How Billy Graham Got the Gospel Message Out to the Next Generations

The world stopped to celebrate the homegoing of evangelist Billy Graham, 99, who was buried in Charlotte on the grounds of the library bearing his name next to Ruth, his marriage and ministry partner of more than 63 years.

Throughout his ministry, Graham constantly leveraged the leading edge of technology, from radio and print journalism to satellite television and the internet in order to speak timeless truths to the mercurial interests of the next generation.

While the message of Jesus’ love and redemptive power for the sinner is eternal and timeless, the modern believer lives in a world of near-instantaneous change. The youngest among us are particularly susceptible to the whims of culture, especially one driven by a 24-hour Twitter news cycle.

Before Billy Graham was known for reinventing the old-fashioned tent revival, he cut his evangelistic teeth as an itinerant youth preacher, speaking to young men and women in the armed forces who were home from World War II, afflicted with a deep sense of uncertainty that combat too often inspires.

In 1944, Youth for Christ International founder Torrey Johnson invited a 26-year-old Graham to lead a series of meetings at the 3,000-seat Chicago Orchestra Hall. Graham’s style was passionate, pithy and — perhaps most importantly for a crowd of youngsters — able to deliver the Gospel message quickly. The following year, Johnson recruited Graham and a number of other young evangelists to tour the country speaking at other similarly organized youth meetings.

“Great Souls” author David Aikman recalls that Graham and his colleagues energized their listeners with “loud and contemporary” music, “flashy” clothes and, similar to the popular “I Am Second” video series of today, well-known athletes who had committed their lives to Christ presenting their faith testimonies.

The lessons gleaned from those early youth rallies influenced Graham’s preaching for the remainder of his worldwide career. When he addressed thousands in Times Square in 1957, he famously invoked the titles of the movie marquees lining 42nd Street as textual evidence for the world’s sin and brokenness for which God’s redemptive love was the antidote.

In June 1972, Graham kicked off Campus Crusade for Christ’s “Explo ’72” at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The event, later dubbed the “Christian Woodstock,” capped the peak of the ’70s “Jesus Movement,” gathering 100,000 college and high school students — including future minister and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — for a week of evangelistic training.

Explo ’72 culminated in a day-long Christian music festival featuring artists such as Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, an experience so powerful that music critic John Thompson later credited the event with kick-starting the Contemporary Christian Music genre and the rise of the juggernaut Christian music industry.

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Source: Baptist Press