My Hope America with Billy Graham: Turning Living Rooms into 'Church' in Hagerstown, Md.
By Kristy Etheridge, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association On May 28, 2013
Eric Boutieller stepped onto the stage at Tri-State Fellowship in Hagerstown, Md., and asked about 300 church goers to use their imaginations for a minute.
"Right now, you are in my living room," said Boutieller. "Sit back, relax."
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As a regional coordinator for My Hope America with Billy Graham, Boutieller wanted to show the congregation what it would look like if they decided to invite their unchurched friends and neighbors into their own living rooms this fall.
That's what thousands of believers will do in November when the My Hopeproject culminates with an evangelistic video featuring portions of Billy Graham's preaching, intertwined with true stories of people who decided to follow Christ.
During Tri-State Fellowship's Sunday service, Boutieller invited the church to view a pilot video for My Hope, as if they were at his home for the event.
"There's a man by the name of Billy Graham," said Boutieller. "You may have heard of him. He's going to share where he finds hope, and it's where my wife and I find hope as well."
The lights dimmed as he stepped down from the stage. For the next 28 minutes, the church watched three people share their testimonies.
A father battling cancer.
A Super Bowl champion who found his life spiraling out of control.
A young woman who couldn't shake the fear, depression, and hopelessness driving her towards taking her own life.
As the video came to a close, Boutieller shared his own testimony with the friends gathered in his "living room." It only took three minutes, and the message was clear.
"Life makes a lot more sense holding the hand of the One who's spinning the universe than doing it alone," said Boutieller.
During the actual My Hope event, believers-called "Matthews," after the disciple who invited his own friends to meet Jesus-will have spent months, maybe years, developing authentic relationships with their friends and neighbors before inviting them over in faith to share the Gospel.
The leadership at Tri-State Fellowship was hoping about four dozen people would sign up to be "Matthews," but to be honest, not everyone was confident the congregation would respond.
Tri-State has gone through difficult times lately. The church took a heavy loss with the cancer death of a well-loved staff member, and has struggled to find its identity.
"We have phenomenal people here individually, but we suffered a huge loss." said Carol Mazzola, who has been active at Tri-State for 13 years. "We took a death blow."
Mazzola has been praying for a "corporate resurrection" at her church. When she heard about My Hope America with Billy Graham, she wondered if it could be the catalyst she'd been waiting for.
Boutieller was also hoping for change. He has visited countless churches all around the region, encouraging them to step out in faith. This time was different. This church is his own.
So, when he asked the people to consider making a commitment to My Hope, in a way, it was a moment of truth.
"God chooses to speak through people like you or me," he said. "And if we don't speak, who will?"
With a tall, wooden cross set up at the front of the church, Boutieller asked those who had decided to join My Hope as "Matthews" to come forward and place their commitment cards at the foot of the cross.
One by one, people stood up. Before long, families were streaming down the aisles.
The goal was 50 "Matthews" between May and November. They got 105 in less than 10 minutes.
"When I put my card up, our lead pastor, Randy, was in tears," said Mazzola. "He said, 'Look at our church, Carol.'"
Together, the church had taken a step of faith.
In discussions that followed, the conversation turned to the details-who to invite, how to build meaningful relationships, and how to overcome the fear of sharing the Gospel.
"It's kind of nerve-wracking for me because I'm kind of quiet," said 18-year-old Marley Weagly. "Going to a Christian school all my life, I've never had to step out and say I'm a Christian. I'm just learning how to start that conversation."
Even though she's a little nervous, Weagly dropped her "Matthew" card at the foot of the cross and says she'll try her best to reach out to friends who don't know Jesus.
Chris Wiles, teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship, says My Hope will be at its best if the congregation starts building relationships as soon as possible.
"Start now," said Wiles, "so when November rolls around, they're not targets, they're your friends."
Bill Kesecker, who has attended Tri-State Fellowship for 14 years, says the best way to conquer fear is to rely on the Lord.
"I think the reality is, this is the Lord's heart," said Kesecker. "He wants His Son known. Even in our own stumbling ways, if what we have to say is only partially effective on the human level, God's Spirit is going to act."
Mazzola is reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:9:
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
She says it's OK to be a little nervous about reaching out to friends and neighbors, but it all comes down to trusting God and His power, not our own.
"So maybe it is your weakness, and you're not a big yapper or socialite, but you'd be able to say, in my weakness, Christ became strong."
Click here to watch the My Hope pilot video and get a taste of what will be shown this November.
Click here to sign up for a My Hope preparation meeting near you.
Click here to take the My Hope preparation course online.