BIRMINGHAM, AL — Jon Reed has noticed it. So has Keith Fordham. Ditto for Jerry Drace, Sammy Tippit, Frank Shivers, and Richard Hamlet.
Calls echo through the Southern Baptist Convention for revival and a renewed dedication to evangelism. But, these evangelists and others like them are being called on less by churches.
The day before the SBC annual meeting in Birmingham they sat down for coffee with The Christian Index. The topic of evangelism permeated the discussion, of course. But it also included how they answered the call to be an evangelist, where it has taken them, and new methods and technology have helped share the gospel worldwide.
Jon Reed: Getting the church together for revival
Over recent years Jon Reed has become a well-known name among Georgia Baptist pastors. While revivals may be perceived by the laity as events that extend perhaps a few nights, Reed knows the work begins much earlier. By the time he steps behind the church’s pulpit, he expects revival to already be underway.
The evangelist based in Bethlehem invested his own money into developing the 714Revival app. Available for Android and iOS, it helps a church plan out its revival from eight weeks prior to the first meeting. Additional features include helps for church members to witness to their neighbors and invite others to the church.
“For years I’ve trained people in evangelism” Reed explained. “The app shows church members that as they’re taking part in revival preparation, they can be evangelists as well. It gets everyone flying in the same direction.”
Earlier this year Reed preached during revival services at Maysville Baptist Church. Pastor Shane Roberson spoke to the importance of preparation and what he witnessed after using the 714Revival app.
“Many of my peers believe revival is an organic movement that just happened and doesn’t need any preparation,” he said. “I disagree with that philosophy.
“[The app] gets the church focused on lost people, committed to prayer, and compassionate for the community. It really is a paradigm shift. … In the past I developed a preparation manual, but this year I could focus on going through the preparation with the people.”
It also gives Reed the chance to stay in contact with church members during revival week.
“Churches today often don’t hear from evangelists. I get to speak to the laity constantly through the app. I talk to them about reaching others, present Scripture, and give advice on bringing others to Jesus. They learn how God can use them that day. In the process, they’re reminded to pray for their lost friends and neighbors.”
Keith Fordham: building up souls
Keith Fordham is from a lot of places, but the evangelist based in Fayetteville has called Georgia home for the longest.
Born in Griffin, his family moved to South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida before settling in Atlanta. Fordham’s father helped develop and build Lennox Square Mall and at one time, Keith said, had led or assisted in doing the same for a third of the buildings in the city. One of those, the old Georgia Archives building, served as the home of Pym Technology in “Ant-Man” before being imploded for real.
While his dad developed buildings, Fordham answered a call to build up souls through preaching the gospel.
“God called me to preach when I was 12 years old, though I didn’t answer it until my senior year of high school in 1967,” he remembered.
While attending Samford University in Birmingham, Fordham served as a youth director and became a part of the Jesus Movement.
“I’d preach revivals and we’d have witness training available. Then, we’d go visit people. During weekend revival meetings we’d see as many as 70 saved and 40 baptized. It was mostly youth. We always were seeing young people get saved.”
Later Fordham developed a ventriloquism ministry through his puppet, Homer.
“Homer and I did more than 1,300 school programs. In Pensacola, Florida, they brought in a truck to hold the sound system when we met with 4,000 students on the football field.”
The schedule retained by Fordham, who was honored last year for 50 years in evangelism, remains active. He regularly takes part in Crossover, Southern Baptists’ evangelism emphasis prior to the annual meeting. He also preaches at various revivals and events such as Harvest Days. Most recently Fordham preached at Harp’s Crossing Baptist Church in Fayetteville ion July 14. This Sunday, July 28, he’ll preach at homecoming festivities for Pleasant Grove Baptist in Villa Rica.
Jerry Drace: dedication to the home
Like so many evangelists, it’s practically impossible to put a number on the amount of people who have heard Jerry Drace present the gospel. Since 1975 Drace – who currently also serves as a bivocational pastor in the Jackson, Tennessee area – has conducted more than 1,000 revivals and crusades around the world. Those locations include South Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Scotland, and Wales.
Last year after the death of Billy Graham, Drace shared his recollections of meeting the famed evangelist. A mentoring relationship ensued with Drace calling on Graham for advice through the years. Graham’s consistent urging, Drace said, was “keep your eyes on the cross.”
In 1993 Drace sent a questionnaire to a group of Southern Baptist pastors. The point of it was straightforward: Where was the gospel most desperately needed?
The family, they said.
That led to Drace creating Hope for the Home, geared toward fostering an environment where families could grow together under the Lordship of Christ. During weekend conferences, videos and other materials address various family setups – whether single-parent homes, separated families, or blended families in addition to traditional homes. Within that, specific units receiving attention are:
- Married couples
- Senior citizens
- Mothers of teenagers and children
- Those who are divorced
- Single young adults
- Parents of teens and preteens
- The church family.
Not only have several books been published through the Jerry Drace Evangelistic Association, but also a Bible geared toward families. His most recent book is “44 Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage.”
“We try to hit all spectrums of the family,” Drace said. “It’s an impactful weekend.”
Sammy Tippit: finding new ways to share the same message
When it comes to places many think the gospel cannot be shared – not should not, but cannot – Sammy Tippit has found a way.
Tippit was a youth evangelist for years after entering the ministry in 1968. Later in Monroe, Louisiana, he said, he preached a revival that went from 25 in attendance to 5,000 in a couple of weeks. He would eventually move on to minister and preach in Chicago, choosing to live in the roughest area of the city where crime was rampant.
As a pastor in Germany in 1980, he preached at a crusade in Romania when that country was still behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union. He and two friends later infiltrated the World Communist Youth Day event and led 200 “hard-core atheist kids” to Christ. Just before the Iron Curtain fell and Romania experienced revolution, he was arrested and kicked out of the country. But the largest crusade he’s seen was in Egypt, where Tippit preached to 150,000 a night.
That event left a lasting impression on the evangelist not just for the response, but how it was done. That number was counted not just as one single crowd, but through the many smaller ones in the country who attended to watch films of him preaching.
“People saw it and within 72 hours local churches had placed them into small groups,” he said. “I saw the power of technology through that.”
Around four years ago Tippit’s ministry began to change its direction even more toward visual in order to reach young people. Videos became a consistent staple of sharing the gospel. Then in 2016, a friend of his in India led to Tippit’s latest use of technology.
“He wanted me to disciple his younger leaders, so I did that over Skype. It gave me the idea to preach an evangelistic message that way.”
That first time he did, 100 people prayed to receive Christ half a world away while Tippit stood behind a makeshift lecturn in his Texas office. Later he and his friend were part of a crusade – again, with Tippit preaching via Skype – in India where 10,000 watched with several thousand being saved. That led to Facebook pages in English and Punjab, which in turn led to 3-minute discipleship videos in several languages that are now showing 6.5 million views. Tippit said his largest Facebook group is in Afghanistan, where the messages are translated into Farsi.
Frank Shivers: now ‘focused completely’ on evangelism
Frank Shivers and Fordham both graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary the same year, 1974. His focus since then has been primarily children and youth ministry. For 35 years camps for those groups rendered approximately 4,500 salvations.
“I saw youth and children being saved and men called into the ministry,” he said. “Around six years ago I backed away from that a little to completely focus on evangelism.”
The author of 27 books, Shivers has covered topics for children, youth, and senior adults. He’s written on evangelistic preaching and produced a study Bible for that purpose. Lately, Shivers has focused on writing more for bivocational ministers and younger pastors.
“I try to give them tools they may not have access to,” he pointed out.
The days of revival meetings lasting through the week are in decline, he noted. It’s a development he would like to see reversed.
“I remember vividly when revivals went Sunday morning through Friday night, and then Sunday through Wednesday night,” he said.
The need is still there, he added.
“I’m praying for laborers.”
Richard Hamlet: business know-how leads others to Christ
“I was a Wall Street guy,” Richard Hamlet admitted. Being an investment banker was good and gave him a comfortable life. Plus, he was good at it. Hamlet was a deacon at his church and checked off all the boxes of being a good Christian.
When he was 35 years old Hamlet said he experienced a “heavy” evangelistic calling. He would go into full-time evangelism in 2003, preaching revivals in the Memphis area while being mentored by the late Stephen Olford, who was part of Hamlet’s ordination council.
Later, Hamlet would also be mentored by Luis Palau in conducting open-air meetings. During his ministry Hamlet has been to 85 countries. This year travels include preaching in Angola and training pastors in Mozambique.
Hamlet uses his background to better prepare pastors as they share the gospel.
“I bring that into the mix so they can reach businesspeople but also to learn to better support themselves,” he said. “I see more American pastors in the same position. It’s important to help them establish their platforms and become better at tent-making.”
Preaching outside brings a different aesthetic to sharing the gospel, he said.
“You’re outside the church walls, in the marketplace physically. It’s amazing to get to do that.
“It’s multi-faceted, but all about the gospel.”
Note: an earlier version of this story inaccurately reported that Keith Fordham was born in South Carolina.