In Memoriam: World-Renowned Evangelist Billy Graham

Billy Graham Speaking
Billy Graham speaks at the NRB Convention, 1988.

World-renowned evangelist Billy Graham went to be with the Lord today at the age of 99.

"The world has lost a great man, but those in Heaven are surely rejoicing in the homecoming of this good and faithful servant," said NRB president & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson. "Only God knows how many are there with him because of his ministry and how many more there will be. It seems trite to say he was a giant among men, but no one could doubt the truth of this statement."

Johnson continued, "For more than eight decades, Billy Graham faithfully obeyed Christ's command to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature, as our Lord commanded."

Graham preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history – nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) – through various evangelistic crusades and meetings, including Mission World and Global Mission. Hundreds of millions more have been reached through television, video, film, and webcasts.

"Billy Graham loved the Lord with all of his heart and demonstrated this through his ministry," said Johnson. "He was a trailblazer in the use of radio, television, film, and other communications platforms to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. NRB is proud of its long partnership with the BGEA, which is today a vital part of our association. Billy Graham was and will remain a shining example for us all."

Born November 7, 1918, four days before the Armistice ended World War I, William Franklin "Billy" Graham, Jr., grew up on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the fall of 1934, at age 15, he made a personal commitment to Christ through the ministry of Mordecai Ham, a traveling evangelist who visited Charlotte for a series of revival meetings.

Billy Graham and Jerry Johnson
Billy Graham (left) shakes hands with Jerry A. Johnson (right), 1993.

In 1939, he was ordained by a church in the Southern Baptist Convention while studying at Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College in Florida). Four years later, Graham graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and married fellow student Ruth McCue Bell, daughter of a missionary surgeon, who spent the first 17 years of her life in China.

After graduating from college, Graham pastored The Village Church of Western Springs (now Western Springs Baptist Church) in Western Springs, Illinois, before joining Youth for Christ, an organization founded for ministry to youth and servicemen during World War II. He preached throughout the United States and in Europe in the immediate post-war era, emerging as a rising young evangelist.

Graham was vaulted into the public eye and into international prominence by his Los Angeles Crusade in 1949, which drew overflow crowds each night for more than eight weeks, though the meetings were scheduled for three.

One year later, Graham founded BGEA, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, until relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2003.

Since then, he has led hundreds of thousands of individuals to make personal decisions to live for Christ, which is the main thrust of his ministry.

In addition to live events, Graham reached people through:

  • the weekly Hour of Decision radio program, broadcast around the world on Sundays for more than 60 years;
  • television programs that have been broadcast on national Christian networks and major secular TV networks as well;
  • a syndicated newspaper column, “My Answer,” carried by newspapers both nationally and internationally;
  • Decision magazine, the official publication of BGEA; and
  • “My Hope America with Billy Graham,” a nationwide effort to reach people across the United States with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Graham also wrote 34 books, many of which became top sellers.

Billy Graham speaks at the NRB Convention, 1977.

Notably, Graham’s counsel was sought by presidents, and he was regularly listed by the Gallup organization as one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World.” Since 1948, Rev. Graham was the dominant figure in that poll. In 2017, he made an unparalleled 61st appearance and 55th consecutive appearance.

Graham's appeal in both the secular and religious arenas was evidenced furthermore by the wide range of groups that have honored him, including numerous honorary doctorates from many institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

The National Religious Broadcasters, for one, honored him with its Hall of Fame award in 1981, Chairman's Award in 1989, and Milestone Award in 2001. His ministry, moreover, has been recognized with a number of NRB awards, including two Awards of Merit and awards for Best TV Commercial, Best TV Public Service Announcement, Best TV Special Programming, Best TV Mixed Media Campaign, and Best Use of Short Form Video.

Billy Graham appears on the cover of the June 1995 issue of Religious Broadcasting, a magazine of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB).

Today, NRB annually recognizes one Christian organization with the Billy Graham Award for Excellence in Christian Communications, which is presented for effective and creative use of multiple electronic media technologies in fulfillment of the organization's mission, while maintaining fidelity to the message of love, redemption, and hope found in the Holy Scriptures.

"As we note through this award, Graham exemplified a commitment to excellence, creativity, and biblical fidelity in his use of electronic communications in furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," shared Johnson. "We here at NRB are deeply grateful for the influence he has had on our association of Christian communicators, which he will continue to have through his ministry. What a mighty work the Lord has done through him!"

In June 2007, Graham lost his wife of nearly 64 years, Ruth Bell Graham. They are survived by their three daughters, two sons, 19 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren.

A private funeral service is planned at the Billy Graham Library, on a date to be announced. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the ongoing ministry of evangelism at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, online at, or via mail (sent to: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; 1 Billy Graham Parkway; Charlotte, NC 28201). Notes of remembrance can be posted at

By NRB Staff

Published:  February 21, 2018


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