Preview by Joshua Maloni
Almost two years of planning, speeches, outreach and training meetings will culminate this weekend when thousands of people attend the Franklin Graham conference at Coca-Cola Field in downtown Buffalo. The son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, Franklin Graham is hosting "Rock the Lakes," a two-day, free-admission event said to offer "music with a message."
Many of the 18,000 seats inside the Buffalo Bisons home stadium will be filled with people interested in hearing Franklin Graham share the Gospel. Those in attendance also will watch performances from some of Christian music's biggest acts, including Skillet, Tedashii, Lacey from Flyleaf, Flame, Michael W. Smith, Building 429, Rend Collective Experiment, Reilly, Marcus G and L'Angelus.
"It's great Christian music, for one thing," said festival director Sherman Barnette. "Of course, Franklin will be sharing the Gospel during the course of the day on Saturday and Sunday. He'll speak a couple times - a couple times on Saturday and a couple times on Sunday."
"The main purpose of the event is, actually, to share the Gospel, and that's what Franklin will be doing," Barnette added.
"Rock the Lakes" began with a request to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
"The way we got started, it was local ... pastors and community leaders that invited Franklin to come for 'Rock the Lakes' Buffalo," Barnette said. "Actually, Franklin was interested in coming and doing kind of a tour of 'Rock the Lakes' events around the lakes. When the Buffalo leadership, when they were contacted, they said, 'Yes,' they were interested. And so it kind of developed from there with pastors and local leaders, and they invited us to come."
To ensure the festival goes off without a hitch, members of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association actually relocated to Western New York. Barnette himself has traveled from North Carolina to Buffalo several times to speak with local church groups. Among the many preparatory activities for "Rock the Lakes," volunteer ushers and counselors attended a series of "Christian Life & Witness Course" classes over the summer.
"There's a ton of work that we do to prepare for this festival," Barnette said.
He wouldn't predict a crowd size, but said, "I'm pleased with the number of cooperating churches we have. We have over 300 cooperating churches from 40 different denominations."
Coupled with press releases and advertising, "I think we will have a good crowd," Barnette said.
"It's not just like another event coming to town, because, really, truly, the involvement of local churches and pastors is critical to what we do," he explained. "We partner with the local church and local leaders, and we see it from their perspective. We're not here to compete with the local church, we're here to complement what the local churches are already doing."
For Barnette, a successful weekend would be, "Of course, first of all, we want to have a good crowd, sure. But the main thing we want to see happen is we want to see a large number of people come to Christ," he said. "What we've been encouraging and challenging local pastors, churches, Christians to do is to pray for and to bring with them their non-Christian friends to the festival. That's really the purpose of the whole thing is to see people come to Christ."
"Rock the Lakes" Buffalo takes place Saturday, Sept. 22, and Sunday, Sept. 23, at Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo. The free event begins both days at 4 p.m. (gates open at 2:30 p.m.). For more information, visit http://www.billygraham.org/rockthelakes/buffalo.asp.
Billy Graham last appeared in Buffalo in 1988.