Proclamation of the Gospel message through the media has always been a cornerstone of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), but few know that the ministry itself was launched more than 60 years ago because of a radio program.
At the mid-point of the 20th century, evangelist Billy Graham was just months removed from the 1949 Greater Los Angeles Crusade that launched his fledgling ministry into national prominence. As a result of this sudden exposure, Graham was approached about beginning a nationwide Christian radio program. Though he dismissed the notion at first, he eventually agreed, if $25,000 could be raised in one night to begin the process of buying air time. That night in Portland, Ore., the funds—an exceedingly large amount of money at the time—did come in, and the radio program “Hour of Decision” was born.
In order to handle the unexpected influx of financial support for the ministry, Graham called George Wilson, his business manager at Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis, Minn., and Wilson immediately filed the paperwork to launch a non-profit organization. Thus, in 1950, BGEA was formed for the purposes of broadcasting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the next six decades, the ministry served as the organizational backbone of Graham’s evangelistic outreaches and Crusades, as he preached to nearly 215 million people in live audiences across 185 countries and territories.
In addition to Billy Graham Crusades and “Hour of Decision,” BGEA took advantage of as many other opportunities as possible to share the Gospel. Only months after beginning the radio program, Graham was approached about writing a daily syndicated column titled “My Answer,” which still runs in newspapers across the country today.
At a time when many Christians were wary of motion pictures, Graham embraced movies as a method for sharing the Gospel, releasing the film “Mr. Texas” in 1951 and officially establishing World Wide Pictures (WWP) in 1952 as the motion picture division of BGEA. Over the next 55 years, WWP would produce and distribute more than 130 films, including many full-length movies.
In 1957, the ministry of the BGEA hit primetime during the historic New York City Crusade in Madison Square Garden. For the first time, Graham’s messages were broadcast live across the country on national television, giving ABC its highest ratings up to that point against the other networks’ power-house programs “The Perry Como Show” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.” More than 60 years later, BGEA continues to air original programming on television networks and the Internet.
Graham also saw the value in books and magazines that could encourage Christians and be used as evangelistic tools. He released six books in the first decade of BGEA and was part of founding the Christian publication Christianity Today in 1956. In 1960, Graham published the first issue of BGEA’s Decision magazine, which has grown into a widely read Christian periodical with a circulation of some 425,000 today. Over the course of his ministry, Graham wrote 33 books.
In the coming years, Graham set venue records around the world as he spoke to massive audiences across six continents. When possible, the ministry would utilize existing technology—such as World War II landline relays in England—to spread the messages even farther.
The advent of satellite technology opened more doors for BGEA to propagate the Gospel. In 1985 the ministry first used satellites to broadcast meetings from Sheffield, England, all over Great Britain. In 1989, the Crusade in London was broadcast live to 250 locations across the United Kingdom and nearly 300 locations across Africa. In 1991, the strategy was expanded in Central and South America, as a Crusade in Buenos Aires was transmitted via satellite and video into 20 Spanish-speaking countries.
The biggest undertaking of this kind took place in 1995 through a BGEA event called Global Mission. The Crusade in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was simultaneously broadcast via satellite in 48 languages to literally thousands of locations around the world. Churches, theaters, city squares, sports arenas and other venues from the Soviet Union to Rwanda to South Korea participated, resulting in millions hearing the Gospel message at one time around the world.
In 1996, BGEA entered the developing frontier of cyberspace, launching the ministry’s flagship website, BillyGraham.org. The site quickly became a portal to offer ministry updates and spiritual guidance, while also sharing the hope of Jesus with visitors. Today, hundreds of thousands visit the site every month. BGEA’s Internet Evangelism ministry today has seen millions make commitments to Jesus Christ online.
One item that consistently concerned Graham was equipping today’s evangelists in the developing world, while developing the next generation of evangelists. To that end, the ministry held three massive conferences in Amsterdam’s sprawling RAI Center, widely known as Amsterdam 83, Amsterdam 86, and Amsterdam 2000. These events, each officially titled the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists, brought together thousands of evangelists from hundreds of countries for training and encouragement.
In 2000, Graham’s son Franklin was named CEO of BGEA, and in 2001 he was named president of the organization. BGEA officially relocated to Billy Graham’s hometown of Charlotte, N.C., in 2003, and the Billy Graham Library, designed to be an ongoing Crusade, opened in 2007 on the same property.
In November 2013, millions of people tuned in to watch Billy Graham’s much-anticipated video message, “The Cross,” on cable networks, local television stations, online and via DVD. The program was the culmination of My Hope with Billy Graham, an evangelism effort in the United States and Canada that saw more than 26,000 churches involved and more than 110,000 commitments to Jesus Christ.
In advance of the 2016 elections, Franklin Graham traveled to the capital cities of each of the 50 states, proclaiming the Gospel and encouraging those in attendance to pray, vote and be civically-engaged. That outreach resulted in similar efforts in the coming years, as Franklin held multi-city tours across Tennessee (2017), Texas (2017), California (2018) and the Pacific Northwest (2018).
On February 21, 2018, Billy Graham slipped quietly into eternity, passing away at his home in Montreat, N.C., at the age of 99. During the several days that followed, Graham’s message of hope and redemption in Jesus Christ was broadcast to the ends of the earth via the press and social media. He became the first religious leader to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, and thousands lined up to pay their respects both there and at the Billy Graham Library. His funeral—which focused heavily on the Gospel message he proclaimed over his decades-long ministry—was widely broadcast on television and online, with thousands responding to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The BGEA continues Billy Graham’s mission to reach as many people as possible with the Good News of the Gospel through a variety of ministries, including: large-scale evangelistic outreaches led by evangelists Franklin Graham and Will Graham; the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team of crisis-trained chaplains; the Billy Graham Library; the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, located outside of Asheville, N.C.; SearchforJesus.net, an Internet evangelism project reaching thousands of people for Christ online; and many others through print, television, telephone, radio and the Internet.
Timeline of Historic Events
September 1947: Billy Graham’s first city-wide Crusade in Grand Rapids, Mich., followed through the years by more than 400 Crusades across six continents.
1947: “Calling Youth to Christ,” Billy Graham’s first book is published.
September 1949: “Christ for Greater Los Angeles” Crusade catches the attention of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. The resulting national and international news coverage launches Billy Graham into prominence.
September 1950: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) becomes incorporated in Minnesota.
November 1950: First “Hour of Decision” radio program airs.
September 1951: “Hour of Decision” television broadcasts begin airing over the ABC network.
October 1951: BGEA releases its first film, “Mr. Texas,” which is followed by more than 130 other films through the years.
December 1952: First “My Answer” column runs.
October 1956: The first issue of Christianity Today is published.
June 1957: ABC broadcasts live meetings of the New York City Crusade in Madison Square Garden.
November 1960: First issue of Decision magazine
May 1962: Billy and Ruth Graham start a radio station with the goal of leading as many people as possible into a personal and dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ.
1980: TV Telephone Ministry begins, which has aided hundreds of thousands in beginning a relationship with Jesus Christ.
June 1985: BGEA uses satellite technology to broadcast meetings in Sheffield, England, to 51 locations in Great Britain.
September 1988: Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, N.C., launches first programs, held in what is now Chatlos Memorial Chapel.
March 1989: Franklin Graham holds his first Festival in Juneau, Alaska, followed through the years by more than 180 Festivals worldwide.
June 1989: BGEA uses satellite technology to broadcast meetings from London, England, to 250 locations in the United Kingdom.
November 1991: BGEA uses satellite technology and video to transmit meetings from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to 20 Spanish-speaking countries.
May 1993: BGEA officially dedicates the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C., for the purpose of Bible training of Christians.
March 1995: BGEA simultaneously broadcasts the Crusade in San Juan, Puerto Rico, via satellite in 48 languages to thousands of locations worldwide.
1996: BGEA launches the ministry’s flagship website: BillyGraham.org.
2000: Franklin Graham named CEO of BGEA.
2001: Franklin Graham named president of BGEA.
2001: BGEA develops a biblically-based grief and trauma training seminar to minister to victims of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The program ultimately develops into what is today the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.
2001: BGEA announces the move of headquarters from Minneapolis, Minn., to Charlotte, N.C., the city where Billy Graham was born.
2002: BGEA launches the “My Hope” ministry of home-based crusades, resulting in more than 10,000,000 people worldwide making decisions for Christ.
2002: BGEA deploys the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team to minister to hurricane survivors in Lafayette, La. They have since deployed to more than 335 disaster zones, including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and shootings.
2004: BGEA opens newly-constructed headquarters building on Billy Graham Parkway in Charlotte, N.C.
2004: Will Graham begins holding youth events in Canada.
2005: Billy Graham holds his final Crusade, in New York City.
2005: 106.9 the Light (WMIT) begins broadcasting its HD Radio signal, making it the first Christian radio station in the Carolinas to adopt this technology.
2006: BGEA launches Dare to Be a Daniel, a ministry focused on equipping a new generation of evangelists for the next generation of believers.
2006: Will Graham conducts his first three-day Celebration in the U.S.
2007: BGEA opens the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C.
June 14, 2007: Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, passes away.
2011: BGEA launches PeaceWithGod.net to clearly present the Gospel through the Internet. Millions have made commitments to Jesus Christ through this outreach.
2012: The radio station founded by Billy Graham extends its reach by purchasing 106.7 WRJK-FM, which serves an audience of more than 550,000 in the Knoxville, Tenn., metro area.
November 2013: More than 110,000 people make commitments to Jesus Christ through My Hope with Billy Graham, an evangelism effort in the United States and Canada that culminated with the broadcast of Billy Graham’s video message, “The Cross,” in homes, churches and online across the two nations.
2016: Franklin Graham travels to all 50 states for the Decision America Tour, sharing the Gospel in every capital city.
February 21, 2018: Billy Graham passes away at the age of 99 at his home in Montreat, N.C.
Sept. 14, 2018: The film Unbroken: Path to Redemption debuts in theaters, featuring Will Graham portraying his grandfather, Billy Graham, in the Louis Zamperini biopic.