Interview: Ted Haggard, President of the National Association of Evangelicals

Evangelicalism in America has been the subject of numerous discussions, debates and studies over the past few decades, as the landscape of American Christianity rapidly changed. While many mainline and historic denominations suffered from membership loss and financial downfalls, evangelical churches continued on a steady upward trend of growth in membership, power and influence. This year, the evangelical movement came into the spotlight, largely for its unquestionable influence on the 2004 election results.

The following is the full text of a Dec. 2 interview with Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and the World Prayer Center. Haggard is also the founder and senior pastor of New Life Church – one of the largest evangelical churches in America and the largest church in Colorado.

What do you believe was the largest milestone for evangelicals in 2004?

The greatest marker for evangelicalism was the press’s recognition of the strength of the movement through the Presidential elections. The campaign launched by the NAE to mobilize voters was very effective. As far as we can tell, over ninety percent of the 30 million evangelicals who are able to vote voted.

How is the NAE creating its network of evangelical churches, and how has it been growing?

The NAE is an organization of denominations and local church networks. So the NAE grows when these groups grow individually. Virtually all the denominations within the NAE have been growing, and by this merit, the NAE has grown from 23.5 million to 30 million members during the last 18 months. We also went from 42,000 to 45,000 churches.

That’s remarkably different from some of the mainline churches in the States.

Yes, the mainline churches have been losing membership since the 1960s, and in some circumstances, they are no longer called “mainline.” For instance, in the Colorado Springs area where my church is located, those churches are not even close to being considered “mainline” because they are empty.

Going onto your World Prayer Team effort, why do you believe prayer – and more specifically a global network of prayers – is so important to mission and ministry?

With so much suffering in the world, the greatest blessing we can give as Christians is prayer, because Christian prayer stimulates life, encouragement, love, liberty and freedom.

Our World Prayer Team website gets five million hits a month, which means there is never a time when there are fewer than 10,000 people actively exchanging prayer requests and testimonies from all over the world. Of the millions of visitors to the site, about 50 percent come from North America; the rest are evenly distributed across dozens of countries. Currently, the site is for English-speakers only, but in future years, we will have sites like this in different languages. It is a blessing to see that Christian prayers are in huge demand around the world.

What are the greatest challenges in leading so many large ministries, such as the New Life Church, the World Prayer Team, the NAE, Global Pastors Network, and the Association of Life-Giving Churches?

The church is easy. We have 11,000 members, but it’s easy. There are 1,300 small groups in New Life that do the personal ministry for the people.

For the World Prayer Team, which is a virtual prayer center, three technicians take care of the site. These technicians moderate the website, and make sure everything runs smoothly.

The NAE is a network of networks of churches, so that doesn’t take much work; the Association of Life Giving Churches is a fellowship of churches, so that also does not take too much effort.

What are the benefits of leading so many of these ministries?

It is a delight to take part in these ministries because it helps so many people. The prayer center helps a huge diverse group of people across geographic borders, and the NAE encourages people in America to have life-giving, vibrant, evangelical churches.

You are undoubtedly one of the pioneers of internet ministries. How did you get this idea, and why is this so important for the projects you are undertaking?

I got the idea in 1984 while I was praying and fasting on Pikes Peak. In that vision, I saw a person go up to a television screen and receiving information to help others pray. As the years went by, I realized that the television screen I saw in my vision was actually the internet. So we built a website when the technology was available.

In 1984, when I received the vision, there were no global prayer efforts. It was not until the 1990s that there were global prayer efforts through AD2000 – which united 40 million Christians around the world in prayer. However, prayers through AD2000 were given months at a time. Through the world prayer center, we now have a place where prayer teams could pray together immediately in real time.

Was the Prayer Center built before or after the Prayer Team website was launched?

We built the center first to coordinate the AD2000 united prayer tract during the 1990s. The primary purpose for the center is not to have a place for people to pray, because people can pray anywhere. The main purpose is to house the world’s prayer team site.

However, people pray at the center every day, every hour. I was there between 2 and 4 this morning, and there was a steady stream of people going in and out.

Do you visit the prayer center often?

Yes, I go there everyday to pray.

Your church, New Life, is the largest congregation in Colorado Springs. What is the secret to its growth?

The congregation loves it and the church is exciting for them. Many of the church members are from boring churches, so they like the excitement of something unusual going on.

For example, none of them have ever gone to a church where their pastor was invited to the President’s Christmas party. So hearing stories about the Christmas gathering is a great adventure for them. I know the reason I was invited was not because of anything I have done, but rather because of what the NAE has done as a network historically. It is an honor to participate in such an event, and I make sure I don’t get it confused. It was really the great work of evangelism the NAE has been doing across the country that allowed me to go to such an honorable event.

For other evangelical leaders wishing to make an impact in their communities, what leadership qualities would you recommend?

There are several qualities a leader should possess, the first of which is longevity. The Pastor should also be fun, adventurous and courageous. He should have a clean conscience so he could smile easily and laugh heartily. He needs a large worldview, a global vision, to make a global impact. And most importantly, he needs the core faith that God is sovereign.

Having met President George Bush, would you characterize him as a true evangelical? Does he possess these aforementioned leadership qualities?

The President is surely an evangelical, and I believe he has these qualities. That is why he doesn’t get disturbed by what everyone says. And much to the chagrin of his liberal critics, he continues to enjoy life.

What plans to do you have for young evangelicals and the new generation? How do you plan to plant the gospel in them?

We have a growing young evangelical office here, which has been developing rapidly. We are also connected with groups like Teenmania so we can interface with them as they continue their wonderful works.

Will you share some of the visions you have for the future of evangelical America?

Evangelicalism will continue to grow, but not as fast as the population. However, it will continue to be a strong influence and provide social services like the Salvation Army. Evangelicalism will also continue to be a positive influence in America, and secular people will continue to look at it with questions.

But after this election, the secular press has made a concerted effort to try and understand evangelicalism.

What more do you think can be done to make evangelicalism more visible to people outside of the circle?

Evangelicalism is now on every news program and every newspaper, and with the Passion movie, I think every living person knows evangelism is here to stay. I would assume it has been discussed in the majority of college classes around the world. Within the last few weeks, I’ve been in France, Germany, England and Thailand, and the secular press in those nations is talking about it as is the academia.

Without evangelicalism, many of our elections would’ve turned out differently. It takes a coalition to make such a big impact, but evangelicalism undoubtedly influenced the results at the House, Senate and Presidential seat. The world wants to know what this power is and where this influence came from.

Who and what influenced evangelicals to take action this year, as opposed to the years before?

The “who” would be Michael Moore. Michael Moore communicated to American evangelicals that there was a concerted effort to deceive the nation.

The “what” is a combination of factors, one of which is John Kerry’s inability to make up his mind. Kerry was an authentic liberal: he wanted to keep processing, to a point where he couldn’t come to a conclusion. Evangelicals like people who can make decisions and come to a conclusion – especially in the Oval Office.

Now that Bush won his second term, what action and result would make his term successful?

The things he is trying to do are a given. But in my view, I would like to see a greater emphasis on the environment. Evangelicals are environmentalists at the core, but we are not given press coverage on our environmental positions. Most reporters cannot put together the fact that we are simultaneously pro-environment, pro-business, and pro-free trade. Nonetheless, we are a large group that believes in the health of the environment because we are the stewards of God’s creation.

Evangelicals at large would say Bush’s term was a success if he continues to lessen the level of hostility between the government and the people of faith. In order to do that, it would take some Supreme Court appointments. We don’t have any problems with the separation between church and state. However, we have a problem with hostility toward the church. One such example is the recent case in Cupertino, where a elementary school teacher was prohibited from showing the Declaration of Independence in his classroom because of the statement’s reference to the word “God.” This is a pathetic interpretation of the constitution, and those who interpret history in this manner should not be in the Supreme Court.

The last question is regarding the Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. initiative. I saw that some members from the NAE were also part of this effort. Do you believe this initiative will be successful?

Many of our member denominations are taking part in the CCT, and I encourage them to do so. I believe the CCT is a noble effort, and there should be a respect for all people with all beliefs. However, I am not taking part in the CCT because my calling in life is to help fulfill the great commission. But nonetheless, I encourage our members to take part to see what comes of it.

Ted Haggard is the founder and Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Haggard serves on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals as President. He also serves on the Boards of Colorado Springs Association of Evangelicals, Global Harvest Ministries, Every Home for Christ, and the Center For Christian-Jewish Dialogue. He is the President of The World Prayer Center and The World Prayer Team. Haggard is Senior Editorial Advisor for Ministries Today, a monthly magazine directed to pastors and ministry leaders.

He graduated from Oral Roberts University in 1978 and worked as American Vice-President for World Missions For Jesus. Before founding the New Life Church in 1985, he served as Associate Pastor with Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he helped to establish the Bethany Family Counseling Center.

Haggard also gave the inspiration for the World Prayer Center and Prayer Team in the early 1980s. He then oversaw the completion of the World Prayer Center in 1998.

He is the author of six books, including Primary Purpose; The Life Giving Church; Loving Your City Into the Kingdom (co-authored with Jack Hayford); Confident Parents, Exceptional Teens (co-authored with John Bolin); Letters from Home; Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the Twenty-First Century; and Simple Prayers for a Powerful Life. He has also authored several personal study booklets and has many teaching series on audiotape.

Haggard, his wife Gayle, and their five children live in Colorado Springs, Colorado – the bedrock of the evangelical faith.