Billy Graham Ministries: History Retrospective and Future
Little did the world know that November 7, 1918 would mark the birthday of one of the most influential evangelists in our age. Now at age 95, Billy Graham has become the go-to preacher for many U.S. leaders and has built a ministry that has brought millions of people to Christ. He has traveled the world and built a following for Jesus that has continued growing.
I’d like to share with you some history, milestones and thoughts on the future of Billy Graham ministries. This is not the complete history or biography of Graham, but rather, a small glimpse of how God has used him to minister to people.
The Truth: Isaiah 41:10
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Ministry Background and History
Finding His Footing
Billy Graham grew up attending the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and was deemed “too worldly” to join a local youth group as a teen. He then met with evangelist Mordecai Ham and was converted to Christianity through revival meetings at age 16. A few years later, Graham attended Bob Jones College and was nearly kicked out. Before he left Bob Jones, Sr. told him: “You have a voice that pulls. God can use that voice of yours. He can use it mightily.”
Graham went onto Florida Bible Institute and then finally settled at Wheaton College where he graduated with an anthropology degree. His years at Wheaton College proved to be some of the most important as he wrestled with whether the Bible was the infallible word of God. He came to the conclusion that the Bible is, in fact, God’s true word and there is a memorial at Forest Home Christian Camp in Southern California that marks Graham’s important designation.
Graham married Ruth Bell in 1943 whom he met while attending Wheaton College. She stated that Graham “wanted to please God more than any man I’d ever met.” Over the years they raised five children and Ruth was founder and president of Ruth Graham & Friends, besides showing strong support and commitment as Billy Graham’s wife.
Billy Graham’s first position as a pastor was at the United Gospel Tabernacle during college. He also worked as the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois and his friend Torrey Johnson shared the news that his radio program was lacking the necessary funds and would soon be canceled. Graham was lead to take over the program and his church provided the financial support. The new program was revamped and started on January 2, 1944 and continued for many years. The format included George Beverly Shea and his baritone voice that later became a fixture during the crusades. Shea was 104 years old when he died on April 16, 2013 and Graham commented, “I have lost one of the best friends I have ever had, but he and I look forward to seeing each other in Heaven relatively soon.”
The radio program was a pivotal step for Billy Graham because it was one of his first tastes in media outreach. He left the radio ministry after a few years when he was 30 and headed to Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota to become the youngest president at any university or college in the U.S.A.
The Truth: John 3:16
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Billy Graham’s ability to attract a large crowd was first seen in 1947 when he held his first crusade in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Over 6,000 people attended the event and he has held over 400 crusades total through the years. Each crusade was designed to minister to people and he encouraged each person to come forward and offered them to opportunity to talk one-on-one with a counselor. Many times they were given their own copy of a Bible study booklet or the Gospel of John. Some of the crusades lasted weeks longer than originally planned and he toured the world bringing God’s message to people in over 185 countries.
Although Billy Graham focused on attracting larger crowds, he showed his support for student ministries. From 1948 through 1987, he spoke at nine conferences for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which is a program that focuses on college students. He has also held evangelistic meetings on U.S. college campuses.
A Faithful Pillar
Billy Graham has become a fixture in our culture and has received both praise and criticism. He has lived through monumental moments in U.S. and world history and has been a voice during difficult times. In the 1950’s, he became a stronghold against segregation during the Civil Rights Movement and invited the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak with him during his 16-week revival meeting in New York City that drew 2.3 million people.
Other significant events included:
• In 1950, he urged President Harry S. Truman to counter the communism happening in North Korea
• President Dwight D. Eisenhower came to rely on Graham and he visited the White House often during Eisenhower’s presidency
• Graham became an adviser to President Richard Nixon after he was elected to office in 1968
• In 1973 Graham held a crusade in South Africa and strongly showed his disapproval for apartheid
• He was the first evangelist that spoke behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War
• In 1995, Graham was called to speak at the Oklahoma City bombing memorial service
• After the 9/11 attacks, Graham was requested to lead the service that took place at the Washington National Cathedral with many U.S. leaders in attendance
• Graham helped his son Franklin Graham lead the “Festival of Hope” in 2006 to bring hope to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina
Current and Future Ministries
Media: Radio, TV, Magazines, Websites
Billy Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950 and many media outreach ministries have been a result and continue through today, or have transformed into other ministries. These include the radio program Hour of Decision, TV broadcasts, My Answer syndicated newspaper column, Decision magazine, Christianity Today magazine, the website Passageway.org and the film production company World Wide Pictures.
There are over 30 books credited to have Billy Graham as the author, with his latest book The Heaven Answer Book released in 2012. His books provide insight on topics such as youth and Christ, peace, spiritual freedom, angels, being saved, the Holy Spirit, death, love and faith. Many of his books have become bestsellers and older titles have not been forgotten. Although Graham is considered retired, his messages and solid teachings about the Bible will continue well into the future.
Many preachers, pastors and other types of religious leaders gain popularity and become well known, but their families suffer and resent them and God because of it. Franklin Graham is one of Billy and Ruth Graham’s sons and has served as the president and CEO of BGEA since 2001, as well as Samaritan’s Purse. His leadership has helped grow both organizations and they continue making bold announcements. He works closely with Billy Graham and I see it as one outcome to the senior Graham’s dedication to raising their family.
The Truth: Isaiah 40:8
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
The mission of BGEA states: “BGEA exists to support and extend the evangelistic calling and ministries of Billy and Franklin Graham by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all we can be every effective means available and by equipping others to do the same.” From what Billy Graham has developed and built, I can see this mission being carried out and it indicates that although there are many family members actively working in the ministry, the ministries that Billy Graham started long ago will continue on. It seems rare in our here and now to see the blessings from a calling of God being carried out by your children and grand children and I would like to think it brings joy to Billy Graham as he continues to advance in age.
Click on this link to read an F&E article about Franklin Graham: 16 Awesome Franklin Graham Quotes