A small group of evangelical religious leaders listened to Billy Graham preach Thursday at Redeeming Love Church in Maplewood.

It was the famed evangelist preaching back in his prime. Those old video clips are part of a new nationwide evangelical outreach timed to coincide with Graham’s birthday.

When Graham turns 95 in November, his ministry plans to release a new video and use it to encourage wayward Christians and others to embrace the Gospel.

Redeeming Love is one of some 200 churches in Minnesota — and nearly 20,000 nationwide — participating in “My Hope America with Billy Graham,” which calls on evangelicals to spread the Christian message while they celebrate Graham’s birthday.

“So many people are struggling financially, with the economy, in relationships,” said Mike Smith, pastor at Redeeming Love. “I think the heart of America is looking for a message of hope, and Billy Graham … he’s going to bring the message of hope that’s found in Jesus Christ.”

For Minnesota evangelicals, Graham’s latest outreach holds extra significance. Graham launched his worldwide ministry here more than 60 years ago when he was president of Northwestern College in Roseville. Minneapolis was his headquarters until Graham moved operations to North Carolina in 2004.

These days, he stays close to home in Montreat, N.C. But even with faltering hearing and fading eyesight, he meets with religious leaders and other prominent figures. His latest book, “The Reason for My Hope,” comes out in October.

‘A heartfelt message’

Known for his revivals and stadium-filling crusades, Graham will debut his video message — around his birthday Nov. 7 — as a “much more intimate, personalized scale,” said Preston Parrish, a vice president with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The ministry plans to share his filmed comments on TV, DVD and the Internet.

“Understandably, as he’s entered his late 80s and now mid-90s, it’s been much more difficult for him to be mobile,” Parrish said. “But he has still very much wanted to do what he’s done all these years.

“This will be a … heartfelt message from a man who’s now almost 95, reflecting back on what he’s believed and staked his life on and built his ministry on. And how now at this time in his life, he believes it every bit as much as he ever has.”

Redeeming Love is one of nearly 20 churches in the Twin Cities metro area holding training workshops for “My Hope America.” At the workshops, representatives of Graham’s ministry direct church leaders to go back to their congregations and ask followers to host meetings in their homes for “friends and neighbors who don’t know Jesus Christ” to watch Graham’s video message. The hosts are also encouraged to share their own stories of faith and how they came to accept Jesus in their lives.

An invitation to seekers

Kurt Linn, associate pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, said he and his wife plan to host a meeting at their home this fall.

“Maybe they’re non-Christian, or they’ve been hurt by the church,” Linn said. “Maybe they’re attending [church], but have a lot of questions of what Christianity is all about.

“The focus is to invite folks that are searching.”

Minnesota churches have shown great interest in “My Hope America,” Parrish said.

“To this day, Mr. Graham still deeply values his long-term involvement with the churches and the community there,” he said. “He has enormous affection for the Twin Cities.

“As he approaches 95, he feels an intense urgency about communicating … this timeless message,” Parrish said. “He’s weakening physically, but he’s very sharp, very alert mentally, passionate spiritually … He just believes God wants him to share with this nation one more time.”