The son of a dairy farmer in Charlotte, N.C., Billy Graham’s life took a dramatic turn when he responded to an invitation at a revival meeting at the tender age of 15. He soon realized his calling was to tell the world about Jesus Christ.
Shortly after graduating from Wheaton College (Ill.), Billy Graham’s evangelistic ministry rose to prominence with Youth For Christ (YFC), an organization founded to reach out to youth and servicemen during World War II. He preached throughout the United States and in Europe in the immediate post-war era, emerging as a rising young evangelist.
After a number of influential revival meetings, including the famous 1949 “Christ for Greater Los Angeles Campaign” that lasted eight weeks and vaulted Graham and his associates into the national spotlight, the team decided to formally incorporate in 1950 as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).
Its headquarters were in Minneapolis, Minn., where Graham was then serving as the president of Northwestern College. The organization moved in 2003 to Graham’s hometown of Charlotte.
The team that helped Billy Graham launch BGEA in 1950 – men like George Wilson, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, T.W. Wilson, Grady Wilson and others – had no idea then that it would one day become one of the largest and most established evangelistic ministries in the world.
BGEA has seen millions make commitments to Jesus Christ at hundreds of evangelistic campaigns over six decades.
In addition to well-known Billy Graham Crusades, Franklin Graham Festivals have been held all over the world since the 1980s. Will Graham, representing the 3rd generation of Grahams to proclaim the Gospel under the banner of BGEA, has also begun conducting similar “Celebrations” in the U.S. and abroad.
From the beginning, BGEA has been committed to working with local churches, understanding the need not only for the proclamation of the Gospel, but also for the follow-up and development of new believers. At each Crusade, Festival and Celebration BGEA has conducted, team members have launched preparatory efforts well in advance to help local Christians to reach out to others, nurture them in their newfound faith and welcome them into their churches.
Accordingly, one of BGEA’s most important missions has been to equip others to proclaim the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Through landmark international conferences in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1983, 1986 and 2000, BGEA has trained new generations of evangelists eager to reach the world for Christ.
The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C., was established in 1987 to train people in the Bible to win others to Christ and continues its mission utilizing leading Bible teachers from around the world.
The Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism, started in the 1960s and active today, provides masterful evangelism and discipleship training for pastors, Christian workers, and their spouses.
Miracles in Media
Throughout its history BGEA has made use of available technology to further the message of the Gospel. Billy Graham was the first evangelist to use television to reach people on a national scope, beginning with ABC broadcasts of the 1951 “Hour of Decision” program. The next notable venture in television programming was in 1957, when ABC broadcast the New York City Crusade live from Madison Square Garden.
According to ABC Television, Graham was reaching seven million viewers with every program – more Americans than had heard all the sermons he’d ever preached to that time. In 1995, utilizing emerging satellite technology, Graham became the first evangelist in history to give a “global invitation” from the San Juan, Puerto Rico Crusade that reached live audiences in 185 countries and territories.
BGEA was a pioneer in religious motion pictures, starting a production company, World Wide Pictures, at a time when Christian-based films were virtually unheard of. Today these films continue to entertain, inspire and take the Good News of Christ well beyond the church walls, translated into 45 languages and used in a variety of ways around the world.
BGEA continues to produce quality Christian broadcast programming, including The Hour of Decision weekly radio program, one of the radio industry’s earliest and longest-running programs, at nearly 60 years. Evangelistic television programs, which started as broadcasts of Crusades, now include stirring produced content with stories of changed lives through BGEA ministries.
In the field of print publication, in 1960 BGEA started and still runs the widely circulated Decision magazine, filled with BGEA ministry updates, evangelistic content, and articles about Christian living.
Though Billy Graham’s public ministry has come to a close, BGEA is now led by his son, Franklin, who became CEO in 2000 and president in 2001. Franklin has overseen the launch of several major ministries in recent years, including:
- My Hope World Evangelism through Television: an international ministry that works with churches and Christian leaders in individual countries to train believers to share their faith with friends and family using TV broadcasts and videos. Learn more »
- The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team: a ministry of more than 3,000 crisis-trained chaplains who offer appropriate spiritual and emotional care to those affected by natural and man-made disasters. Learn more »
- Dare to Be a Daniel: a youth evangelism training ministry to help Christian students share their faith and make a difference in their schools for Jesus Christ. Learn more »
- The Billy Graham Library: the “ongoing Crusade” of exhibits and multimedia features in Charlotte, N.C., that chronicles the life of Billy Graham and continues his ministry of sharing the Gospel. The property also includes Billy Graham’s boyhood home and serves as the burial place for his wife, Ruth, who passed away in 2007. Learn more »
With these and many other ministries and programs, BGEA continues to innovate, employing every effective means available to reach a hurting world with the life-changing Gospel message of hope, love and forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ.
Throughout 2010, we will focus on a particular part of BGEA history or ministry. Please check back each month for a new story:
- Howard O. Jones: First African-American Member of Billy Graham’s Team Shares His Story
Read the article »
- Reflections on God’s Goodness: George Beverly Shea Turns 101
Check out the interview »
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Warrior for Social Justice and Friend of Billy Graham
Read the excerpt »
- Billy Graham’s Memories of India: A look at the 1956 Crusade in Madras
Learn more »