In the 1930s and early '40s, a new movement to evangelize people in their late teens and early 20s emerged more or less simultaneously in several cities across the United States. The earliest were probably those led by Lloyd Brant in New York City. Other independent movements were soon begun by Percy Crawford in Philadelphia, Paul Guinness in Brantford, Ontario, Oscar Gilliam in Los Angeles, and Jack Wyrtzen, also in New York City. They all encouraged young people to commit their lives to Christ and lead meaningful lives. But their programs were not like sedate church services. Instead, they held Saturday night "rallies" featuring popular (Christian) music, short attention-grabbing skits and segments and brief, clear sermons in everyday language on the concerns of young people.
After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, millions of young men and women began leaving home and traveling within the country to unfamiliar cities for military training and war-related work. There were also attractions in those cities, however, that wanted their business - dancing, movies, gambling, prostitution, among others. To counter those and provide positive experiences, Christian leaders in dozens of cities used the Saturday night Youth For Christ (YFC) rallies as a model to start similar programs. The planners of these YFC meetings avoided church buildings and held them in well-known local civic landmarks, such as stadiums, halls, auditoriums. Probably the fastest growing was the Chicago moment, which by 1944 was led by local pastor Torrey M. Johnson. Those in other cities included Roger Malsbary in Indianapolis; Dick Harvey in St. Louis; Al Metsker in Kansas City; Charles Templeton of Toronto; George Wilson in Minneapolis; and Walter Smyth in Philadelphia.
Chicago’s first Youth for Christ rally packed the city's Orchestra Hall on May 27, 1944. Johnson organized and emceed the meeting and a young pastor named Billy Graham of the Village Church in suburban Western Springs preached. (Graham later joined YFC as a full-time staff member in January 1945.) The meetings continued weekly in Orchestra Hall until a final rally on Octber 21, 1944, that drew 30,000 people. Smaller YFC weekly rallies continued throughout the winter at Moody Church in Chicago.
Meanwhile most YFC groups around the country (except those led by Crawford in Philadelphia and Wyrtzen in New York City met in November 1944 to form a temporary national organization, with Johnson as president. A formal organization meeting was set for July 1945.