William Franklin Graham Jr., better known as Billy Graham died on 21 February 2018 at the age of 99. Billy Graham was one of the most influential preachers of the twentieth century and his crusades in Australia and New Zealand in 1959 and 1968-1969 drew huge crowds. Graham was a Southern Baptist minister who’s charismatic preaching style led him to begin a series of crusades from 1947 until his retirement in 2005. Over the course of his career Billy Graham preached to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries, preaching to more people in person than anyone else in the history of Christianity and reaching hundreds of millions more through radio, television and film.
Christian revival meetings had taken place in Queensland for many years before the Billy Graham Crusades. Mostly these meetings were quite local and usually associated with a particular church or sect. This report from Warwick published in the Brisbane Courier in 1873 suggests these meetings were not taken overly seriously by the majority and also highlights the live-and-let-live attitude to religion common in Australia.
A football club, a Good Templar Lodge and a revival meeting, are amongst the newest things in this town. The revivalists hold protracted meetings, sing and pray over “converted” ones, and two or three sisters have been “converted” and found peace. There can be little doubt of the truth of the Christian religion, after what it has survived, more particularly at the hands of its friends. Of course, it is a free country, and every man has the right to be religious or irreligious as he pleases and in the manner too most agreeable to himself; hence, I can’t join in condemning those who have a taste for any particular method of applying religious stimulants.
What made the Billy Graham Crusades different from previous revivals was firstly the tremendous organisation behind the tours and secondly their ecumenical nature which meant they were supported by nearly all the protestant churches in the country. Dr Stuart Piggin describes this organisation in his article Billy Graham in Australia, 1959 – Was it Revival? in Lucas : an evangelical history review 6 October 1989.
A Billy Graham crusade is a mammoth feat of organization. It is run according to directions laid down in Crusade Procedure Books which are full of SOP, Standard Operational Procedures, a military term. This manual has 12 chapters covering committees (of which there are 12), Correspondence, Counselling, Financial, General Office, Prayer, Press, Promotion, Relay, Reservations, Statistics and Ushers. Most of these are subdivided into pre-crusade, crusade, and post-crusade.
One aspect of this organization effort is illustrated by one of the items in State Library’s ephemera collections relating to the crusades. Fund raising was obviously an important part of the preparation and the ‘Share partner’ receipt book records a donation of five pounds in monthly installments. On the reverse it has instructions. Each month, with your Crusade Bulletin, you will receive this acknowledgement card and a reply paid envelope which you can immediately use to send in your pound for that month.
In the event the turnout for the crusade vastly exceeded even the crusade organization’s most optimistic predictions. 140,000 turned out on the final day in Melbourne and 150,000 packed into the Sydney showgrounds and the adjoining Sydney Cricket Ground where they listened to a live relay from the showgrounds. In a lead up event of the Queensland crusade featuring Rev. Leighton Ford, associate evangelist and brother-in-law of Billy Graham attracted a crowd of 22,000 to the opening event as reported in the Canberra Times.
Protestant church leaders expect a wave of religious fervour to sweep through the State in the weeks following the all-Queensland crusade. A total of 22,000 people, most of them carrying Bibles, went to the Exhibition Ground to hear the Rev. Leighton Ford, an advance agent for Dr. Billy Graham. Crusade officials said afterwards that the meeting was the biggest religious rally yet held in Brisbane. The climax of the meeting came at 5 p.m. when 343 people registered “decisions for Christ.” American members of the Graham team were astonished at the crowd. “Where will we put the people when Billy gets here?” one said.
Billy Graham held three meetings in the Exhibition Ground with the final one attracting a crowd of 80,000. The two week Brisbane crusade attracted 10,661 ‘decisions for Christ’ with a total attendance over the two weeks estimated at 291,000 with the final meeting relayed by telephone line to many other centres in Queensland and other states. The population of Brisbane at the time was something less than 600,000 so the numbers attending the crusade were quite astonishing. The Crusade Bulletin for June 1959 shows a specially chartered aerial photograph of the final crowd.
One of the chief objectives of the crusade was to garner ‘decisions for Christ’ which were registered at meetings via a Commitment card.
The Billy Graham crusades adopted the latest available technology to get the message out. Films were sent out to regional centres and Billy Graham appeared on television and radio. The major meetings were also broadcast via telephone lines to regional centres.
Leighton Ford returned to Queensland in 1961 and Billy Graham returned for one more crusade in 1968 when 67,000 people attended the final meeting.
Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland