Dylan Novak is a missionary targeting one of the most unlikely modern-day people groups. Dubbed “The Celebrity Evangelist,” the 24 year-old Virginia native is exactly that—a young minister who spends his days and nights sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world’s most recognizable people.
Pictures on Novak’s Facebook page are frequently a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood actors, classic rock singers, television personalities, and even President Donald J. Trump. With every post, he shares a story of each encounter where he gives a personal, handwritten letter, gospel literature and a Bible. For most, he also shares a bit of his research, quoting interviews where the celebrity has mentioned their thoughts on religion, God, and Jesus. He often uses these as starting points for conversation.
With rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis, for example, Novak referred to an interview where Lewis had expressed his fears about whether or not he was going to heaven.
“I was standing in the airport and I had a gift and I showed it to him,” he said. “And the first track said, ‘How to make sure you're going to heaven.’ And he showed his wife and said, ‘This is exactly what I need’.”
A week later, Lewis wrote Novak with good news.
“Do not worry,” he said. “Jesus is my personal savior.” Within days of that letter, Lewis suffered a stroke.
When Donald Trump made headlines on the campaign trail by saying he didn’t have anything to ask God forgiveness for, Novak wrote him a letter and included a Bible. Soon after, in his first of three encounters with the future President, Novak received a letter that said, “Thank you for giving me the beautiful Bible and for your wonderful letter in which you make so many very important points.”
Novak’s encounters are sometimes divinely orchestrated, but many times the result of extensive planning. Along with attending conventions and standing in line for autograph and photo ops, the young minister frequently receives tips from friends. He also uses Instagram and Google to find where a star might be staying or even walking by and waits, sometimes all day, for the right moment to engage in conversation. Many of those moment have led to meaningful discussions and soul-searching.
Singer-songwriter James Taylor once said in an interview that he had grown up in a home with no religion and no one had ever discussed God with him. Novak believes many celebrities are shielded from such topics by handlers and fans who hang on every word they say. When Taylor traveled nearby, Novak approached him with his gospel gift bag and discussed the interview.
“We ended up talking on most half an hour,” he said. “It ended with him giving me a hug and he said, ‘You know, I remember giving that interview and still, to this day, nobody's told me anything. So, I really appreciate you taking the time to do that.”
After a meeting with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Novak heard from an insider that the encounter had left an impact. Pulling the Bible out on the plane and showing it, the insider asked if he would read it. He said that the singer said, “Well of course. If he took time to find me and give this to me and pull of this together for me, I’m definitely going to look at it.”
Topics of faith and religion are not always received warmly among family or friends, and in the celebrity world, things are no different. Novak admits some of the materials have been refused or thrown back at him, accompanied with arguments or even profanity.
After the music festival shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, one personality was highly antagonistic, upset that God had allowed the tragedy to happen and seemingly taking it out on Novak, who he claimed was “brainwashed.”
In one tense meeting that turned positive, a classic TV star told Novak that he was an atheist and would have no use for the material he wanted to share.
“He said, ‘I look at everything from a scientific perspective’,” Novak explained. “I've researched this, and I just can't find proof of God. I don't have faith. I'm jealous. I wish I did. I can't take your gifts because I'm never going to look at it.”
During the discussion, Novak mentioned Lee Strobel’s story of turning from an atheist to a believer documented in The Case for Christ, which the actor said is the one book he would be interested in reading. Novak reached into his bag and handed him his own copy, which the actor enthusiastically accepted.
Novak began this “Celebrity Evangelist” ministry when he was just 13 years-old. He had begged his parents to take him to a comic book convention where many of his favorites would be appearing. Before going, he saw an interview with Margot Kidder (Superman) who had just appeared in a faith-based movie, but said she was an atheist.
“I remember going to bed that night praying and asking God to send somebody to tell Margot about Jesus before it was eternally too late and God really convicted my heart that it should be me,” he said. “For a while, I played Jonah because I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be selfish and enjoy meeting my heroes without that being there. But it was a huge conviction.”
Novak is supported through donations funneled through his church, which help him with funds needed to travel and pay signing fees at conventions when needed. Most of his travel is within a six-hour drive from home, although he has ventured further. He does find that when celebrities are in his home turf, they are less distracted and able to engage more fully in conversation. He also suppresses the instinct to be “starstruck” and reminds himself to see the other as a person with a soul who needs Jesus.
Celebrity or not, everyone has someone they can share with, he says.
“I'll tell you a shocking statistic—99 percent of born-again Christians believe that it is their job to tell others about Jesus,” he said. “But only 18 percent actively share the gospel. That just echoes the truth of Matthew where Jesus said the harvest is truly plenteous. But the laborers are few. We all have platforms and God has placed others just as He has placed me.”