Today, I want to talk about Billy Graham. I specifically want to talk about Billy Graham’s batting average. (Some of you are thinking, “I didn’t know he played baseball.” Stay tuned.)
Billy Graham passed away last week, and he was a great man. He was respected everywhere and by practically everyone. There were a few people who had some pushback, of course, and there was some push back for their push back as well. But, in general he was very well respected. People that were not even believers in Jesus still respected him. Politicians respected him, even on both sides of the aisle. It did not matter if they were a Democrat or a Republican, every president from Truman to Obama met with Mr. Graham as a counselor and spiritual advisor.
The day Billy Graham passed away my wife and I did some reading about him. One of the things that really struck me first was that he had preached the gospel in person to at least 100 million people, with other estimate being as high as 215 million. In the course of his life he led 3 million people to the Lord Jesus. Imagine, 3 million people that said, “Yes, I want to be a follower of Jesus.”
That is amazing!
So, he shared the gospel with more people than any other person in the history of the entire world. That is pretty awesome, you have to give him that. However, when I looked at that number I thought, “Wow! He led 3 million people to the Lord. I cannot think of anyone who has led more than 3 million people to faith in the Lord (or who’s been the instrument which God used to lead them to faith.”) So, he not only shared the gospel with more people, but he also led more people to salvation.
However, when I thought about it, something strange hit me. I had to back up a minute and rethink. He shared with 100 million people, and he lead 3 million people to the Lord. So, he only led 3% of the people he shared with to salvation. Only 3% of the people that heard him were actually coming and making a decision to follow Jesus.
It made me wonder if I went and knocked on a hundred doors could I lead 3 to the Lord? Maybe. Maybe not. However, if I kept knocking until I had a hundred people who were willing to listen to me and have a dialogue with me would three say yes? I don’t know, but I think it would be reasonable.
With that in mind, when we look at Billy Graham’s batting average it is actually pretty bad. For every thousand people he spoke to only 30 would believe. That would make his batting average only .030. Now to give you a context for that number, the average for the Major Leagues in 2016 was .255. So, Billy Graham’s batting average would be so low he would not even make the minor leagues, much less the Majors. He would not make any baseball team because that percentage is really really low.
As I pondered this, a couple of things hit me in terms of my own walk and my own faith. One is I need to be sharing the gospel more. If the legendary Billy Graham had this tremendous legacy and yet only 3% of the people that he shared the gospel with actually believed, then the logical conclusion is I just need to share more.
Let’s think about that for a minute. Only 3%.
When I looked back at Billy Graham’s legacy, I think his real legacy was not that he was this amazing preacher of the gospel. (And I’m not saying he was not a great preacher). I think his real legacy was that he had at least hundred million people who were willing to sit down and listen to him talk about Jesus. There were one hundred million people who wanted to listen to what he said about this man called Jesus. There were one hundred million people who were willing to give him their time to listen. Many of them traveling somewhere to hear him or setting aside time to listen to the gospel as proclaimed by him. That is tremendous!
I mentioned earlier about knocking on doors to share the gospel and we could do that. However, I do not feel like in the context of American culture that is the best plan. I think there might have been a time when that worked well, but I do not feel like in today’s culture that would be the most effective way. If the Lord leads you to do it then that is great, and I won’t have any objection to it. However, for myself I do not feel like that is what the Lord is leading me to. The big question is, “How can I engage with people who are thinking about spiritual things? How can I be in more conversations about the gospel?
I want to refer to one of my favorite books, Contagious Disciple Making. One of the things the Watsons say is we need to live an openly spiritual life. People need to know we are spiritual. They need to know we are followers of Jesus. They also say we have to develop relationships with nonbelievers. As we develop relationships and lead an openly Christian and openly spiritual life in front of non-believers we open ourselves up to opportunities to have conversations about spiritual matter. We are looking to move conversations from casual, to meaningful conversations, and finally to spiritual conversations. Somewhere in the spiritual conversations we can give people the opportunity to engage further with Jesus and His story. At Contagious Disciple Making they use a discovery bible study (which I really like), or we could also share the gospel at that point depending on a number of factors. If I presented the gospel to more people I think I would have more people believe. In reflecting of my own life, I think that is something I need to do more.
Another question I considered with Billy Graham’s life was why he was so much more effective than others. There were and are other people sharing the gospel. There were other people who would like to have the ministry Billy Graham had, and yet they did not have it. If we go back to some of his colleagues and some of the people who worked in the same time frame we still do not see people who had the same fruit from their work. Some of them had moral failures or other issues of integrity, but surely there were some sound men of God, as well. Why Billy?
Clearly, he was a man of integrity. But, what was it about his preaching and why was it that people would come and respond to him? (I probably need to read some biographies about him and see what I can find out about that. If you have read a good biography leave it in the comments.)
In spite of the fact that he had this amazing ministry he was still only able to lead 3 million people to Lord. (ONLY 3 million, right?) Yet, during that time frame (since about the 50s) many millions of people have come to the faith in the Lord. In fact, in certain people groups in the world with almost no Christian witness available in 1950 the Lord brought millions of people to faith in him. I think of the Chinese. Depending on the statistic used, there have probably been 40 million to one hundred million people come to the Lord in the same time frame that Mr. Graham ministered.
So, he had this huge ministry, and so many times we want to say, “Oh, if I could only be like Billy Graham. If I could only have the ministry that he had it would be so awesome and everything would be good.”
However, there is a theory called the Long Tail that we should also consider. The Theory of the Long Tail is that our economy is shifting to where instead of just huge sellers or products at the head, there is now room for lots of sellers or products in the tail. These products are niche products that would have been impractical 30 years ago, when basically all the products had to sit on a retail shelf somewhere. The insight of the Long Tail is there are actually more products sold and dollars made in the long tail then there are by the high performers. (That’s my amateur description of it. You can read more about it here.)
If we think about it with the Billy Graham example, on the left side of the graph there are these super high performers. At the top left you have 3 million people saved and Billy Graham is listed there. Then it goes down and there are some other really effective people. Finally, you have this long tail that goes out to the right and just goes on forever. It represents the people that lead 4, 3, or 2 people to Lord. Just as in the theory of the Long Tail, there are actually more people that are led to the Lord in the long tail than from the super high performers. The super high performers like Billy Graham have a lot of “face” and recognition, and everyone knows them. However, without the long tail the body of Christ would be much smaller today than it is.
I am not writing this to take anything away from Bill Graham. I would be lying if I said there are not times where I would love to have a ministry like his. I would love to have such huge fruit. I would also be lying if I said there were not times I would like to have the name and the fame of Billy Graham. I would like people to talk about James and what a great ministry he has. If we are honest with ourselves many of us would say we would like to have a ministry like Billy Graham’s. However, the key is we cannot do everything needed in the body of Christ as “Billy Grahams”. Billy Graham and his ministry could not fulfill everything that God commanded the body of Christ to be and do. God designed the body in a way that it requires the entire body to be participating in order to fulfill the Great Commission and function as Christ’s body. The body of Christ needs more than just Billy Graham… it needs the long tail of faithful followers.
After thinking about the Long Tail, the clear answer is I need to do more than just share the good news with more people. I also need to encourage more people (I could even use the word to disciple more people), to share their faith with those around them, in their workplace, and in all parts of their life. I need to encourage more people to be an active part of the Long Tail. If the average believer led a couple of other people (not counting their children) to the Lord in their lifetime and help train them to follow, we would have a huge enormous growth of the church.
Part of our problem in the American church is a we do not have enough people sharing their faith or really discipling other people to do the same. Instead we defer to the Billy Grahams. We defer to our pastors instead of being obedient to Christ. The bible says, “always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have…” and that is what we need to do.
So, in my life I need to share the gospel more. I’m not sharing nearly as much as I should. In terms of batting average, I’m not getting up to the plate often enough. I need to do what I can to find people who are more receptive and willing to listen to the gospel or to have a spiritual conversation. Could I bat .030? I think so. I think it is possible. The bigger question is how can I get more times at bat?
I’m grateful for the legacy Mr. Graham left behind him. He was a great man of God, and God used him greatly. He ran a great race. But remember…. he only batted .030.
What could you bat if you were at the plate more often? Is your problem too low of a batting average, or is it not being at the plate often enough? Let me know in the comments below.
The time is now for us to make sure we are not sitting on the sidelines when we should be up at the plate swinging away.
God bless Billy Graham, God bless his family, and God bless you. Catch you next time.