Billy Graham Becomes a Traveling Evangelist Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After organizing groups throughout the United States for the Youth for Christ movement, Billy Graham decided to become a full-time traveling evangelist, eventually acquiring fame for his crusades and winning the admiration of millions throughout the world.

Summary of Event

In the early 1940’s, a young college student named Billy Graham began what would become a worldwide ministry when he preached at a series of youth crusades in Florida. By the mid-1940’s, Graham was a new Wheaton College graduate who had just accepted a pastorate at a small Baptist church in Western Springs, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. He planned to preach at what would later become known as the Village Church and attend graduate school. Soon after he began his new ministry in Western Springs, he was given the opportunity to take over preaching on a Sunday evening radio program featured on one of Chicago’s best-known radio stations. Evangelism Youth for Christ Christianity;clergy [kw]Billy Graham Becomes a Traveling Evangelist (1945) [kw]Graham Becomes a Traveling Evangelist, Billy (1945) [kw]Evangelist, Billy Graham Becomes a Traveling (1945) Evangelism Youth for Christ Christianity;clergy [g]North America;1945: Billy Graham Becomes a Traveling Evangelist[01360] [g]United States;1945: Billy Graham Becomes a Traveling Evangelist[01360] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;1945: Billy Graham Becomes a Traveling Evangelist[01360] Graham, Billy Johnson, Torrey Shea, George Beverly Barrows, Cliff African independence movements World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];African impact Postcolonialism;Africa

In October, 1943, Graham had been asked by Torrey Johnson, a successful pastor and professor of New Testament Greek, to take over the helm of one of his radio programs, Songs in the Night. Songs in the Night (radio program) With the cooperation of George Beverly Shea, an influential Christian singer and radio personality, the program began airing in early 1944. The Sunday evening program was forty-five minutes in length and featured both live singing and preaching. Billy Graham and Songs in the Night were quickly successful, and area youth soon began going to the studio to hear Shea sing and Graham preach.

The success of this radio program led Torrey Johnson to offer Graham an even better ministry. After attending George M. Wilson’s successful Youth for Christ rally at the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Johnson was inspired to organize another rally in Chicago. He asked Graham to be the featured preacher at the “Chicagoland Youth for Christ” rally. He reserved Chicago’s Orchestra Hall for twenty-one Saturday nights beginning in late May of 1944. Aiming his sermons at teenagers and servicemen, Graham preached to a nearly full house and saw more than forty people respond to the invitation for converts to come forward at the end of his first message. The remainder of the series of rallies was also attended by record numbers of young people.

That fall, Graham was supposed to become a second lieutenant in the United States Army, where he was set to train as a chaplain. However, the twenty-six-year-old Graham came down with a serious case of the mumps, and he changed his plans to become an army chaplain. During Graham’s convalescence in Florida, Torrey asked him to join him as the first full-time employee of his Youth for Christ ministry by serving as its organizer and evangelist. Both men had a vision to spread the Gospel throughout the world and saw this as an opportunity to make a difference in Christian evangelism.

Beginning in 1945, Graham began traveling the United States, preaching at the Saturday evening youth rallies. In addition to preaching at the rallies, he also helped organize new chapters of Youth for Christ in the United States and Canada and eventually in Europe. Graham’s preaching style and personality made him the perfect preacher for this organization, whose motto was “Geared to the Times, Anchored to the Rock.” Their rallies soon attracted thousands and then tens of thousands of teenagers and servicemen to a variety of venues, including Chicago’s Soldier Field football stadium.

By 1946 and 1947, Graham had embarked on a full speaking schedule to spread Youth for Christ’s message, first traveling throughout the United States and then, for the first time, abroad in England. After World War II had ended, Johnson and Graham decided it was time to expand their ministry to include Great Britain and the rest of Europe. In 1946, they were able to fly to the British Isles, where Graham eventually made a positive impression in England, Scotland, and Ireland. However, Graham found it difficult at first to win British support, and some negative reports about the rallies led to cancellations and low attendance. Graham persevered, though, and soon, with good word of mouth and the help of a few British ministers, more people began to attend the rallies. He eventually made a good impression on many British religious leaders and thus achieved a measure of success during the first Youth for Christ British campaign.

Graham’s contacts at Youth for Christ and Wheaton College were instrumental in spreading the word about his growing ministry. Soon, he was introduced to church leaders who were impressed with his message and ministry and who began asking him to preach and teach in their towns and at their churches. More and more, Graham began to accept solo engagements at evangelistic meetings and Bible studies as his reputation grew. Along with George Beverly Shea, who served as soloist and choir director, and Cliff Barrows, who served as master of ceremonies, Graham began to hold successful evangelical rallies on his own. In addition to these rallies, he also fulfilled a promise to Dr. William Bell Riley and became president of Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis after Riley’s death. His term as president lasted until 1952, when Graham turned his full attention to his ministry and evangelistic rallies.

By the end of the 1940’s, Billy Graham had become a full-time traveling evangelist, first with Youth for Christ and then with his own successful evangelistic ministry. Graham’s early successes with Songs in the Night and Youth for Christ paved the way for one of the most successful Christian ministries of the twentieth century.


Following his beginnings as a youth rally preacher, Billy Graham quickly became one of America’s most influential men and a much respected preacher. The success of his crusades led to the founding of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Billy Graham Crusades. Through these ministries, Graham was able to preach his Christian message across denominational lines throughout the United States and the world. In the years immediately after he became a traveling evangelist, Graham traveled throughout the world with his crusades and preached his message to large crowds. Beginning in 1957, he added a new dimension to his ministry by taking his message to an even larger audience when he began broadcasting his hour-long crusades on national television. The immediate response to these broadcasts was unprecedented, and he soon gained enormous popularity as a preacher and as a spiritual adviser to prominent world leaders and politicians. Evangelism Youth for Christ Christianity;clergy

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Graham, Billy. Just as I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997. The story of Billy Graham’s life and ministry in his own words. Discusses his early life and the beginnings of his ministry as well as his relationships with world leaders and dignitaries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lowe, Janet, comp. Billy Graham Speaks: Insight from the World’s Greatest Preacher. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. A collection of quotations from Billy Graham interspersed with short anecdotes from his life and ministry. Material in this book is organized by topic. A valuable resource for those who want to better understand Graham’s views and philosophy presented in his own words.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pollock, John. Billy Graham: The Authorized Biography. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966. The first authorized biography of Billy Graham. A thorough and honest account of Graham’s life and ministry. Presents details of Graham’s life through 1960. Uses author’s interviews and other documents for accuracy of details.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. To All the Nations: The Billy Graham Story. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985. A follow-up to Pollock’s biography of Graham. Details the events of the middle years of the evangelist’s ministry and adds fresh perspective to the previous biography.

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Categories: History