a billy graham center archives exhibit
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For a century, New York City had been a daunting challenge and an enticing prize for American evangelists. Billy Graham and his organization stepped up to that challenge in 1957.
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"THE BILLY GRAHAM ‘INVASION’ / Finally the Big One - ‘Save New York’" Headlines from a cover story on the New York City crusade in the May 20, 1957, issue of the magazine Newsweek. From the Archives clipping file, May 1957, Folder 3.

The City. From at least George Whitfield (1714-1770), Protestant evangelists in America had been drawn to New York City. Starting in the 19th century, there were repeated “union meetings” held there. These meetings involved daily services held over weeks or even months in central location, led by a charismatic evangelist, with significant publicity and supported by local churches. The meetings were intended to lead many people who had no regular connection with a church to accept Jesus Christ as savior, to encourage Christians to be more dedicated in living their faith, and to increase Christian involvement in the city’s social, political and economic life.

Whitfield, Charles Finney, Henry Varley, Dwight L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, J. Wilbur Chapman, and above all Billy Sunday were among the evangelists who were drawn to the New York City area. They all believed that because of the city’s importance in commerce, transport, and communications, any impact here would radiate out across the country. And because of the city’s extremely diverse population of nationalities and cultures, it was almost a microcosm of the world. Every evangelist who wanted to speak to a nationwide audience had eventually to come to New York City.

There were many other evangelistic programs in the city in the 20th century besides the short, intensive union meetings. Two examples are the Evangel Tent meetings held yearly from the 1880s through the 1910s under the sponsorship of a nondenominational committee and the Word of Life rallies for young adults and teenagers, led by Jack Wyrtzen in the 1940s and ‘50s. In some ways, Wyrtzen, who also made periodic use of Madison Square Garden and continual use of radio, prepared the way for the 1957 Billy Graham campaign.

Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). Billy Graham had first led evangelistic meetings while a student in Bible school in Florida in 1937. For a decade after that he gained experience as an evangelist as one of the early leaders of the Youth for Christ movements he spoke to many thousands in the United States and Europe. By the time he formed the BGEA in 1950, he had gathered a team of people such as Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, George Wilson, Grady Wilson and Willis Haymaker who would continue working together throughout their ministry. Throughout the 50's they held campaigns, learned, used and refined the techniques of previous evangelists, and developed their own methods.

Click below for items on Introduction
item 112: from Collection 7, box 4, folder 28 item 2: from Accession 91-41 item 3: from Collection 29, box 2, folder 1
item 4: from Collection 285, box 29, folder 6 item 5: from Collection 15, box 1, folder 6 item 6: from Collection 1, box 1, folder 1
© 2005 Wheaton College and © 2005 BGEA