Pastor Greg Laurie has preached the Gospel to four million people and led more than 400,000 to the Lord. But the best-selling author and mega-church pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship recognizes Billy Graham as the greatest evangelist of all time.
"He preached the Gospel to more people and led more people to Christ than any person who ever lived," he told CBN News in the hours after Graham's death.
Indeed, the Billy Graham Association says its namesake shared the Good News with some 215 million people who attended his evangelistic crusades around the world in addition to authoring 34 books and using a variety of media to present the Gospel.
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said that Graham perfected mass evangelism.
"He was one of the first to recognize the importance of the media--first in radio and in print media, then with television and even film. By the end of his life his organization was pioneering new ways to reach people with the Gospel by digital and social media," he explained.
In the hours after his passing, Christian leaders far and wide marveled at Graham's influence and his unique role starting with his first evangelistic crusade in 1947.
Dr. Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said, "Billy Graham was, in my view, the most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul. He preached Christ, not himself, not politics, not prosperity."
Bible study author and teacher Beth Moore said, "There simply will never be another Billy Graham. What a gift of God to this world."
Evangelist and mega-church pastor Anne Gimenez told CBN News, "He was anointed. A lot of people could do the same thing and never have the results."
The "Secret Sauce" for Graham's Ministry
What made Graham's ministry so effective and one that continues to be viewed with such respect and admiration? Those in ministry say his personal morality made all the difference.
"He carried unimpeachable personal integrity," said Russell Moore.
"He spoke so sincerely and with such integrity," said Gimenez, "some people could try to discredit him but they never could."
Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren says Graham's character made the biggest impression on him. "The greatest influence the man had on me came not from what he taught but simply from who he was," he wrote in Christianity Today.
Laurie benefited personally from many meetings with Graham just as he was starting his ministry.
"The private Billy Graham was the same as the public Billy Graham. He was everything you thought he would be one-on-one as when he was standing before thousands of people--very humble, very genuine," Laurie said.
Laurie said Graham shared with him not only tips on preaching but what to do after the message. "He was very accessible. A stranger would walk up to him and Billy Graham would show him kindness," said Laurie, adding that Graham was "the most Christ-like person I ever met."
Evangelist Alveda King was one of those strangers. As a freelance journalist covering a Graham crusade in Atlanta years ago she said Graham admonished her to "pray without ceasing." King remembers, "as I naively asked 'how anyone could pray 24/7?' he quietly responded with a reverberating voice, 'I'm praying for you right now.' That unforgettable experience changed my life forever."
The roots of Graham's commitment to integrity go back to the 1940's when he and other ministry leaders met in Modesto, California and laid out a plan to avoid financial abuse, sexual immorality and any inaccurate reporting about the success of the ministry.
Vice President Mike Pence is one prominent leader who says Graham's rules inspired him. In 2002, he told The Hill that he doesn't eat alone with any women other than his wife and won't attend events featuring alcohol without her.
Warren also took note of the manifesto and created the "Saddleback Staff Ten Commandments" based on the same principles.
Mohler says Graham's focus on his personal character as Gospel witness will be what many remember.
"Billy Graham also has to go down in history as a man who protected the moral integrity of his ministry from the beginning to the end," Mohler said. "A man against whom there was never any hint of moral scandal--and thus, he needs to be recognized for having finished the race and having run a course in a manner that should serve as an inspiration to us all."
Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force called Graham "a giant of God, a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-generation prophet of God's truth and grace." Floyd, who also serves as senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdalte, Ark., said Graham shaped his life and ministry. "I pray we may never forget his legacy and his unrelenting passion for Jesus, and may we follow his footsteps in calling people to repentance in Christ."
The Legacy of Graham
In addition to untold salvation stories, a host of ministry leaders say Graham was influential in encouraging their early ministries. Laurie says, "Everything I've learned from him I've used today."
Warren remembers being the first church in the early 1980's to use a fax machine for evangelism. He called it "the fax of life" and says when Graham learned of it he sent him a note telling him it was a great idea.
Dr. Sharon Hodde Miller is an emerging ministry leader who says Graham had a "massive" influence on her calling. She remembers visiting the Billy Graham library in Charlotte after receiving her M.Div. degree. She was profoundly touched by the way that Graham had responded to his calling.
"He had responded in faith and obedience and passion," she said. Miller says he continued in his calling "with the same degree of energy and unwavering commitment....it just called something out of me and gave me vision for what I wanted my life to look like as well," she told CBN News.
Miller went on her to get her Ph.D. and writes and speaks around the country on ministry issues. While many will remember Graham for leading them to the Lord, she says she is grateful for the impact he had on her life's work and still looks back on her experience at the library "as a moment of clarity in my own personal calling."
Who's the Next Billy Graham?
Many ministry leaders say they're not seeing another Billy Graham on the horizon, but that doesn't mean they're concerned.
Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, told CBN News that he sees Graham as the last of his era. "He was a man of his time and the time was right in the providence of God--but I do believe that God has men and women for this time," said Stetzer.
"God could raise up another Billy Graham but I don't know anyone right now who has his influence," said Laurie. Still, he believes God may be preparing someone who is yet unknown.
Gimenez believes Graham's death signals the closing of one era and the beginning another.
"A door has closed," she said, "but we have entered into the greatest era of harvest that the world has ever seen or known. Billy Graham served his generation with a call to evangelism. Now, a new era has started."