Billy Graham reached millions through his crusades. Here's how he did it (2024)

Billy Graham reached millions through his crusades. Here's how he did it (1)

William Franklin Graham Jr., born to pious parents on a North Carolina dairy farm, found Christ when he was 16. A traveling preacher led the beanstalk-scrawny, baseball-loving Billy to his decision to be saved.

In that moment, both Jesus and the role of an itinerant evangelist — changing the world one life at a time — captured his heart.

He graduated from Florida Bible Institute, then went on to Wheaton College, where he found his life-long helpmate in Ruth Bell, daughter of missionaries to China. By 1945, he was the nation's first field representative for Youth for Christ, a newborn evangelical network aimed at teens and young adults seeking faith in a postwar world. The network'smotto, "Geared to the Times, Anchored to the Rock," defined his life.

More:Billy Graham, America's pastor, has died

Graham's first citywide crusade — which he came to call his 417 all-out preaching and musical events — was in 1947. But his name became nationally famous in 1949 in Los Angeles.

He made two breakthroughs in the City of Angels.

One was private:Graham recalleda long night of prayer when he made a lifelong commitment to the Bible despite his own doubts and questions.

One was public: Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst told his editors to "puff Graham" — to publish glowing descriptions of the young man whose conservative attitudes matched those of the powerful publisher.

Soon, Graham was a media darling.Timemagazine described the "blond, trumpet-lunged" minister pacing his platform, "clenching his fists, stabbing his finger at the sky and straining to get his words to the furthermost corners of the tent."

In 1957, he brought his crusade to Sodom and Gomorrah — New York City — filling Madison Square Garden for a stunning 16 weeks. Later broadcast by ABC News, it set a pattern for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for decades to come: Use every communications innovation possible to carry the Gospel to any willing heart on Earth.

The broadcast also was a revolutionary moment in American evangelism, religiously and socially.

The event no longer was sponsored or underwritten purely by fundamentalists who held themselves separate from anyone who didn't share their strict views of the Bible and salvation.

Instead, Graham called for a council of several Protestant denominations, united by evangelist intent, to organize and fund the event and follow up with newborn believers. From then on, every crusade came to be based on an invitation from a broad swath of churches.

His final New York City crusade in 2005 was sponsored by 1,400 regional churches from 82 denominations.

Graham hired his first black evangelist to help staff his 1957 crusade, integrating evangelism back when football-coach-turned-stadium-evangelist Bill McCartney, famous in the 1990s for preaching racial healing to Promise Keepers, was still in high school.

More than 214 million people in 195 cities and territories heard God's call in Graham's stentorian voice and witnessed him deliver the Gospel — pure and uncritical — in person or by satellite links. Beyond his 417 crusades were rallies and services adding up to 226 events in the USA and 195 in foreign cities.

Millions encountered Graham radiating from giant video screens, TV, film, his weekly radio broadcast or the Internet. In recent years, most crusades were webcast a week later or syndicated on TV. Trinity Broadcasting Network showed "Billy Graham classics" weekly. Once he retired from the pulpit, his son and association successor, Franklin, recycled and repurposed thousands of video and film hours of Billy Graham sermons for 21st-century video outreach.

Billy Graham was:

• Founder ofChristianity Todaymagazine in 1956 and publisher ofDecisionmagazine.

• The original preaching voice of the weekly Hour of Decision, which was replaced in 2003 by Decision Minute, a series of one-minute messages from Billy and Franklin Graham that aired on 680 stations in the United States and 170 in Australia.

• Author of 33 books of advice, inspiration and autobiography, including one on age and facing death published in 2011.

• Producer of so many evangelical movies, films, videos and television programs that his associationclaims to be the world leader in this field.

Changing with the times

Even after he retired in June 2005, he still preached at his son's crusades in New Orleans and Baltimore months later.

He stopped calling his events "crusades" in sensitivity to Muslim concerns after 9/11, just as he avoided the militaristic term "campaign" after World War II. But the expression "Billy Graham Crusade" was so ingrained in the popular usage that by 2004 it was back in use.

Legions of everyday admirers named this willfully modest man among the Gallup Poll's "10 Most Admired Men in the World." Although he never has led the list, he remained adominant name. Between 1955 and December 2013, he was cited 56 times in the top 10 — more than any other man, according to Gallup.

Honors by the score were bestowed on him by governments, brotherhoods, academies, broadcasting organizations and believers of every faith and following. High among them: The Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Billy and Ruth in 1996, the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to him in 1983, and the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion in 1982.

In December 2001, he was presented with an honorary knighthood by the British Empire for his international civic and religious contributions.

More:Billy Graham, America's pastor, has died

Legacy:How Franklin Graham took the reins from a legendary preacher

Crusades:How the evangelist reached millions

Books:A look at all the books Billy Graham wrote

Quotations:Billy Graham's most notable quotes

The unknown:16 lesser-known facts about the legendary evangelist

Gratitude:Why almost everyone wants to say thank you to Billy Graham

Answered call to White House

He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was an unofficial chaplain to 10 U.S. presidents, starting with Harry Truman. George W. Bush says a walk on the beach in Kennebunkport, Maine, with Graham helped turn his life to a commitment to faith.

He attended inauguration ceremonies for eight presidents, gave the invocation and benediction for the swearing-in of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2001, George W. Bush invited him as well, but Grahamwas recovering from surgery the month before. His son, successor to his vast evangelistic organization, William Franklin Graham III, took his place.

By the time of Barack Obama's rise from an Illinois Senate seat to the presidency, Graham had already retired and no longer visited Washington. Obama journeyed to Montreat, N.C.,to meet Graham in April 2010.

His fade from the public podium was a signal shift. For decades, Billy Graham had never missed a crusade. When he was bitten by a lethal brown recluse spider shortly before one event, he ignored doctors' orders to stay in bed and preached every night.

The Mayo Clinic initially diagnosed him with Parkinson's disease in 1989. Later, when his symptoms did not progress like those of other sufferers such as Pope John Paul II or Muhammad Ali, the diagnosis was revised to focus on effects of hydrocephalus, water on the brain.

Yet even when he no longer could trumpet, pace and point, the evangelist still came forward to close the sale, like the Fuller Brush man he once was.

Billy Graham reached millions through his crusades. Here's how he did it (3)

Time to reflect, pen his memoirs

In June 1995, Graham collapsed during a speech before a crusade in Toronto. Doctors said an overdose of aspirin had caused intestinal bleeding. They recommended a three-month respite from preaching. He was back in the SkyDome three days later, where 73,000 greeted him with shrieks of "Bil-LY! Bil-LY!"

He still met with world leaders and, despite his trembling hands, he wrote his autobiography,Just As I Am. It came out with two different covers. One showed him in a suit, the other in his favorite blue denim jacket, a gift from close friend Johnny Cash.

The New Republicreviewer Andrew Delbanco called the 1997 book unreflective celebrity fluff that "rattles off the great public events of the last 50 years with the hero in ubiquitous attendance, a kind of clerical Forrest Gump."

But he grasped the unique appeal of Graham in an era when other preachers churned out books that stoked fears of the apocalypse.

"Leaving all the worrying about such matters to God, he says, with a stoic and deeply American practicality, that we cannot know, and so should live one day at a time. His focus is resolutely on the individual life," Delbanco wrote.

The public madeJust As I Ama best seller. Ten years later, Graham updated the final chapters and added a new afterword for the book, published in 2007.

The book is dedicated to his wife, Ruth, "the greatest Christian I ever knew," who died in June 2007.

"We live in a fragile world, and we inhabit fragile bodies," he once told 72,000 young people at his Nashville crusade in 2000. "We don't know when the day of our death is going to come."

A week later, he was hospitalized, unable to attend his third international conference of 10,000 church leaders, theologians and pastors in Amsterdam in July 2000. Graham often said those evangelists, many itinerant Third World preachers who taught the Bible at the risk of their lives, were his true successors.

The crusade schedule cut back to two or three a year, and Franklin took over the administration of Graham's association.

His last years followed a rough pattern. Graham would retire to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., or Jacksonville to be treated for hydrocephalus in 2000 or a broken hip in 2003. Then he would venture out to preach.

A fall led to a partial hip replacement in January 2004. Five months later, he cracked his pelvis in another fall. By June 2004, when the family of Ronald Reagan asked for him to eulogize the former president, Graham had to say no. Two crusades were postponed that year, but he still kept those commitments.

Weak in body, strong in spirit

Graham finally ended his crusade with a resounding gathering in New York's Flushing Meadows Corona Park in June 2005, delivering the same message he'd given for seven decades — an altar call he issued in stadiums and mud huts, disaster zones, cathedrals and Congress: Turn toward the God he believed to be true, he cajoled his audience.

And Graham would wait for every soul who stepped forward, standing at the podium with endless patience, tenderly urging, "You come."

As a seasoned expert and enthusiast in the field of religious history, particularly focusing on influential figures in American Christianity, I can provide a comprehensive analysis of the concepts embedded in the provided article about William Franklin Graham Jr.

William Franklin Graham Jr.: An Iconic Evangelist and Influential Figure in American Christianity

William Franklin Graham Jr., born in a North Carolina dairy farm to devout parents, emerged as a prominent figure in American Christianity. His journey towards becoming a renowned evangelist began when he found Christ at the age of 16. His transformative experience was catalyzed by a traveling preacher, setting the stage for a lifelong commitment to spreading the Gospel.

Graham's educational background is highlighted in the article, mentioning his graduation from the Florida Bible Institute and subsequent enrollment at Wheaton College. It was at Wheaton College that he found his life partner in Ruth Bell, the daughter of missionaries to China. This union not only shaped Graham's personal life but also had a significant impact on his career as an evangelist.

The article delves into Graham's early career, noting that by 1945, he became the first field representative for Youth for Christ, a newly established evangelical network targeting teens and young adults in the postwar era. The motto of the network, "Geared to the Times, Anchored to the Rock," is emphasized as a defining principle that guided Graham's life and ministry.

Graham's first citywide crusade in 1947 marked the beginning of a series of 417 preaching and musical events. However, his national fame skyrocketed in 1949 during a breakthrough in Los Angeles. The article recounts two pivotal moments during this time: Graham's private commitment to the Bible after a night of prayer and the influential support he received from newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.

A groundbreaking event in Graham's career occurred in 1957 when he held a 16-week crusade in New York City, filling Madison Square Garden. This event, later broadcast by ABC News, set the pattern for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's approach to using various communication innovations to spread the Gospel globally.

The article sheds light on Graham's impact on American evangelism, emphasizing his departure from the traditional sponsorship model of crusades. Instead of being solely funded by fundamentalists with strict views, Graham advocated for a council of Protestant denominations to organize and support events, fostering a more inclusive approach.

Graham's commitment to racial integration is highlighted by the mention of him hiring the first black evangelist for his 1957 crusade. This move, at a time when racial tensions were high, demonstrated his dedication to inclusivity within the evangelical movement.

The extensive reach of Graham's ministry is quantified, with over 214 million people in 195 cities and territories hearing his message through various mediums, including video screens, TV, film, radio, and the internet.

Beyond his role as an evangelist, the article enumerates Graham's contributions, such as founding Christianity Today magazine, being the original voice of the weekly Hour of Decision, authoring 33 books, and producing numerous evangelical movies, films, videos, and television programs.

Even after his official retirement in 2005, Graham continued to play a role in his son Franklin's crusades and remained a respected figure, receiving numerous honors and accolades. His influence extended to the political arena, where he served as an unofficial chaplain to multiple U.S. presidents.

The article also touches on Graham's health struggles, including a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in 1989 and later complications related to hydrocephalus. Despite physical challenges, Graham maintained his commitment to preaching and ministry, reflecting his strong spirit and dedication to his calling.

In conclusion, William Franklin Graham Jr. stands as an iconic figure in American Christianity, leaving a lasting legacy as a preacher, evangelist, and influential voice in the religious landscape. His impact on evangelism, media outreach, and inclusivity within the evangelical movement has left an indelible mark on the history of American Christianity.

Billy Graham reached millions through his crusades. Here's how he did it (2024)
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