As more than 800 people responded to Franklin Graham’s gospel invitation in London this weekend, Ros Mayfield reflects on the legacy of the Graham family and their unswerving commitment to a simple gospel message


Source: BGEA Facebook

The message of Franklin Graham’s ‘God Loves You’ tour has been emblazoned on billboards and buses across the capital for weeks. Despite train strikes and the Notting Hill Carnival, London’s 10,000 seater ExCel Centre was full – perhaps, in part, because tickets to Graham’s evangelistic event, complete with worship sets from Grammy-award winning artists including CeCe Winans, were free.

Billy Graham’s eldest son officially inherited his father’s mantle before his death in 2018, and his message is largely the same. Tonight is a bold and wholesome invitation to repent of your sins and discover that “God loves you”.


Graham’s campaign style and iconic ‘altar call’ has proven to be a hugely successful model for evangelism. Millions of people are now living lives of faith because of this work, even if the younger Rev Graham’s ministry is more controversial than his father’s before him.

In 2020, Franklin was banned from several UK venues because of his outspoken views on sexuality, marriage and abortion. His message hasn’t changed - he is still uncompromisingly conservative - but his lawyers have successfully challenged six out of seven of the decisions, with one still to be decided. America’s First Amendment includes freedom of speech, and they’re willing to fight for it.

A huge cheer goes up as people stream towards the stage

A call to Christ

Franklin appears on stage in an open-necked shirt; fresh faced, smiling and softly spoken. His call is clear and his North Carolina accent has just enough Southern charm to sound winsome but not distracting.

“You say to me: ‘London is not the same as it was when your father was here! It’s different!’ But I say to you: ‘God’s laws don’t change – his standards don’t change!’” The 15-minute talk is one he has given countless times. Uncomplicated and clear, based on the story of the Prodigal Son. “Turn from your sins, and by faith believe in Jesus’ name.”

“This story is a picture of God’s love for you. The father ran toward his son. He didn’t wait. He wept on his shoulders and said to his servants: ’Get the best robe.’”

It’s a story he can tell with feeling. Franklin was a Prodigal once, too. After being expelled from college, it wasn’t until his mid-twenties that he finally felt comfortable with following in his father’s footsteps.

From the moment he starts speaking, the only people he addresses are the non-believers in the room. “We’ll say a prayer, and then you can go back to your family. The bus isn’t going to leave without you.” I remember hearing the same words from his father, almost verbatim, 34 years ago.

As he invites people to go forward to repent and gives their lives to Christ, there’s no awkward pause, no seat-squirming silence. A huge cheer goes up as people stream towards the stage, down every available aisle like an incoming tide, only slowing down when there’s no more room at the front. In ones and twos, friends arm in arm, parents carrying children; one pushing a wheelchair.

Changing times

Billy Graham could fill venues ten times the size of the ExCel Centre, for several nights in a row, so perhaps times have changed. The tolerance for expressions of faith in the public square – at least for Christians – is less these days.

Tonight is a bold and wholesome invitation to repent of your sins and discover that God loves you

But for a European capital city in 2023, this is still a noteworthy event. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) more than 800 people made a commitment of faith and, thanks to the follow-up work of the 1,000 or so churches involved in tonight’s event, many people’s lives will have been changed forever.

Next year will mark 90 years since a young Billy Graham agreed to drive a group of friends to hear revivalist preacher Mordecai Ham. According to the story, Billy was reluctant to go in, but what he heard changed his life - and the lives of millions of others. The impact of that one conversion - and his son’s after him - has been phenomenal.

I scan the room and wonder if there’s a reluctant chauffeur in the crowd tonight who will influence future generations in a similar way.

Unchanging grace

The future of the UK Church depends on more than people like Franklin Graham hosting one-off events, but perhaps we could do with more of his certainty and boldness. His is a message that’s as much needed by the (often tired and weary) faithful as those hearing it for the first time. It’s an injection of fuel that reminds Christians they’re not on their faith journey alone.

Although some may be uncomfortable with their conservative politics, the BGEA, of which Franklin is president and CEO, does the whole Christian package – they care for the poor, send aid and relief to those in crisis, as well as hosting events that share the gospel with thousands.

As I left, I overheard a conversation: “It’s just that when you invite someone, you take on a kind of responsibility,” one woman said: “And I didn’t want that…” She trailed off wistfully. Graham’s message hasn’t changed, and just like 34 years ago, I wondered how many left wishing they’d invited more people along to hear it.