East Tennessee Franklin Graham Festival Draws 45,805 in Knoxville
Thousands of Volunteers and Nearly 500 Area Churches Join Together for Community Effort
In the orange-bannered basketball arena at University of Tennessee, a boisterous weekend crowd numbering 45,805 enthusiastically participated in an event that had nothing to with slam-dunks or three-pointers—and while the mood was festive, the message serious. “We live in the South where it’s culturally accepted to go to church, and many people go to church believing that they’re saved, they’re forgiven, and they’re going to go to heaven. But for many there’s something missing because they don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. “The choice you make tonight is going to decide where you spend eternity.” Knoxville’s mayor Bill Haslam welcomed the Festival, which was held April 25-27 at Thompson-Boling Arena, as a way to make a positive impact not only on individual lives, but on the whole community. “If we’re going to have the kind of city we want we can do that by creating businesses here and revitalizing downtown and all sorts of great things, but the main way to build the kind of city we want is to change hearts,” Mayor Haslam told the audience on Friday night to open the East Tennessee Franklin Graham Festival. During the three-day event, 1,207 people responded to Graham’s invitation to make a commitment to Jesus Christ. On Saturday morning, 6,196 children and their parents attended the KidzFest program, where more than 183 children responded to the invitation to follow Jesus Christ. Graham’s message of hope and encouragement prompted significant community support with thousands of volunteers and 478 churches joining together for this non-denominational effort, working in partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to organize and plan the East Tennessee Franklin Graham Festival. In addition to nightly messages by Graham, the Festival also featured music by award-winning artists, including Toby Mac, Israel Houghton & New Breed, Group 1 Crew, Michael W. Smith, Austins Bridge, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Phil Stacey, Tommy Coomes Band, Dennis Agajanian, and a 1,500-voice choir made up of volunteers from churches across the region. Earlier this month Graham held his first Festival of 2008 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Upcoming events will be held in Villahermosa, Mexico (June 6-8); Timisoara, Romania (July 4-6); Charleston, S.C. (Sept. 19-21); and Taipei, Taiwan (Oct. 30-Nov. 2).