5 Innovative Ways that Billy Graham Proclaimed the Gospel
People around the world are paying their respects to honor the life of Rev. Billy Graham. His work as a Christian evangelist impacted millions around the world, most notably through his ministry's evangelistic crusades in large venues. His ministry is also known for its innovations in using the latest communication technologies to proclaim the simple Gospel message far and wide. He was an early adopter of technology for the sake of the Gospel.
How Billy Graham Used Technology
Karl Vaters noted: Billy always capitalized on the latest technology and techniques to share the gospel. He used radio, television and movies in an era when many ministers were still referring to them as “tools of the devil”.
Smithsonian Magazine: " Graham wasn’t the first popular evangelist in America, but he distinguished himself with a unique ambition and a prescient embrace of technology. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which he founded in 1950, produced radio and television programs, allowing Graham to reach millions of followers around the globe.
5 Ways that Billy Graham Used Technology
All kinds of new technologies have made life more convenient and comfortable in many ways, like in the kitchen (dishwasher, microwave oven, instant cooker), music (cassette, CD, streaming), and furniture (build-it-yourself kits at IKEA). Technology has also made great advances in the areas related to communications. And when it comes to communicating the Gospel message, Billy Graham's ministry did not hesitate to use new technologies and was numbered among the first of early adopters. Here are 5 ways that his ministry communicated relevantly:
Radio was a significant instrument that took the evangelistic message of Billy Graham up to another level.
Initially, the attendance at the 1949 Greater Los Angeles Revival was a little underwhelming. Then a well-known local radio host was moved by Billy’s sermon and invited his listeners to join him in making a public profession of faith at the tent meeting" and the attendance grew to overwhelming. To accommodate more people, the Los Angeles Crusade was extended from 3 weeks to 8 weeks and Billy Graham's grew rapidly. The Los Angeles Times noted, "He entered Los Angeles a virtual unknown, and he left it almost a household name."
In 1950, the ministry launched a weekly radio broadcast called the Hour of Decision that ran for 60 years. Over the years, the BGEA (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)'s radio ministry has reached beyond terrestrial broadcast radio to satellite radio, and also podcasting.
Billy Graham's ministry started using television in 1951, back when black and white TV sets were in over 12 million American homes. The ministry produced half-hour programs as well as broadcasting live from Crusades; the first one was in 1957 from New York City. Over the years, television programs were produced several times a year. The last one with Billy Graham himself was a special television program on his 95th birthday in 2013.
The ministry launched a movie company, World Wide Pictures, to share the message of the Gospel in compelling relatable stories. One communication professor described these films as a narrative package for the Gospel. A common storyline would be a main character having a life situation or crisis that prompted them to turn to God, sometimes listening to a Billy Graham message. World Wide Pictures produced 100 films between 1949-2004 and over 30 of them are still available on DVD.
2 examples of Billy Graham's use of satellite stand out. In 1995, the Billy Graham Crusade in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was broadcast through satellite transmission to 185 countries. In November 2017, SiriusXM satellite radio carried a dedicated Billy Graham channel for 3 weeks.
For today's generation, the internet has become an unconscious part of life in many ways similar to how electricity was for previous generations. The internet provides instant global reach that is facilitating communications through all kinds of social media, shopping, coordinating ride sharing, and more.
In 1993, Billy Graham used a chat room on his 75th birthday. In 1996, the ministry launched the billygraham.org website. What kind of measurable impact has this had? More than 4 million have made decisions for Christ through this website. In 2011, BGEA launched its Internet Evangelism ministry, where the Gospel has been presented over 20 million times with over 4 million people indicating decisions for Christ. And, in recent years, most crusades were webcast online. As for social media, BGEA has presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest.
On Saturday, February 24, 2018, BGEA provided livestream video of the day's memorial event—motorcade—with dedicated newscasters providing live coverage just for the online audience; the video was also published to Facebook Live. The special website at memorial.billygraham.org allows many to remember & celebrate the life and legacy of Billy Graham.
Even if Technology is not the Final Answer
Many church leaders and Christian ministries have a reputation for being slow to use new technologies for fear of its misuse. By contrast, Billy Graham and other innovative ministries are pushing forward with using current technologies to reach people more effectively.
Billy Graham said this, "I am amazed at the wonders of technology and am grateful for the ways in which we are able to use it to share the gospel around the world."
As much as Billy Graham used every technological means possible to proclaim the Gospel, he is also well aware of technology's limitations, as he declared at a legendary TED talk before a secular tech-savvy audience: “David found that there were many problems that technology could not solve,” Graham declares. “There were many problems still left. And they’re still with us. And you haven’t solved them…the problem is within us, within our hearts and our souls. Our problem is that we are separated from our Creator, which we call God.”
What Billy Graham's Ministry Teaches Us About Technology (Tobin Perry, Pushpay blog)
Billy Graham: evangelical media pioneer (Ted Parks, RNS)
Innovation without Compromise: 5 Church Leadership Lessons from the Life of Billy Graham (Karl Vaters, Pivot blog at Christianity Today)
Billy Graham: Made in L.A. (Neil J. Young, Los Angeles Times)