It may surprise you to know that, in addition to being an evangelist, Billy Graham was a true media pioneer. He was able to use the technology of his day and take it to a whole new level, using it not only to spread the gospel but to give him a platform from which he could further minister to millions.
Although Howard Stern likes to claim the title for himself, Billy Graham was really “the king of all media.”
From the very beginning of his ministry, Billy understood the potential of radio, television, and print—and his legacy remains with us today. And if there’s one thing I learned from Billy, it’s that we should leverage every opportunity to get the gospel out—whether on radio, the internet, television, film, or other digital platforms.
A Pioneer on Radio and Television
Billy’s start on radio happened during his short stint as a pastor with a program called Songs in the Night. This is where he met George Beverly Shea, who went on to become the song leader at his crusade events.
Today, we’re used to hearing Christian radio. But back then, there were no Christian radio stations as we would know them now, and so Billy was doing something unique. Soon, he was going out on major radio stations with his program called Hour of Decision, which broadcast live across 150 stations.
However, the way most people today might have heard Billy Graham is through television. In an era when “Christian television” also didn’t really exist, Billy became a television pioneer. He would buy time on major networks—local and national—and use the time to broadcast the gospel.
Many of us remember watching Billy Graham as kids. I remember watching him on our black and white television back in the ’50s with my grandparents. My life was in turmoil, as I was living there due to my mom’s multiple marriages and divorces. But I remember being touched, even as a little boy, by his powerful words. He sowed a seed in my heart that would break ground in my teen years.
A Wide-Reaching Impact
He later started a film studio in Hollywood called World Wide Pictures, and they made movies that released in theaters. They were beautifully produced films that always had an evangelistic message. As if that weren’t enough, he also wrote a column called My Answer that ran six days a week in newspapers across the United States and reached 20 million people, and he founded two monthly magazines—Christianity Today and Decision.
Always the innovator, Billy was an early adopter of satellite technology and the Internet. I recall being with him in Puerto Rico for an event that they called Mission World, and they took satellite dishes and beamed the event all around the planet. He utilized all forms of media to reach as many people as he possibly could.
But he didn’t just use new technology. He had a deep understanding about how technology would influence our world, and he predicted its negative impact: “Before He comes again, the world is going to go through many convulsions, the Bible teaches,” Billy said in 1971. “There will be worldwide lawlessness, there will be an overemphasis on sex, there will be an acceleration of technology.”
Still, his message never changed, and he always pointed to Christ. There’s an amazing video you can find online from a number of years ago in which Billy spoke to many of the top tech people in Silicon Valley. Because he was so well respected, they all gathered to hear what he had to say, and of course he shared the gospel with them.
Billy’s Media Legacy
There will never be another Billy Graham, but we must carry on the torch he carried to his generation. We can learn a lot from the way he used technology to reach his world—especially as we have more ways to communicate the gospel at our disposal than he had.
Consider this: There are more mobile devices in the world today than there are people. There are people in Africa who have greater access to data than to clean drinking water. Everywhere people have mobile devices, phones, tablets, and computers.
With the technology we have, we can get the gospel out like we never could before. So it’s time for us to seize the moment.
Paul used Roman roads and wrote letters, Gutenberg used the printing press, and Billy Graham pioneered Christian film and television. How much more could we do with podcasts, on-demand video, and cinematic crusades? I believe the future is bright for the proclamation of the gospel. Let’s all do our part to continue Billy’s legacy and, most importantly, the Great Commission.
Learn more about Pastor Greg Laurie.
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