The longest leg of Franklin Graham’s journey across Florida this month is a 700-mile trip from the top of the Gulf Coast to the southernmost tip of the continental U.S. He’ll cross the Suncoast, the Everglades—and a stunning cultural divide between the Panhandle and the Florida Keys. But these vastly different regions, like each city on the Decision America Sunshine State Tour, share one great need: the salvation only Jesus Christ can offer.
“I’m coming to Florida to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Franklin said. He’s been doing the same thing across the country since 2016, when the first Decision America Tour drew more than 200,000 people to pray for the nation. Since that whirlwind 50-city tour, Franklin has held additional prayer and evangelism events in various states, most recently in North Carolina last fall.
The Sunshine State Tour Jan. 11-19 starts in Jacksonville Beach before heading to Plant City, Panama City Beach, Key West, Boca Raton and Fort Myers. Christian artists Jeremy Camp and Dennis Agajanian will join Franklin on the tour.
“We want to go from city to city to pray for our nation and to preach the Gospel,” Franklin said. “I look at the future, and I think of my grandchildren. I think of the world that they’ll be living in. … The world has changed so much, and we’ve seen the moral decline of our nation, especially in the last 10 years. It’s incredible how fast we have fallen, and we have turned our back on God and on His standards.”
A 2019 Barna study helps quantify America’s rapid fall away from God. In Florida, as in much of the nation, every major city saw an increase in the number of people who reject the claims of Christ. Fort Myers-Naples is ranked as the 14th most “post-Christian” city in America—up two spots from 2017—with 52% of residents rejecting the Christian faith. The Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne and Miami-Fort Lauderdale areas are both about 45% non-Christian.
“I call it the South Florida Syndrome,” said Pastor Chuck Brannon of Gateway Community Church in Boynton Beach, 15 minutes north of Boca Raton. “And it just runs from drugs to pleasure to making money to stress to trying to figure out what life’s all about.”
Brannon says the trappings of this world are keeping people in his community from pursuing—or even thinking about—God. But the ocean views can’t heal the ache inside.
“Sometimes it can be deceptive here,” Brannon said. “You’ve got all of this beautiful sunshine, but there’s not much sunshine in the soul. There is a spiritual battle going on right here, regardless of how sunny it is. It’s real.”
Brannon jumped at the chance to get his church involved in the Sunshine State Tour.
“I’m excited about it because it’s what it means to be a Christian—to share the Gospel and help any way you can to get the word out,” he said. “And there’s such a tremendous need in South Florida. So I’m with it a hundred percent.”
About 300 miles to the north, another pastor was grabbing a bite to eat at a sandwich shop last year when he noticed a guy at the next table wearing a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association shirt. Bob Parr, the adult and assimilation pastor at Crosswater Community Church in Ponte Vedra Beach, struck up a conversation; that’s how he found out about the Sunshine State Tour.
“It was one of those providential meetings,” Parr said. “He was getting ready to call on churches, and we made it easy on him.”
Since the encounter in the sandwich shop, more than 60 people from Crosswater have completed BGEA’s Christian Life & Witness Course, and many plan to serve as volunteer counselors during the Tour stop in Jacksonville. Pastors are encouraging members to invite unsaved friends and neighbors, and the Tour is featured on the Crosswater homepage.
“We’re a community church, so that’s something we focus on—finding people who are unsaved and getting them in here and sharing the Gospel with them and helping them to grow in Christ,” Parr said. “And that’s why we’re attracted to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It’s the similarity in our missions. We felt like we could accomplish more by teaming up with the Association and reaching the people in our area.”
After Franklin kicks off the Tour in Jacksonville, he’ll head to Plant City and Panama City Beach before preaching the Gospel in what could be called an interesting choice of locations—Key West, the island city known for colorful sunsets and even more colorful living. Wild festivals and “clothing optional” resorts draw revelers from around the world. On Jan. 16, Franklin will boldly preach the countercultural message that God created men and women in His image and for His glory—and that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“I think that’s typical Franklin—he’s not gonna avoid the tough places,” Parr said. “I think that’s exactly what Jesus had in mind. And we all know that Key West is pretty tough spiritual ground.”
As the Tour approaches, Franklin is joining Florida’s pastors in asking believers across the country to pray for each city, from Key West to Panama City Beach.
“Join me, not only praying for this nation, but praying for the lost, those without hope,” Franklin said. “And I’ll give a message of hope, and that’s about Jesus Christ. And I’ll give an invitation. And let’s just see what God does.”
The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Kristy Etheridge is a freelance writer living in New York City with her husband and 3-year-old son. She is a former BGEA content manager and TV news reporter.