[Skip to Content]

Billy Graham & the Alliance

Billy Graham & the Alliance

Background to 1954 crusades

Billy Graham visited the UK in 1946 conducting a number of popular evangelistic youth events. In 1947 YFC was formed and then a year later Billy returned to attend their second annual conference. Whilst he had been away from the UK there had been some discussion amongst UK evangelicals about a possible crusade targeting adults. This is where the link between Billy Graham and the Alliance started. The Alliance saw the arrival of some new members of staff during the period 1946-9 and this bought about a new emphasis on evangelism. Following some very delicate discussion in both the UK and USA the Alliance facilitated an organising committee for the 1954 Harringay Crusade. The preparations included a visit by Billy Graham when he addressed 700 UK church leaders.

Harringay 1954

Aggregate attendance at Harringay arena in 1954 was two million – including 120,000 at Wembley stadium on the last day of the crusade. Demand was so high that the Alliance had to organize an overflow rally for 55,000 at White City. Billy Graham’s technique of using an appeal for a response at the end of the message then linking responders with a counselor was new to the UK. Following Haringey it became standard practice at evangelistic events in the UK. “Harringay marked a turning point in the history of the Alliance”, Evangelical Christendom September 1954

Butlins

Annual gatherings at Butlins started following a suggestion by Lindsay Clegg at the Alliance Executive Council meeting in Nov 1954 to provide a follow up convention for the Graham crusade, although the MWE) rather than the Alliance actually ran the first conventions.

Post-1950’s

In his book, Outgrowing Contributive Boundary Setting: Billy Graham Evangelism and Fundamentalism, Ian Randall says,  “Graham’s visits to Britain in the later 1940’s and 1950’s helped to broaden his own outlook. In turn he helped shape the advancing post-war evangelical movement, not only in the USA but in Britain too. Graham maintained that it was possible to be a convinced evangelical while seeing that the Church was bigger than the evangelical movement.” 

It was widely recognized that that the Graham crusades of 1954 in London together with a highly influential Scottish crusade in Kelvin Hall, Glasgow in the following year had made a major contribution to a change in evangelical outlook. The sponsorship of Harringay by the Alliance could have substantially narrowed Graham’s support but in the event evangelical Christianity was given a significant boost.

Greater London Crusades 1966

In 1966 the Alliance was the official sponsor of the Greater London crusade, despite refusing three years earlier to sponsor an invitation to Billy following some internal concern over the style and long term effectiveness of mass evangelism. The emphasis on evangelism in the post-war years boosted the Alliance’s public profile. Organising and sponsoring the crusades required a great deal of co-operative work on behalf of the Alliance, Christian leaders, various denominations and local churches. This unified way of working is something the Alliance still models today.

Financial impact on Alliance of sponsoring 1954 crusade

Unfortunately the Alliance spent so much money on the crusades and the follow up work that it's finances were severely challenged with all reserves having been spent. The exceptional popularity of the Graham Scotland crusade bought in much-needed funds and the Alliance was saved from possible extinction. The Alliance had budgeted for income from 200 landline relays for the crusade but it actually had 2,000 requests for relays. The profit of £12,000 was huge by 1950’s standards. 

Crusade Magazine

Our magazine Crusade which ran from 1955-1980 was started following the 1954 crusades when the Alliance was keen to keep the high level of activity going. An early editorial said: “Broadly speaking Crusade stands where the Evangelical Alliance stands. And that means that it stands for evangelism – and for Billy Graham. Indeed this magazine can claim to be in part at least the fruit of his work in this country. That leads us to say that, as it name indicates Crusade has – and will continue to have – a close link with the evangelistic missions conducted by Dr Graham and his team in Great Britain. It is our hope that that link will be maintained and strengthened in the days that lie ahead. We are deeply grateful to Dr Graham for his own keen interest in the journal and for the message he has written especially for this first issue.”