NASHVILLE, Tenn. — He has preached the gospel to more than 200 million people in 185 lands and, at 91, still maintains that his one purpose in life is “to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.”
Billy Graham, whose crusade in Los Angeles in 1949 vaulted him into the public square, is far and away the top living preacher that has most influenced Protestant pastors, according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research.
In telephone interviews conducted in November 2009, Protestant pastors were asked to “name the top three living Christian preachers that most influence you.” Twenty-one percent of pastors surveyed said Graham – that’s nearly three times the number who named Charles R. Swindoll, prominent pastor, author and host of the radio Bible-teaching ministry Insight for Living.
Graham, who served as pastor early in his ministry, has led major evangelistic campaigns around the world, authored 27 books and counseled many U.S. presidents. His appeal to both religious and secular audiences is evidenced by the wide range of organizations that have honored him, including the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and the George Washington Carver Memorial Institute.
While Graham’s position at the top may have been expected, the list as a whole was a bit surprising for its lack of diversity, according to Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “Considering our sample includes liberal and conservative, all races and ethnicities, mainline and evangelical, we were surprised that the list looked like mainstream Christian radio and publishing and was not more representative,” he said. “Of course, the majority who answer drive the final numbers, but I was expecting more diversity in the responses.”
Rounding out the top 10, after Graham and Swindoll, were:
- Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Atlanta, and founder of In Touch Ministries.
- Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of the best-selling book, “The Purpose-Driven Life.”
- John MacArthur, pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., and president and featured teacher of the Grace to You ministry.
- Barbara Brown Taylor, religion teacher at Piedmont College in northeast Georgia and author of 12 books including “An Altar in the World.”
- David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego County, Calif.
- Max Lucado, minister of writing and preaching at the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, and the recipient of three Christian Book of the Year awards.
- John Piper, pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and author of more than 30 books, including “Desiring God.”
- Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church, Buckhead Church, and Browns Bridge Community Church – all in the Atlanta area – and founder of North Point Ministries.
“Studies like these can help us see who is shaping the thinking of Protestant pastors today,” said Stetzer. “Since survey participants are not picking from a predetermined list, the people named must be widely known. Knowing who is shaping Protestant thinking shows us what type of direction to expect from the nation’s pastors.”
Participants in the survey also were asked to “name the top three living Christian leaders that most influence you.” Graham again topped the list, but other names emerged as well, including James Dobson and Desmond Tutu.
Methodology: LifeWay Research conducted a telephone survey among a random sample of 1,002 Protestant pastors Nov. 5-12, 2009. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1 percent. Usable responses to the open- ended question about Christian preachers were received from 868 pastors. Usable responses to the open-ended question about Christian leaders were received from 765 pastors.