Evangelist Greg Laurie is gearing up for his 30th annual Southern California Harvest Crusade later this month, an event that has become a tradition for thousands and will feature one of the strongest Chrisitan music lineups ever assembled for the event.
Laurie, the senior pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship of California and Hawaii, spoke with The Christian Post Monday to discuss the upcoming three-night event, how evangelism has changed in the last three decades and how Christians should respond when their loved ones begin "falling away" from their faith (read transcript below).
The Southern California Harvest Crusade, the longest-running evangelistic outreach event in the U.S. that has seen over 500,000 make decisions for Christ in the last 30 years, will take place from Aug. 23 to Aug. 25 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
While Harvest has become known for its lively worship music featuring artists from different genres, Laurie says this year's lineup is likely to be the strongest musical lineup assembled for a Harvest weekend.
The lineup includes popular Christian rapper Lecrae, popular contemporary Christian singer/songwriters Jeremy Camp and Chris Tomlin as well as Christian bands for King & Country and Newsboys.
"We wanted this one to be really special," Laurie, who first began holding evangelistic Crusades in 1990, said. "So you know, we pretty much pulled out all the stops and tried to make every night effective."
The event will also feature testimony from former MLB all-star Darryl Strawberry, who overcame his notorious struggles with drugs and alcohol and now runs a Gospel ministry with his wife.
"I think there's a lot of people in our culture that are struggling with these things. Opioid use is at an all-time high, binge drinking is up. And I think people are trying to escape from their problems," Laurie said. "And I think there's just a lot of people out there that don't understand why there's still a hole in their heart, even when they've checked all the boxes that they think they should check to be happy. I myself used to drink. I myself used to use drugs. And I know how empty I was. Christ-filled that hole in my heart."
As each of the three nights of worship will conclude with Gospel messages from Laurie, the preacher said he plans to focus on three themes: hope, happiness and Heaven.
"I want to talk about hope because Generation Z has been described as a hopeless generation. They have been described as the loneliest generation in American history with the highest suicide rate of any generation, the highest use of pharmaceuticals of any generation," he said. "So it's amazing to me that we've gone from the greatest generation, those that came to World War II, to the hopeless generation. And so I want to bring a message of hope to them and everyone else."
Although music and culture at Harvest Crusades have changed with the times over the last three decades, Laurie assured that his message for the crowd is basically the same as it was in 1990.
"The real message I have is telling people how to come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ," he said. "And there's just a lot of people out there that don't know how to do that. And so I want to show them the way."
At the end of each night, Laurie presents those in attendance with the option to come onto the baseball field to indicate their willingness or recommitment to give their lives to Christ.
When on the field, volunteers take down the contacts for those who indicated decisions for Christ so that churches in the local communities can follow up with those people and help them mature in their walk with Christ.
At SoCal Harvest 2018, over 10,000 people made decisions for Christ in the three nights.
Below is an edited partial transcript of CP's interview with Laurie, which features questions about SoCal Harvest 2019, the state of evangelism in the U.S., deconversions and mass shootings.
Christian Post: What does it mean for you to reach this 30-year milestone?
Laurie: Well, I have to admit, it's pretty surprising. I never thought 30 years ago, we would still be doing these, especially on the scale that we're doing them. You know, since we started 30 years ago, we've gone all around the country and around the world, and have seen the power of the Gospel on display.
But to think that we're still in Southern California 30 years later, in the same basic venue, which is the Angel Stadium — the name has changed many times from Anaheim Stadium to Edison field, to Angel Stadium — but it's basically the same place. And from what I understand is, this is the longest-running, large-scale evangelism event in American history.
I've never heard of anything like this happening anywhere else. You know, Billy Graham would go to certain cities and sometimes have extended events. And then he would even return to cities, as we have done as well. But to see something happening consecutively year after year for three decades is, as far as I know, unprecedented.
CP: How does Harvest nurture new believers to be discipled in the faith?
Laurie: We really depend on churches to engage in the follow-up process. So for participating churches, they all commit to holding new believers classes or events at their church immediately after the Crusade. We have volunteers staying up through the late hours of the night filing the cards of the new believers that were turned in that night. And then [the cards] go to different areas of participating churches and those churches make contact with these people.
And then we ourselves send a letter within hours of that commitment they made and then we send another. So we have a pretty extensive follow-up process. And I think if it went any further, it would become intrusive. So I think if a person really wants to continue on in their relationship with Christ, we have all of the elements in place for that to happen.
CP: What's changed about evangelism in the last 30 years?
Laurie: Evangelism has changed in that a lot of Christians aren't doing it and it concerns me. A huge percentage of believers never led another person to the Lord and many have never even shared their faith.
And so it also concerns me that in some churches today, there are no opportunities for people to come to Christ. In fact, in some churches, it seems their church growth strategy is church transfer growth. In other words, "leave your church and come to our church."
And I've always felt like I wanted to reach people that weren't in church at all. And so it seems that evangelism is not at the forefront of things as it used to be and it needs to be again because this is what people need to hear.
Our message to this culture is Christ. The Gospel is more important than our priorities. It's more important than our programs. As my friend J.D. Greear said in his book, Above All, [Christ] is more important than politics.
There is no more important message that the Church has to offer culture than the Gospel. And we're commanded to go preach the Gospel. I know people are intimidated by the idea of preaching because when we are told to go preach the Gospel, we think that we have to stand on a street corner with a pulpit and a Bible.
You can just share it conversationally. One way I have illustrated it is, 'Go unto all the world and recommend the Gospel.' People go on Yelp! to get recommendations from complete strangers about a restaurant that they are thinking of eating in.
We have all these opinions about so many things but yet the most important thing of all, the Gospel, why are we not recommending that more? So I'm encouraging believers to intentionally engage in evangelist conversations and look for ways to tell people about Jesus Christ.
CP: This year's SoCal Harvest comes as there have recently been Christian ministry leaders who have either renounced their faith or say they are losing their faith. We look at someone like Joshua Harris, who is facing a divorce, saying that he is "falling away" from his faith. What advice do you have for people like Joshua or people who have friends who say they are falling away from their faith during tough times in their lives?
Laurie: Well, the best way to not go backward is to go forward. And a faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted. And I have had my faith severely tested. When we had our son die in an automobile accident 11 years ago, I could have very easily said, "That's it for me." But God came through for me. And I think it really comes down to a relationship.
You need to maintain a relationship with God and you need to always be growing spiritually, moving forward spiritually, learning new things.
I can't speak to these people that have come out publicly, and I know who you're referring to because I read CP every day, but I can't speak to it because I don't know them personally.
So I don't know their situation. But it is interesting that the Bible says one of the signs of the last days is some would fall away from the faith. But you know, sometimes people will say they don't believe and return later. And you know, a true believer will always come back to the Lord. And if they don't come back to the Lord, I would have to question if they were ever a believer to begin with because, as it says in 1 John, "they left us and it showed they never were really from us."
So time will tell. I don't think we should throw stones at people like that. I think we should pray for them and use what the Bible says: "If a brother or a sister is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual should restore one in a spirit of weakness."
You know, we're all vulnerable. Any one of us can fall away if we slow down on our spiritual life or neglect it. But the fact is, sometimes people stumble, but they also get up again.
And I just wrote a book, it's about Johnny Cash. It's called Johnny Cash: the Redemption of an American Icon. You know, Johnny was a struggling Christian. A lot of times when we read books, [they're about] people coming to Christ and after they're converted, everything is fantastic and there's never a lapse or a doubt or a single problem. Well, Johnny didn't live that way. He was a man who struggled throughout his life but he always knew what he believed and he always returned to that. And so that's a sign of a true believer. They'll not be happy living in their sin and they'll ultimately turn back to the Lord.
CP: Marty Sampson [a worship music writer known for his work with Hillsong Worship and Hillsong United] recently revealed that he is "genuinely losing" his faith. In a since-deleted social media post, Sampson seemed to argue that the Bible was full of contradictions and also asked how God can be a symbol of love if He sends billions to Hell who don't believe in Him. How would you respond to those kinds of claims of biblical contradictions? And how should followers of Christ refute some of these arguments?
Laurie: I would say, I don't think there are contradictions in the Bible. And I would like to know what they are because I think they can be addressed. So we have to start there.
And No. 2, God does not send billions of billions of people to Hell. God sent His own son to the cross and put His judgment on Him so no one would have to go to Hell. The last thing the God in Heaven wants is for or any man or woman made in His image to spend eternity separated from Him. And that's why He took such drastic measures and sending Christ.
God will forgive a person no matter what sin they committed because Heaven is not for perfect people. It's for forgiven people. I met with people and prayed with people [who] on their deathbed, on the edge of eternity, turn to Christ.
But it comes down to this. We've sinned against God. We've broken His commandments. And God has said the soul that sins will surely die. So we can't get to Heaven on our own. We need a savior. I can't save myself any more than a drowning person can save themselves.
So God has sent Jesus. He's dropped one lifeline, so to speak, from Heaven. If we reject that one lifeline and we don't respond to His invitation that comes to us so many times through life, ultimately, God is not to blame. We are to blame.
I think people effectively send themselves to Hell by the rejection of Christ. In fact, they practically have to crawl over Jesus to get to Hell. God doesn't want anyone to go to Hell. The only reason a person will go to Hell is primarily that they've rejected God's offer of forgiveness.
CP: You and pastor Jack Graham published a video last week responding to critics who have mocked the power of prayer in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. What role should churches be playing in trying to foster a solution [to the issue of mass shootings]?
Laurie: Well, not to overly simplify, but I would say we need to be doing two things. No. 1, we need to be praying for our country. I mean that seriously. Really pray for a spiritual awakening in America. And secondly, we need to be preaching the Gospel because I'm hoping that we can reach people like these despondent people who would pick up a weapon and heartlessly slaughter innocent people.
And I really think we make a big mistake when we go to our ideological corners, our political corners and miss the bigger picture. This is pure evil. And we need to know there's evil in this world and evil things happen. And who's to say that a person cannot be demon-possessed or something like this? I don't hear that discussed very often.
But I know that Jesus said of Satan that the [devil] comes to steal, kill and destroy. So we really need to be taking these things spiritually, and fighting a spiritual war with spiritual weapons that God has given to us.
Obviously, the churches have a role in comforting when people have lost a loved one, to encourage them, to reassure them, to let them know that they're loved, and let them know that there's a God, that they can turn to the God of all comfort.