based evangelist Rick Gage rocked the Bible Belt in 2023 with his powerful brand of preaching in a series of crusades attended by tens of thousands.
In his final crusade of the year, some 17,000 people packed into an open-air amphitheater just outside Jackson, Miss., for four nights of preaching in October. More than 2,000 people made decisions for Christ.
“We saw an incredible move of God throughout this whole campaign,” said Gage, head of GO TELL Ministries in Duluth, Ga.. “Anyone who says evangelistic outreach events don’t work anymore just needs to talk to the folks in central Mississippi.”
In the days leading up that event, Gage also presented the gospel in Mississippi prisons, seeing hundreds of inmates turn to Christ.
Gage, known as the “small-town Billy Graham,” also staged a crusade in Baxley in September. Some 10,000 people attended and more than 1,600 made commitments to Christ.
“It was amazing to see,” said Samuel Ayala, a Georgia Baptist Mission Board staffer who served as a Spanish interpreter at the Baxley crusade. “The people were hungry for the gospel.”
Gage takes his crusades to places that other evangelists might see only from the air on their way to big cities. In 2023, that included Pickens, S.C., population 3,300. Some 4,000 people attended that crusade and 300 made decisions for Christ.
A Texas native who once coached running backs at Texas Tech and Liberty University, Gage typically whips up interest in his crusades with media interviews and widespread public appearances, including in high schools and colleges.
In the days before the Baxley crusade, Gage spoke in a chapel service at Brewton-Parker College. Some 150 students made commitments to Christ.
“The Holy Spirit was moving in a way I have never seen before,” said Steve Echols, a longtime preacher and Christian educator who serves as the college’s president. “I have seen some marvelous things, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more precious than this.”
Having walked away from a promising coaching career in 1986, Gage has spent his life preaching small-town crusades like the one in Baxley. He told people in the stadium Wednesday about the experience in a Texas church that changed his direction. His father, also an evangelist, had urged him to come to the church.
“When that altar call was given, I made a beeline to that altar, got on my knees, a 25-year-old football coach, weeping, sobbing, crying,” he said. “My spirit was broken; my heart was broken; and I told God, ‘I’m sorry for my sins. I’m sorry for the lifestyle I’ve been living. Please forgive me of my sins. I give you my heart. I give you my soul. I give you my life. … God invaded my heart. God saved my soul. God changed my life. And I have never gotten over it.”
In the years since, Gage has earned the respect of church leaders like Joy Fowler, a worship leader at Rehoboth Church in Tucker, Ga., who used her Facebook feed to plug the Baxley crusade.
“I traveled with Rick as part of these crusades across America and parts of Mexico for 12 years, and I can tell you first hand that these folks are straight up and unapologetically passionate about leading people to Jesus,” she wrote.
Echols said Gage’s ministry saw “a great harvest” on the Brewton-Parker campus.
“So many students responded that you couldn’t even get down the aisles,” Echols said. "They were completely full of students on their knees praying. We lost count, because they kept coming.”